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Exports have been an integral and essential feature of the agriculture and food industry in Alberta. This is a product of the province’s relatively low population and consumption base on the demand side juxtaposed with a large resource base of prime agriculture land for crop production and an abundance of range and pasture for grazing and forage for raising livestock on the supply side. A host of factors influence the disposition of surplus production or exports including global supply/demand balances, relative cost/price relations, structural changes through farm consolidation and scale economies, market access, exchange rates, sanitary and phyto‐sanitary standards and regulations, disease and pest related issues. The inherent nature of agriculture means the industry is influenced by weather, animal and plant disease, and price and cost variations between commodities. These factors, in turn, affect the composition of the export trade. The U.S. has become Alberta and Canada’s most important agricultural trading partner because of the extensive shared border, the large and developed market in the U.S., traditional trading relations built over time, similar consumption patterns, language and culture, and the complementary production and demand base. However, the growth of trade relations with Asia in particular, and globalization in general, have allowed for a degree of diversification in the flow of agricultural trade. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Alberta Government, with the leadership of the Department of Agriculture, recognized the critical importance of exports to growth of the province’s agriculture and food industry. Indeed, the government set a target of a production base of $10 billion for primary production and a $20 billion food manufacturing industry by 2010, premised on the basis of export opportunities emerging along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, in California, in East Asia (particularly China, Japan, Korea), and in the then Soviet Union. Alberta farm cash receipts topped $10 billion in 2008 but the food manufacturing sector shipments, at $11.7 billion, still remain well below target. Clearly the spurt to over $10 billion in farm cash receipts in 2008 was influenced by price spikes for grains and oilseeds as a result of what has been described as a speculative bubble and as well as by massive increases in Government program payments. Though it is unlikely that this target can be sustained in 2009 with the sharp decline in commodity prices, it is a landmark from which to review the performance over the past decade and explore prospects over the next several years. This paper examines trends in production and trade and the various factors that have affected this trade of both primary agriculture products and their manufacture in Alberta. The paper also proposes policy and program measures that could foster a more robust performance of this trade.


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