New Alberta Grains elects its inaugural board; drought will be a priority

Alberta Grains formed in 2023 from the merger of the Alberta wheat and barley commissions

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It’s going to be a busy year for an organization representing 18,000 wheat and barley farmers and its new board, but Alberta Grains is up for the challenge, says its chair.

Alberta Grains, formed in 2023 from the merger of the Alberta wheat and barley commissions, elected last week in Calgary its inaugural board of 12 directors, who represent six growing regions across the province.

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“We know that, depending on where you are in the province, there can be very different concerns, priorities, so we need to hear from everybody,” said board chair Tara Sawyer, who had previously served as the Alberta Grains interim chair until the Jan. 31 election at the annual general meeting. 

The top priority for Alberta Grains this year will be to adopt a three-year strategic plan, to figure out the direction of the new organization, said Sawyer.

In addition to their work on the board, directors have also have their own farms to manage.

Sawyer, who farms near Acme, said the lack of moisture so far this winter is a concern, particularly in light of drought conditions over the last three years in many parts of Alberta.

“The concern that we’re going to have a fourth year is definitely weighing heavy,” she said. “I don’t have a big stack of snow on my lawn for my husband to tunnel out the yard this year that I was really hoping for.”

Investing in research will continue to be a major focus for Alberta Grains, making up the largest portion of funds producers provide to the organization, said Sawyer. Breeding was the top research priority among responses to a survey sent out last November by the Alberta Grains research department.

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“There’s no question that will always be there — drought-resistant varieties, given the weather we’ve had right now. It’s no different than when we have years with a lot of moisture. When it comes to those type of weather-related things, that’s why we need good breeding,” said Sawyer, adding numerous research projects are pursued.

Last month, Sawyer was part of an overseas trade mission in which talked she and other delegates talked to buyers about Canadian wheat. The delegates travelled to Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Malaysia.

“That was an incredibly valuable thing to have a farmer on that mission, to explain what we do, to advocate for Canadian wheat,” said Sawyer.

Advocating on behalf of its members is part of what Alberta Grains does, and recently the organization has been “heavily involved” in pushing for a piece of federal legislation, Bill 234, that would exempt farmers from paying the carbon tax to dry their grain and heat their barns and greenhouses. The bill, which is back before Parliament, stalled after nearly making it through the Senate late last year.

Working with national groups advocating for farmers, Alberta Grains has been asking farmers to provide receipts to show the impact of the tax on farms, said Sawyer.

“It’s hitting us in more than one direction,” said Sawyer of the carbon tax. “That bill really would have helped.”

Alberta Grains board member Dean Hubbard, representing zone 1 in southern Alberta, said he was in favour of the merger of the Alberta wheat and barley commissions, saving Alberta farmers money.

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