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Calgary Economic Development and Western Economic Development Canada released an Agribusiness Market Study in September 2020 detailing prospects for growth in regional and global markets for the agribusiness sector in Calgary and southern Alberta. This article is one of a series of stories about the study. 

Southern Alberta is a region with agriculture at its core.

Just as the collective image of Alberta is intertwined with the majestic mountains to the west, we are also known for the bountiful plains that have sustained livestock and produced the crops we are also known for - from potatoes and canola to pulses and grains.

Alberta’s agricultural history is legendary. Our future in the fast-evolving agribusiness sector is also brimming with promise. Digital transformation can help southern Alberta be a bigger player in the global agri-food industry.

With generations of farming under our belt, Calgary and southern Alberta are positioned to be a major global agribusiness hub.

Canada is the fifth largest exporter of agricultural and agri-food products in the world. Products from Alberta are exported to more than 150 countries, and in the last 10 years, agriculture and agri-food exports in the province have more than doubled.

It is natural we should explore opportunities in a sector we know so well. In fact, agribusiness is one of the key industries for growth in the economic strategy Calgary in the New Economy. In this series, we highlight current trends from our Agribusiness Market Study and showcase some of the Calgary companies making noise in the sector.

Calgary’s role as an agriculture hub

When we think agriculture, the first thing that likely springs to mind is food – the production of actual primary commodities such as live animals and unprocessed crops. And when it comes to that, Calgary is a national powerhouse.

Around one-third of the land in Alberta is farmland, and southern Alberta alone has almost 70 per cent of Canada’s total irrigated area, allowing our local growers to farm and export a huge variety of foods.

And the industry is growing from those deep roots.

“Traditional perceptions of agriculture that view the industry as simple farming or ranching do not consider the innovation occurring in agriculture, the ag-tech industry, agricultural sciences, or a host of other science behind the industry,” the Agribusiness Market Study states.  In 2018, Alberta’s agri-food exports represented 19.3 per cent of Canada’s total agri-food exports, at $11.2 billion.

Thanks to our proximity to rich farmlands, leading post-secondary institutions and an excellent transportation network, Calgary has become the centre for agribusiness and Olds-Calgary-Lethbridge is Canada’s premier food corridor.  

These are among the factors why the area has become a natural home for many of the world’s agricultural industry leaders and innovators, from BASF to Bayer Crop Science to Cargill and Nutrien. Dozens of local companies from traditional players in agriculture to emerging areas from fintech to artificial intelligence, have created a thriving agribusiness ecosystem.  

The agri-food opportunity

As global food demand steadily grows, and we learn more about the environmental impact of agriculture, the industry’s brightest experts have been working to find better ways to increase food production with environmental sustainability in mind. With our deep history in agriculture and critical mass of game-changing companies, Calgary and southern Alberta have a wealth of talent and knowledge to achieve those goals.

The province is home to more than 22 facilities working on ag research and innovation. They include a number of organizations implementing exciting agri-food plays:

  • Olds College – Calgary Economic Development has partnered with Olds College on the Calgary-Olds Smart Agri-Food Corridor to support the development and scaling of new technologies designed to drive innovation in smart agri-food production.
  • University of Calgary – Launched in 2020, the University’s Simpson Centre for Agricultural and Food Innovation and Public Education aims to advance research to support the growth and sustainability of agri-food production and agribusiness.
  • Deepwater Farms – Calgary’s first Aquaponic farm, Deepwater Farms uses hydroponics to grow leafy greens without soil year-round. They also built an indoor fish farm for humanely raised sea bass (on the Prairies!) that is delivered to local restaurants.
  • AeroFodder – In their own words, AeroFodder works “with producers looking to progress their operations into the era of modern agriculture.” The company produces livestock feed that is not only sustainable, but also promotes the health of each specific animal - all while reducing costs for beef, dairy, and poultry producers.

The amount of agricultural innovations taking place within Alberta is impressive, but there is still work to be done. To create an environment for agribusiness to thrive, there must be continued support for innovation, policy, business, and commercialization.

With the appropriate backing, one of our oldest industries can continue to evolve and advance to drive Calgary in the New Economy.

Watch for more articles to come in our Agribusiness Market Study series in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, see our Agribusiness page to learn more about the sector.

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