Two-year initiative to support organic agriculture and agri-food entrepreneurs

Hand over wheat field in early summer evening. Photo: Thinkstock

Organic Alberta – Commencing November 1, 2017 and running until October 31, 2019, The Mackenzie County Organic Success Program is a two-year, $330,000 initiative which supports agricultural and agri-food entrepreneurs in the Mackenzie County region to diversify into organic production.

“The global organic market is now estimated at just under $90 Billion, and Mackenzie County farmers are working hard to fill that demand. In recognition of these efforts and the tremendous growth in the number of organic producers in the region over the past few years, Organic Alberta has launched the Mackenzie County Organic Success Program” says Becky Lipton, Organic Alberta’s Executive Director.

The program is a partnership between Organic Alberta and the Mackenzie Applied Research Association, with strong support from Mackenzie County and the Regional Economic Development Initiative for Northwest Alberta.

Currently, over half of Alberta’s organic producers live in the Mackenzie County region. Many producers are choosing organic production because it provides strong diversification options and economic returns, offering success without the need to expand land base. However, there are challenges associated with transitioning to organic production, therefore long-term agronomic and marketing support is needed to ensure success. A further challenge is posed by the relative remoteness of the Mackenzie County region, a 7-hour drive north of Edmonton.

The program will support two cohorts of producers – those in transition and new to organic growing, and experienced organic growers. The Transitioning and New Organic Grower Stream will focus on issues such as the certification process, finances, marketing, weeds, soil fertility, and more. The Organic Farmer Advancement Stream will assist farmers in designing sustainable crop rotations, managing weeds, building soil fertility, and maximizing grain quality. Each cohort will go through a two-year incremental learning program which will introduce key organic business and agronomy best practices, including workshops, farm discussion groups and access to resources. The program will also include a trade and marketing component, which will bring an annual buyers mission to the region.

James Thiessen, an organic producer in the region, believes the program “will help bring awareness to the diversity of organic products that can be grown here, and of the markets available for those products.” He also feels that through the work of the Transitioning and New Organic Grower Stream, “we may see more producers encouraged to go organic and increase profitability for those already producing organically”.

The Mackenzie County Organic Success Program is sponsored by REDI, Grain Millers, Richardson, Mackenzie County, ProCert, Pipeline Foods, Eco-Cert, FW Cobs, Hemp Genetics, Frontier Seed, Penergetic, Sunrise Foods, NutraSun Foods, AFSC and Westaqua.

“The Regional Economic Development Initiative for Northwest Alberta (REDI) is proud to be a supporter of the Mackenzie County Organic Success program. Mackenzie County has long been a leader in agriculture in Alberta and Canada. Organic producers and their products are an important element of Mackenzie County’s agricultural sector. REDI sees the value in supporting initiatives like this to help foster innovation and educate producers and consumers on the value of organic products” says Lisa Wardley, REDI Chair.

Organic Alberta is a membership driven non-profit association that represents, supports, and grows organics in Alberta through leadership, networking, education, communication and advocacy. It includes all stakeholders – from consumers to producers and all those in between.