Agriculture: new and improved


This isn't your grandfather's version of Saskatchewan agriculture. Saskatchewanians were reminded of this earlier this month when Canadian agricltural leaders, many of them from Saskatchewan, assembled in Regina for the first "Agricultural Awareness" summit.

Over and over, speakers reminded the strikingly young audience about the good economic health of their industry, and its strong prospects for the future. Several speakers pointedly contrasted this with the gloom and doom colouring the industry only a few decades ago, when politicians and farm leaders were preoccupied with low prices, robust subsidies put in place by our competitors, the U.S. and European Union, and a need for federal farm aid.

But things have changed. More proof of that arrived Friday when preliminary figures on Saskatchewan's 2012 merchandise exports indicated the province exported more than $11 billion in agri-food exports, a sum surpassing all our energy exports.

It's particularly important to remember that Saskatchewan's agriculture is more than wheat, as it was a century ago. The big story of the last few decades has been the way in which farmers have diversified into a wide variety of other crops, notably canola and pulses (lentils, peas, beans and chickpeas and canary seeds).

Commercially, the prospects of Viterra are sufficiently robust that several firms bid for it before Glencore won last year. Another Regina-based company, Alliance Grain Traders, has come out of nowhere to do around $800 million business each year and has been the subject of several positive article in the Financial Post. A pair of agricultural firms recently teamed up to begin work on a $90-million oil-grain shipping terminal in southeast Saskatchewan.

It is worthy of note that these gains have been registered at a time when the global economy undoubtedly has been weakened and opportunites in one of the Saskatchewan's new markets, northern Africa, have been disrupted by political instability. What might happen when things improve?

As the Ag Awareness conference noted repeatedly, the agricultural sector of Canada, and particularly, Saskatchewan, is back on its feet - and very robust indeed.

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