REGINA — One of the cornerstone announcements in the last year for the Saskatchewan agriculture sectors has been the launch of the Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Expansion Project by the provincial government.
The April 6 budget was the first provincial budget since that announcement, but so far, the dollar figures are relatively small – just $18.9 million this year for the Westside Expansion Project. But Premier Scott Moe sees a big future, a little further down that water pipeline, as it were.
Asked when will we start seeing big dollars towards that $4 billion project, Moe replied, “The first phase of that project, I believe, is a pegged at about a half a billion dollars. That's the expansion of the west side, which will open up … acres for irrigation. It is really the start of building that industry, that irrigation industry, and changing even the crops and the value of with the crops that we grow in that area, which ultimately leads to the attraction of different value-added food processors that we currently don't have here in the province.”
He said that would lead Saskatchewan to then leverage the strength of that industry to expand to the entire west side and then ultimately come down with the lower Qu'Appelle project, providing that important water security to communities like Moose Jaw and Regina.
That water security isn’t only important, in the food processing industry, but also in other industries, like the steel industry and potash, that use water. Moe said that it would and provide water security for that entire economic package and ultimately for the people of southeastern Saskatchewan.
“What you're seeing is we're moving as quickly as we can on this file, ensuring we're doing our due diligence at every step of the way. But we've had the design and architecture engineering firm has been awarded, as we know, to a Saskatchewan firm. And they're working on some of the design and ultimately, working towards a construction contract where we would start actually moving dirt for that Phase 1 of the project. That's where we're into. And moving through Phase 1, you're going to see that same design and engineering firms start to turn their sights on to Phase 2, as we expect that Phase 1 will have very rapid uptake by the folks that are in that area.”
Moe said it would “most certainly will start to build a very different agriculture industry in certain parts of this province than we have seen in Saskatchewan, over the course of the history of our province, and ultimately, provide that water security for various other industries and municipalities to have for years in the future as well.”
Other ag announcements
The 2021-22 provincial budget includes a $23.1 million increase to the Ministry of Agriculture budget which will help the industry grow and ensure Saskatchewan producers are able to continue supplying the world with safe, high-quality food, according to a Ministry release. The $386.9 million agriculture budget represents a six per cent increase from the 2020-21 budget.
“The importance of a secure, reliable and safe food supply chain is essential for our citizens and for our economy,” Agriculture Minister David Marit said in a release. “The 2021-22 agriculture budget will once again fully fund business risk management programs, provide a record level of per-acre coverage under the Crop Insurance Program, continue last year's record investment in agriculture research, and make important investments in irrigation expansion.”
The agriculture budget includes a $20.6 million increase to business risk management funding, compared to 2020-21. This will provide $265 million to fund a suite of business risk management programs, which are delivered as part of the federal-provincial Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP).
The $150.1 million 2021 Crop Insurance Program includes average coverage of $273 an acre. This is a new record for per-acre coverage under the program and represents an $11.1 million increase from 2020-21. The 2021 Crop Insurance Program featured additional options for producers seeking to insure their tame hay acres, an increase in Native Forage Establishment Benefit coverage, updates to the base grade for large-seeded Kabuli chickpeas, the introduction of the Commercial Vegetable Pilot Program, and increases to the establishment benefit values for canola, lentils, chickpeas and corn.
This year's budget also contains an additional $2 million for the Wildlife Damage Compensation Program, which compensates Saskatchewan producers for crop damage and predation caused by wildlife, to address stronger commodity prices. This program is available to all Saskatchewan producers; you do not need to be an existing Crop Insurance customer to qualify for coverage, the Ministry said.
The Ministry of Agriculture said it “remains committed to funding innovation and growth in the industry. The 2021-22 Agriculture budget will also once again include $32.9 million in funding for agriculture research, which matches last year's record level of funding for research.”
Additional investments will also be made to expand irrigation in Saskatchewan, with an increased $2.5 million for irrigation development projects. This funding will help to advance projects in areas outside of the Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Expansion Project, through existing irrigation development programming. Expanding irrigation is part of Saskatchewan's 2030 Growth Plan.
The Growth Plan also aims to increase crop production to 45 million tonnes, increase livestock cash receipts to $3.0 billion, double agriculture value-added revenue to $10 billion and expand agri-food exports to $20 billion. Once again, the Agriculture budget includes $71.2 million for strategic programs under the CAP agreement. CAP programs provide funding for agricultural research, markets and trade, value-added agriculture, environmental sustainability and public trust.
The Ministry said that 2020 once again demonstrated the resilience of the Saskatchewan agriculture sector. Producers harvested the second-largest crop on record at more than 39 million tonnes. Saskatchewan agri-food exports also reached a new high last year of $16.9 billion, accounting for more than 55 per cent of total provincial exports in 2020.
The Western Canadian Wheat Growers said they are supportive of the 2021 Saskatchewan budget and the funding that it provides to the agriculture industry across the province.
“Today’s provincial budget provides the appropriate levels of support for the agriculture industry, especially during a pandemic. No new tax increases and no decrease in the budget, ensures ongoing agriculture programs,” said North Battleford-based Daryl Fransoo, chair.
The Wheat Growers said the budget recognizes the need for continued record investment in agricultural research. “This is welcome news and highly thought of across the industry,” they said in a release.
The overall six per cent increase in the agriculture budget is largely dedicated to farmer support under the Business Risk Management (BRM) programs. These programs ensure that the agriculture industry remains strong, even during perilous times.
“The Western Canadian Wheat Growers offers its thanks to the Saskatchewan government for its commitment and support to the agriculture industry, which has led the province and Canada through the current pandemic. Given the current commodity prices, the industry will continue to lead the economy,” said Jim Wickett, Secretary-Treasurer.