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International farmers get eyes opened in Alberta

Tour of the province includes produce market embedded in a Calgary condo project and examples of high production despite short growing season and -40 C winters

Producers from countries ranging from Australia to Zimbabwe recently toured Alberta as part of an international program that helps farmers experience how agriculture is practised around the world.

“It’s not that we can take everything and try to implement it in our country, but it’s just sparking, you know, getting that thought going,” said Ranga Huruba, head of operations at the Shangani Holistic ranch in Zimbabwe.

As part of a group representing eight countries, Huruba visited farms and agri-food operations in Alberta under Nuffield Canada’s Global Focus Program, which is part of Nuffield International. Branches in member countries provide scholarships as high as $25,000, enabling recipients to see first-hand how agriculture is practised in different parts of the world.

Steve Laroque, a crop adviser and producer from Three Hills, Alberta, is a member of Nuffield Canada’s board of directors. He said the bigger global picture was realizing how policies can create barriers that prevent farmers from reaching their full potential.

Huruba said Africa has the potential to feed the world, but he was awed by Alberta’s current success.

“We’ve [Africa] got very good soils and our climate is not that bad,” he said, pointing to what Alberta farmers have achieved with a shorter growing season and -40 C winters – production levels that are “unheard of when you come into Africa.”

Laroque helped guide the group of Nuffield scholars around Alberta, where they visited operations as varied as a vegetable grower and a bison ranch to a honey producer and a cow-calf operation. Huruba noticed “there’s a lot of innovation around your farming systems — that people are free to think and explore and push boundaries.”

The scholars also visited Sunterra Market in the Keynote condo complex in Calgary. It is part of an Alberta chain of European-style grocery stores owned by the Sunterra Group, which controls companies across a wide range of the province’s agri-food industry.

Facilities include a new high-tech, 20-acre greenhouse operation that raises tomatoes and strawberries in Acme, Alta. As part of their visit to the greenhouse, the scholars saw first-hand how the Sunterra Group grows such produce for sale in its stores.

Such vertical integration is unusual in the agriculture industry, said Glen Price, co-owner and president of Sunterra Quality Food Markets Inc. “I would say we’re very unique in terms of having every aspect of production, processing and retail.”

Huruba said he found the tour of Alberta to be a positive experience

Policies and legislation help make agricultural innovation possible in Alberta, he said. “I think you guys, you’re aware, you’re way ahead in terms of that, and it’s something that I’m taking back from what I’ve experienced.”