By Trevor Busch
Major investment in irrigation infrastructure and plans for twinning Highway 3 are making southern Alberta very attractive to potential investors in the region.
Known as Canada’s Premier Food Corridor (CPFC), Highway 3 straddles southern Alberta from border to border and has always been a main shipping artery for the region. But for communities along the route like Taber, new developments in infrastructure and value-added agricultural processing are generating excitement for what the future might hold.
Plans to expand Chin Reservoir south of the community in the St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID) – which recently merged with the Taber Irrigation District to create the largest entity of its kind in Canada – is prompting boundless optimism in the perception of Amy Allred, the Town of Taber’s economic development manager.
“We’ll have 200,000 new acres of irrigated land, which is about 15 per cent more than we currently have, which really is transformative to all of southern Alberta, and to Canada’s Premier Food Corridor. We have a lot of value-added ag processors and industry associations, research institutions and economic development organizations already working together on these kinds of projects. And we believe in the value of our value-added agriculture, and in southern Alberta and having the province invest in it and having everybody work together to make this stronger, is going to be of great economic benefit to all of southern Alberta.”
Throughout the region that brackets Highway 3, superior irrigation and growing conditions allow for more than 65 specialty crops to be grown on over 900,000 acres of irrigated land. Taber lies at a major crossroads in the region, with the Highway 36 high-load corridor bisecting the community on a north-south axis connecting to Highway 4 and the Coutts border crossing.
With a 46-kilometre stretch of Highway 3 to be twinned from Taber to Burdett scheduled to be putting shovels in the ground any day now, Taber Mayor Andrew Prokop talked about what this will mean for his community, but also for the province and country.
“Of course, that’s huge. That’s all part of it,” said Prokop. “Particularly the twin of Highway 3 was $150 million price tag for that, scheduled to start sometime this spring. So we’re excited about that once it gets underway. So that in itself is huge. And it’s been earmarked and through different studies they’ve done in the past, it was shown that with any project, for every $1 investment, I believe $3 comes back. So there’s a formula they’ve worked out through the study process. So you’re getting triple the revenue stream back as a result. I mean, that’s huge for the municipality, the province, the country, actually. So how can you go wrong with that? And it’s way overdue.”
Recognized as a hub for food processing, many global food companies are already located in the region. The existing logistics and transportation supply chains have led to a growing number of niche innovators choosing to build their businesses here. The region has an annual GDP of $8 billion based on 4.2 million total land acres (4,470 farms), and things are only looking up from here. McCain’s potato processing plant near Chin recently announced a $600 million expansion expected to bring 260 new jobs to the region.
“We are working on some initiatives with the province right now to upgrade and to expand the services that we offer here for agri-food processing. But very exciting things are coming for Canada’s Premier Food Corridor here in the next couple of months,” said Allred. “We did just receive regional economic development programme funding from the province. So we’ve received a grant of $100,000 to help build Canada’s Premier Food Corridor, which right now is Lethbridge, Lethbridge County, Coaldale, Taber and the MD of Taber, which is really where our food processors have located here at the moment. And, of course, with McCain’s expansion, that’s good for everybody. It brings business for everybody. It brings spin off as it brings economic growth and jobs and housing and business for everybody. So we’re all very excited about that.”
According to CPFC, no other region in Canada has more potential food business partners, research capabilities and investment opportunities.
“With what’s here in the area with what we have for our growing capabilities – there’s already 85 per cent irrigated land in this area, roughly – we have the ideal soil conditions, the heat units, the growing capabilities are here and I believe if it can’t be grown here, it can’t be grown anywhere,” said Prokop. “So there’s been a lot of experimental different things here and with anything that they’ve tried, it’s been successful that way. So they’re looking forward to that.”
Coupled with infrastructure and accessibility to major railways, highways, inland ports and US markets, the CPFC has a lot to recommend itself for potential investors. Echoing Prokop’s words, Allred talked about the potential for the region to become a new breadbasket for the world.
“I know that we’ve really been promoting the idea if it can’t be grown here, it can’t be grown anywhere. We grow 65 different types of crops. And if it can’t be grown outside, then it can be grown in greenhouses here, because we have the sunshine for it. So we’ve really been looking at that and marketing that you can grow anything here and that we have the ability to feed the world, right? We have a stable economy, we’re pretty safe where we are from natural disasters and those types of things. We have this ability to make a big impact across the world.”