Posted on Oct 26, 2015

Speaking on Bill 202: Alberta Local Food Act

Ms Babcock: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to rise today and speak in support of the Alberta Local Food Act. My family and I have spent many days at various farmers’ markets making sure we supported local producers, and we’ve spent much time on the farm, so I see both sides of this. We’ve enjoyed the ability to pick out our own produce, our meats, and various products available. The goods we have always been lucky enough to acquire have been of the highest quality and seem to taste better, knowing where they came from and that the environmental cost of our food has been reduced. The impact that my family has had on their farming as well has been that my children have picked their own food out of the fields.

Let me share some of the reasons why farmers are going to get an economic boost as this support is translated into action, with more locally produced foods available. In 2012, Mr. Speaker, 95 per cent of Alberta households indicated a desire to purchase locally, and developing a sustainable local food system in Alberta, especially rural Alberta, is of prime importance to our local producers. Local economies allow direct access for producers to sell their products at reasonable prices, which supports a viable business model for producers both large and small. There is a huge market opportunity for connecting local producers with local consumers right here at home.

The Alberta Local Food Act supports a sustainable food supply chain from primary producers, secondary industry, and consumers alike. In the past the supply chain was not always guaranteed or viable for all involved. There are huge challenges to any producer who is trying to get products to market, so supporting the agriculture industry just makes sense.

When meeting with local interests such as the West-Central Forage Association, it was pointed out to me that insurance does not protect producers against cost increases. For example, because the price of feed is so high right now because some of the crops failed this year, some of the farmers will not be able to feed their animals this winter, so some are exiting the industry. Many feel that we will have fewer beef producers going forward because of this, which would also jeopardize the government’s tax base coming from beef farmers.

We discussed the age gap in agriculture. The average age of a farmer is 55 years old, and due to the lack of capital available to younger people who don’t have the assets already in place, entering the agricultural industry is prohibitive, to say the least. It is challenging to onboard young farmers who are purchasing farms or taking over family farms, ensuring that the expertise is being passed on and ensuring that business management skills are understood to be a very important skill and increasingly important to run a successful and efficient farm.

The agriculture industry is forward thinking and innovative. I believe that the Alberta Local Food Act is a forward-thinking way of supporting our farmers in the industry. Many producers do not have the capacity to do this very important work full time, so instead they supplement their income by working off the farm, which inhibits the growth of their production capabilities. Farmers are feeling pressure and concern for what the infrastructure is and will be to get their products to market.

There are many good things happening in this industry right now. The Explore Local initiative, brought forth in 2014-15, helped increase producer awareness and access to local market channels, which resulted in positive growth in sales, profitability, and increased business. Young people graduating with an agricultural sciences degree are being taught to approach farming and producing with a strong business model.

The Alberta Local Food Act allows and encourages local producers to grow the local market channels, which in turn increases the value of those channels. This equals a significant source of farm receipts for all producers in Alberta, encouraging stability and growth in the agriculture industry.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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