Agriculture minister delighted with Alberta’s bumper crop

By Bill Mah, Edmonton Journal December 12, 2013

Alberta’s harvest was so bountiful that some farmers have nowhere to keep a backlog of grain, but the province’s agriculture minister isn’t complaining.

“There are lots of stories about farmers who have run short of storage space because their crops are so plentiful,” said Verlyn Olson, who gave a year-end update to journalists Thursday.

“That certainly has presented some challenges and I’m definitely hearing about them, but we can probably agree that it’s not the worst problem to have.”

In the third quarter, Alberta’s farm cash receipts totalled a record $9.1 billion — highest in Canada and up more than two per cent from the first nine months of last year, Olson said.

The province’s total production of principal field crops was nearly 27 million tonnes, up more than 26 per cent year-over-year and more than 37 per cent above the 10-year average. It follows a strong harvest last year.

“This was a record-setting crop in terms of quantity and also very high quality,” Olson said.

The harvest was so plentiful that farm groups are complaining about rail companies falling behind in grain transport, but Olson said there was little he or anyone else could do about the backlog.

“I have actually spoken to some railway representatives who have pointed out to me that even if you added a whole bunch of rail cars, they’ve got to have some place to go. It’s not just a matter of rail cars, it’s a matter of terminals and booking shipping. We’re aware of the issue, but I don’t see anybody flipping a switch and changing the state of affairs.”

Olson was more concerned about U.S. country of origin labelling (COOL) rules for Canadian beef and pork, which he called one of the biggest threats to the industry.

“We’ve been working very closely with our federal counterparts, as well as provincial counterparts in making the case that this rule needs to be changed by the American legislators. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s very onerous.”

He said COOL is costing Canadian agriculture over $1 billion dollars a year and also hurts U.S. industry because American meat packing plants lose Canadian meat supplies and are laying off workers as a result.

“We feel as though we’re making some progress, but so far we do not have a resolution of this issue. It’s something we’ll be watching closely in the new year,” Olson said.

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