This issue of The Professional Edge is dedicated to food and food processing in Saskatchewan.
The driving forces of Saskatchewan’s economy are often referred to as agriculture, mining and energy. Saskatchewan is home to over 40 per cent of Canada’s arable land, but combined with adjacent lands in Alberta and Manitoba, the total represents approximately 82 per cent of Canada’s arable land.
If these numbers don’t give you an idea of the importance of our area for food production, consider the United States and Canada have approximately 2.8 acres per capita and 4.3 acres per capita of arable land respectively while Manitoba and Alberta contain approximately 13 acres per capita but Saskatchewan has approximately 55 acres per capita.
Add to this the estimate that Saskatchewan has approximately 60 per cent of world potash reserves, and the importance of this area to national and world food production becomes even more significant.
Canada passed the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 that granted ownership of a quarter-section of land in Western Canada if the individual could “prove up” on that land by cultivating at least 40 acres and building a residence within the first three years. This was done partially to settle Western Canada and develop farming (food production) and partially to ensure the United States did not claim the area.
This was accomplished through treaties with the First Nations of the area for settlement and farming of the land but there remains today disagreement over sharing of other natural resource and delivery on promises made in those treaties. The harsh conditions proved too much for many settlers and those remaining were allowed to purchase up to an additional two quarters of land.
When Saskatchewan became a province in 1905, there were approximately 95,000 farms. By 2016, this number had reduced to less than half that number but involved over $94 Billion of on-farm capital.
At the time of settlement, farming was powered by actual horse power and transportation of grain was difficult over long distances. As such, rail systems and elevators where established approximately every 10 kilometres or so along the rail line to gather grain. To get this grain to market, farmers took advantage of the rates imposed on the CPR, referred to as the “Crow Rate”. This resulted in processing of grains closer to the more populated areas. This also resulted in the benefits of processing by-products being realized in those areas.
By the mid 1990s this transportation rate program was eliminated and it started to make sense to process agricultural commodities closer to the location of production, although bulk transportation of processed material still makes the most sense. Today we see food processing facilities in the area like McCain Foods, AGT and Bioriginal to name a few.
Mechanization of agriculture by engineers was named one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century that has changed our lives. In addition to mechanizing agriculture, engineers built 20 per cent of Canada’s roads in a province with two per cent of the population to facilitate food production. They also developed an extensive distribution system of natural gas and electrical power along with wireless communication to support farming.
At the same time, geoscientists and engineers developed groundwater resources and irrigation to provide water security in an arid climate along with coal mining for energy and potash mining to provide the world with fertilizer.
Many of the innovations we see today have been initiated by farmers themselves and developed with the assistance of engineers. Many of the innovations in airseeders for zero-till production were developed in the small soil bin at the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.
Add to these innovations the advances in crop development by the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research centers, and we now produce three times the quantity of food on the same area of land as we did in 1950. Coincidently, this is the same rate increase as world population growth, bringing up the question of whether or not we will be able to continue to match food production increases with world population growth.
Development of zero-till seeding technology has resulted in numerous world-leading seeder manufacturers locating in Saskatchewan. One which has just been released is the first autonomous seeder to the market.
A great example of Saskatchewan innovation feeding the world is the development of the crop canola. Canola was developed in Western Canada to provide an edible variety of rape seed oil. Today, over 23 million acres of canola is grown. Cargill’s canola processing facility east of Saskatoon is the largest softseed crush plant in the world processing over 50 rail cars (4500 tonnes) of canola daily into food grade edible oil.
As the world population continues to grow, protein production will need to be increased. Canada has facilitated the establishment of Protein Industries Canada in Western Canada through the Innovations Supercluster Initiative to position us to meet this world protein need.
APEGS members will continue to provide world leading solutions to food production and processing. Feeding an ever increasing population may well prove to be our greatest challenge.