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Alberta pulse farmers to benefit from $815 million flowing to irrigation NOV 12 2020 | Producers | Blog Post

Pulse growers will be among those benefitting from an $815 million investment from federal and provincial governments to expand irrigated acres in Southern Alberta.

“The ultimate goal of the investment is to add 200,000 acres of irrigated land over the next five years in Southern Alberta via both efficiency and water storage upgrades or additions,” said Keven Sawchuk, Senior Merchandiser for Viterra Inc. “This expansion will be positive for pulse farmers in relieving some of the pressure on irrigated rotations which will improve yields through better disease management, while also providing the opportunity for some additional irrigated acres of pulses in the proper agro-climatic areas where each pulse is best adapted.”

Funded projects will focus on increasing water conveyance efficiency and allowing more acres to be irrigated with the same amount of water. Modernizing and building new irrigation infrastructure will increase irrigated acreage, increase primary crop production, improve water use efficiency, increase water storage capacity, enhance water security, and provide flood protection to support long-term value-added processing activity. Alberta currently has more than 1.7 million irrigated acres.

The funding boost is the result of a partnership between Alberta’s government, the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) and irrigation districts.

The CIB is mandated to invest $35 billion in federal funding and attract private sector investment into new revenue-generating infrastructure projects. This is the first project announced under the CIB’s recently announced $10 billion Growth Plan.

“This is a major development for Alberta farmers,” Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “Through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, and with our provincial counterparts, this investment will leverage private sector partners to significantly increase the acreage of irrigated land in southern Alberta. For farmers of grains, pulses, and other crops, this will not only increase the yields of their crops, but also the long-term sustainability of their operations.”

The expansion will see hundreds of kilometres of pipelines built and contribute about $436 million annually to Alberta’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is top of mind for Premier Jason Kenney.

“This historic investment in irrigation infrastructure will create thousands of jobs and support Alberta’s economic recovery, while strengthening our competitive advantage,” he said. “Agriculture is the beating heart of Alberta’s economy and as global demand for agri-food products continues to grow, our producers and irrigation districts will be better positioned to meet that demand for generations to come.”

The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by all parties and agreement in principle for the CIB to invest about $407.5 million in this project, to be paid back by the irrigation districts, represents an innovative approach to financing a unique asset class.

“This project is the single largest irrigation expansion in Alberta’s history,” noted CIB Chair Michael Sabia. “Our investment is an example of the CIB’s $10 billion Growth Plan in action. We look forward to developing more projects with the Government of Alberta, to invest in its infrastructure and to strengthen and diversify the province’s economy.”

The Government of Alberta will contribute $244.5 million and the irrigation districts will contribute $163 million towards this important work. The eight irrigation districts participating in the investment include: Bow River Irrigation District, Eastern Irrigation District, Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District, Raymond Irrigation District, St. Mary River Irrigation District, Taber Irrigation District, United Irrigation District and Western Irrigation District.

“This is a historic day, for the Western Irrigation District and for irrigated agriculture,” said Board Chair Dan Shute of the Western Irrigation District. “A generational investment is being made to ensure productivity and stability of Alberta farms long into the future. With this funding, we will expand irrigation, increase water efficiency and make the service we provide to our water users even more secure.”

A Government of Alberta news release stated that Alberta’s agri-food sector contributes $9.2 billion in GDP and employs about 77,000 Albertans. The irrigation industry generates about $2.4 billion in annual labour income and supports about 56,000 jobs. The new projects are expected to create up to 6,800 direct and indirect permanent jobs and up to 1,280 construction jobs. The irrigation industry contributes up to $3.6 billion annually to Alberta’s GDP, which represents about 20% of the agri-food sector GDP on only 4.7% of the province’s cultivated land base.