We finish our series on the brief history of agriculture in Alberta by Terry James today! Terry is a mixed farmer who lives near Vegreville, Alberta, on the farm his grandfather first moved to in 1917.  He studied agriculture at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and worked for a number of years in the crop supplies industry.  Currently he is a full time farmer. Together with his brother and son, they farm about 2000 acres of grain land, and maintain a commercial herd of beef cattle. For part 1 please click here

As the supplies of cheap land had dried up in the United States and areas further east, Alberta became the new frontier for people looking to acquire their own piece of earth.  One of the major technological developments that enabled successful grain farms to be established was early maturing wheat. The first of these varieties was called Marquis and was developed by the Dominion Experimental Farms Service. It wasn’t long before a wheat breeding program was established at the University of Alberta.Their first widely grown variety was released in 1926 and was called Red Bobs 222.

Heartache and heartbreak struck many farm families in the 1930’s. Prices for agriculture commodities plummeted.  In addition drought compounded the problem with the area known as the Palliser triangle being especially hard hit. So many farms were abandoned in East Central Alberta, that the government designated the region a “Special Area.” This region is still divided into Special Areas that have a different form of municipal government than other regions of Alberta.

The advent of World War II marked the end of the depression and meant that Europe needed to import large amounts of grain. This was the start of a long stretch of prosperity for Alberta farms. Rapid mechanization, and the introduction of synthetic fertilizers and pest control products led to vastly increased productivity. In fact, around the 1970’s the problem became one of overproduction and government programs were designed to take some land out of production. The cyclical bouts of shortages due to weather disasters here, or elsewhere in the world, and bouts of overproduction continue to be the bane of farmers today.

Canola is now Alberta's most important crop and Asia has replaced Europe as the most important market.
Canola is now Alberta’s most important crop and Asia has replaced Europe as the most important market.

Agriculture continues to evolve in Alberta. Europe, including Russia, has become self-sufficient in food, and a competitor in the agricultural commodity world. As a result, Alberta farmers have turned more of their attention more to the Pacific Rim. Japan is the biggest consumer of Alberta’s most valuable crop, canola. New mechanical developments have reduced the need for tillage and have helped conserve soil and moisture, and reduced the fuel costs of farmers. On the biological side, developments in the science of genetics have produced superior crop and livestock strains.

Alberta farmers have been quick to adopt new technology such as no-till which has increased productivity and reduced environmental impacts.
Alberta farmers have been quick to adopt new technology such as no-till which has increased productivity and reduced environmental impacts.

Agriculture is not without its controversies though. Some have raised objections to modern production practices, while others have political objections, especially to the tightly managed dairy and poultry sectors, sectors in which supply is carefully controlled. Still the future looks bright. World population continues to grow, and greater economic wealth has created the opportunity for better diets for hundreds of millions of people. Alberta farmers are well poised to take advantage of this.

The story of agriculture in Alberta is an ongoing one, and Alberta farmers would like nothing better than to continue their story of success by providing a stable and healthy food supply to a hungry world.

Thank you, Terry for sharing your knowledge and your passion with our Aggie Days readers!