Taking the opportunity to delve into details about the 2013-14 provincial budget, Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said that agriculture remains a priority for the government.
“The truth is, everybody has a health in the stake of the agricultural economy,” Stewart said.
“We all consume the products of agriculture, but nobody has a larger stake in it than does Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is recognized as a world leader in agriculture, from food production to biosciences, and as we should be. We have well over 40 per cent of Canada’s farmland here in the province.”
Stewart noted that Saskatchewan produces 58 per cent of world lentil exports, 55 per cent of world pea exports, 49 per cent of world canola meal exports, 41 per cent of world oat exports, 39 per cent of world flaxseed exports and is a leader in other commodities exported around the globe.
The role of agriculture in the province’s economy is not limited to crop production, since Saskatchewan also supports one-third of Canada’s cattle herd.
In 2012, Saskatchewan exported $11.1 billion overall in agri-food products -- a 10 per cent increase from the previous year which puts the sector roughly on par with the oil and gas industry.
“When we say we feed the world, it’s true. We do,” Stewart said. “There are growing demands for quality and safe agricultural products, and this presents an opportunity for Saskatchewan.
“We’re in the driver’s seat of one of the most promising sectors of the world economy, and with the support of our government combined with the hard work and vision of our farmers and ranchers, we’re only going to get stronger.”
The centerpiece of the Wall government’s economic strategy is the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth, which outlines a number of goals for the province to achieve by 2020.
Stewart listed four agriculture-related objectives in the Plan for Growth: Increasing crop production by 10 million tons a year, increasing exports of agricultural products by 50 per cent, increasing value-added production, and establishing Saskatchewan as a global leader in biosciences.
He argued that the 2013-14 budget would help achieve those goals.
“It’s also about balanced priorities, continued growth and addressing the challenges of growth,” Stewart said.
He added, “The 2013 agriculture budget is $406.9 million. This is the fourth-largest agriculture budget ever announced. The five largest agriculture budgets in history have been introduced since we formed government in 2007.”
The agriculture minister proceeded to go into detail about where those dollars will be allocated in the coming fiscal year.
Of the total agriculture budget, $282.5 million will go to fully fund business risk management programs including crop insurance, AgriStability and AgriInvest.
We’re in the driver’s seat of one of the most promising sectors of the world economy, and with the support of our government combined with the hard work and vision of our farmers and ranchers, we’re only going to get stronger. - Lyle Stewart
Such programs have taken on a new importance after the 2012 crop suffered yield losses due to excess precipitation.
“With record coverage and continued enhancements, there will be no ad hoc agro-recovery response in the event of weather-related disasters again in 2013,” Stewart declared.
The new budget also increases funding for strategic initiatives. One of the most significant is scientific research, which will receive a record $27.7 million, including $3 million for the Global Institute for Food Security.
“Research is pivotal to the success of our industry, as we work to feed a growing world population that needs Saskatchewan products,” Stewart said.
“In addition to research, funding will also go to areas such as trade and market development, food safety, pest control funding, youth initiatives, irrigation and water infrastructure, disease surveillance and monitoring, and agriculture awareness.”
Stewart devoted particular attention to the latter, speaking at length about the importance of improving the public perception of agriculture, which he described as a modern, technologically advanced industry concerned with environmental protection.
The consequences of such negative perceptions, he warned, could affect bottom lines and lead to closed borders, increased operating costs and lack of access to needed tools and equipment.
“Our government is committed to improving the perception of agriculture,” he said.
“But to influence change, the industry needs to be part of it. We need to speak with one voice. We need to be transparent, and we need to start telling our story.”
Stewart Brandt, a field research manager at the Northeast Agriculture Research Foundation and fellow presenter at Crop Talk, reacted positively to the minister’s address and announced budget plans.
“If you look at the budget here, everybody was anticipating kind of a steady-as-it-goes budget or a slight belt-tightening,” Brandt said.
“Agriculture seems to be a high priority with this government and it seems to be reflected in the budget, and the support for research, I think, is … a very good investment in terms of ensuring that we have the technologies that we need to deal with the issues that we’ll deal with in future.
“A lot of the research investments that we’re making today are going to pay off in future, and I think historically, when grain prices are high and we had excess food production, we didn’t invest in those technologies.
“Now that we see food shortages, we need to ramp up our efforts to develop technologies that will meet the food needs of not just Saskatchewan, but the country and the whole world.”