Alberta NDP ag critic discusses opportunities and barriers for value-added processing facilities

Global need, market prices, and implications from the pandemic have all demonstrated the benefits of bolstering local agriculture infrastructure, something that Alberta NDP ag critic, Heather Sweet, says the province needs to play catch up on.

When comparing the Prairie Provinces, Alberta is showing far less traction with breaking ground on new value-added processing than both Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Sweet says. After talking with investors over the last year-and-a-half, she has identified two factors that are stifling the industry: regulations and incentives.

“In Saskatchewan, they put out the red carpet. It’s ‘come invest, we will do what we can do to get you set up and ready to go!’ In comparison, let’s say for a pulse plant, in Saskatchewan it takes a matter of months and all the regulatory requirements, all of the barriers that are in place are being dealt with. In Alberta, that same plant, it could be up to a year, year-and-a-half to get through those same kinds of regulatory burdens,” says Sweet.

Building regulations aren’t the only barrier, environmental regulations are another hurdle investors have to overcome. Sweet says that although those regulations aren’t likely going anywhere, there are people and programs that can help expedite satisfying those requirements, opposed to waiting for months to get in touch with the right person. She says that is what the NDP would like to focus on — not removing the environmental regulations, but rather, having the proper teams in place so investors are able to make progress on their requests in a timely manner.

Sweet talks with RealAg Radio host, Shaun Haney, about this topic and what opportunities could be in Alberta’s future:

When looking at incentives, Sweet again turns east and references the work that is being done and incentives offered in Saskatchewan and Manitoba as a north star to where she’d like to see Alberta steer toward. However, she says that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and to gain a better understanding of what it is needed, and wanted.

“We’re actually asking Albertans to submit ideas to me about what that [incentives] would look like. Now, is it a grant program or a couple of different grant programs for industry, it could be, could it be looking at whether or not it needs to be loan guarantees, and supporting small to medium entrepreneurs and accessing that capital, that’s an option. So we haven’t dedicated the program today to this is what it’s going to look like. Because depending on who you’re talking to, in the sector, different programs will be beneficial,” explains Sweet.

In the event the red tape in Alberta is reduced and different value added processing facilities get the green light to break ground and to be built, does the province have the skilled workers to fill the employment positions that would need to be filled upon build completion?

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