Most everyone in Alberta has now heard about the bitumen bubble.
Premier Alison Redford has used that phrase often recently to describe the challenges the province faces in terms of uncertain oil revenues, a fact of life which continues to put our budget in a state of flux.
But Wednesday morning in Lethbridge, three groups came together with just the sort of plan Alberta can use to help escape the boom-and-bust cycles we have become so well known for.
Sugar beet growers in southern Alberta sought an opportunity to increase their returns, increase their acres and help make their crop - an iconic local commodity - a more sustainable, long-term venture. The federal government saw the wisdom in supporting the agricultural industry, and a Vancouver-based company witnessed an opportunity to put it all together.
For years, value-added agriculture has been touted as a way for Alberta to move forward economically, and help diversify an economy still very much ignited by oil and gas. Oil and gas will continue to be a pillar of Alberta's economy for the forseeable future, no doubt, but these are non-renewable resources that come attached with significant uncertainty.
Agriculture, too, shares that uncertainty, as price fluctuations, worldwide market trends and Mother Nature make for unpredictable swings in the business. However, it is an industry which has endured the test of time, and will continue to do so, particularly here in southern Alberta, where years of innovation and success has created one of the most agriculturally diverse regions in all of Canada.
The partnership between the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers Association and S2G BioChem is just another example of that innovation at work. Should everything come to fruition, a new processing plant, which will require roughly 20,000 more acres of sugar beets, will be built right here in southern Alberta. Money will flow into the region as engineers and construction workers will be required to get the facility off the ground, and S2G's president and CEO estimated about 60 employees would be needed to man the facility once it is up and running.
That amounts to another significant economic driver for southern Alberta, brought about by this region's willingness to go out on a limb and create an opportunity perhaps someone else did not even know was there.
With the Canadian Wheat Board now a voluntary option for Western Canada wheat and barley growers, many have touted the possibility of more value-added agricultural opportunities on the horizon for those commodities as well.
The entrepreneurial spirit appears to be alive and well in our agricultural community, and it will need to continue as Alberta searches for ways to balance its economic interests.
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