Sugar beet growers doing their part

Impacts of such things as idling at the weigh scales are being looked at.

Melody Garner-Skiba, executive director of Alberta Sugar Beet Growers (ASBG), is proud of her organization and all the hard work work of its members do in contributing to Alberta’s agriculture industry. She says the early harvest of sugar beets this year looks promising with 100,000 tonnes already at Southern Alberta pilers as of Sept. 24. 

“It is going well and is an above average start,” explained Garner-Skiba in a phone interview Sept. 24. She added they just needed Mother Nature to do her part, so as to not have a repeat of last year’s poor weather. 

As part of what she calls continuing work at being environmentally sustainable, she said the ASBG is always working to get better, as far as growers’ productivity and efficiency but with their relation to how the environment is affected. A study has been undertaken by ASBG in order to find out “the impact of the sugar beet growing and harvesting process on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.”

According to an Alberta Agriculture, funding for this project was provided by the Governments of Canada and Alberta through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership under the Environmental Stewardship and Climate Change - Group Program. In Alberta, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership represents a federal-provincial investment of $406 million in strategic programs and initiatives for the agricultural sector.

Neither Alberta Agriculture or Agriculture Canada made any suggestion to do this study nor was it a public relations exercise. 

“This program was completely initiated by industry,” said the executive director. The CAPP funding used was to make the industry better as a whole including doing its part to be environmentally sensitive. “We are constantly trying to be better.”

She indicated the board of directors, who are representatives of its membership said “yes, they wanted to do this study. 

“(Environmental stewardship) has always been a keen priority and with our strategic plan it is up to us to deliver,” explained Garner-Skiba.

According to Alberta Agriculture, the first phase of this research project “Reducing the Impact of Sugar Beet Production and Irrigation on Climate Change,” started in 2018 where researchers “assessed and collected data from the traffic at the piling grounds. The assessment’s objectives were to identify ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fuel and energy consumption.”

Fast forward to 2020 and the Alberta Potato Growers and Alberta Canola were brought in as partners. After collecting more data including some from nine specific farms, such as greenhouse gas emissions and water usage from irrigation, were studied. Information was provided to the membership to see if there would  be some interest in participating in the study. Because sugar beets are part of a rotational crop system, with many producers choosing to rotate in canola and potatoes with the beets, forming a partnership with those organizations was important. 

There is still work to be done and Garner-Skiba said that once the data is all collected and analyzed, they will present finding to its members and then will discuss further with them in the best course of future actions. 

“The best management practices will start by going back to the growers and we will mitigate any possible changes with the growers.” 

With news of the impending twinning of Highway 3 next year is welcome news to the agriculture industry. In an interview with Prairie Post in August, Premier Jason Kenney indicated his wish to make Southern Alberta, especially in the southwest, an agricultural hub. Many sugar beet producers use Highway 3 as its main highway to the receiving stations and its sugar beet pilers i.e. Burdett, Coaldale, Taber, and Tempest (between Chin and Coaldale) and the others located not too far away from Highway 3 which include Enchant, Picture Butte and Vauxhall. 

Garner-Skiba was pleased that something was finally done about the highway and the provincial government is valuing the furthering agriculture’s potential growth in the region. On average the ASBG statistics indicated it produces 800,000 tonnes of beets. 

“We have always known our importance to the Alberta economy and the impact of agriculture on the provincial GDP (Gross Domestic Product). For us the recognition of this and the commitment to that improvement… it is long overdue,” said Garner-Skiba. 

She added that agriculture is the second largest industry in Southern Alberta so with some investment, the future is bright.

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