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Western Canada’s agricultural industry

Western Canada’s Agricultural Industry

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Western Canada comprises three provinces that are located mainly in Prairie region. However, the landscape of this region is quite diverse. A large amount of the territory is covered by forests. The three provinces display similar geographical features. They also share a common history, which underlined the role of western Canada in the national development. Thus, it was the land for the fur trade, railroads, and immigrants, who contributed to the development of the country. The provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are separated by the Cordillera to the west, by Canadian Shield of northern Ontario to the east, the boreal forests to the north, and the United States to the south. The region is rich in mineral resources such as gas, oil, potash, and uranium. Western Canadas agricultural industry has been important to the region, the nation, and the world since the very early 20th century. This paper aims to discuss the regions agriculture: its development, preferences, and perspectives.

Location of the Industry

The landscape of western Canada was shaped by glaciers in the past. Southern provinces are characterized by ground and hummocky moraine. The foothills of Alberta and lowlands of Manitoba depict glacial deposition. Southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan are characterized by rich farmland due to silts and clays that were deposited in many lakes after glacial retreat. The best evidence of these deposits is the table-top flat landscape in the region near Regina. Marchildon (2011) assumes that western Canadian soil is rather favorable for agriculture. The glacial activity in the region modified its landscape, influenced its drainage patterns, and left striations on exposed rock outcroppings.

Agricultural production in western Canada outnumbers production of different crops in the other parts of the country. Historically, the region had diversified economy, but agriculture was the main industry in West Canada. For example, wheat production in Saskatchewan is twice as big as that in the rest of Canada. It is also a leader in other crops. Many experts consider western Canadas agriculture as a demand-driven sector of the world economy.

Major Changes Experienced by the Industry from 1900 to Present

Western Canada has undergone considerable changes from 1900 to present. The changes in agriculture occurred due to internal and external factors. The main factor was the government concern from the early colonial times. Historically, the prairies were involved in fur and maize trade, particularly with France. The British used the western Canadian agriculture as a strategic center against the French. In the 19th century, agricultural development was rather limited by ill-prepared immigrants, who mainly cleared virgin forests. This situation changed in the 20th century.

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The expansion of arable lands allowed farmers to cultivate greater territories and receive more profits from products that were sent to different countries worldwide. The development of the transportation system made a considerable contribution into the international trade of western Canada. The region began to cooperate with foreign countries. For example, businessmen purchased abroad wheat seeds that were resistant to low winter temperatures. Marchildon (2011) assumed that the government issued permission to the farmers to develop natural resources. Canadian farmers quickly established their dominance in cultivating wheat in the region. Western Canadas geographic position with its short summers was a serious obstacle in cultivating wheat. However, due to the genetic experimentations, Marquis Wheat was considerably improved, which gave an opportunity to successful expansion of agriculture.

Bone (2013) assumed that the developments of Canadian wheat began in the early 20th century. In the beginning of the century, irrigation systems were largely installed in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, which helped to overcome dry climate. A Dominion irrigation policy allowed farmers to gather abundant harvest in the prairies. Great changes also occurred in the transportation system. After the introduction of the Crow’s Nest Pass that was located between southwest Alberta and southeast British Columbia, it became possible to transport production in the shortest time. Bone (2013) reported that Clifford Sifton’s great immigration schemes helped the region to settle workforce from agricultural settlements generated abroad. Mechanization of agricultural processes also contributed to production surpluses.

Changes in political and legal system shaped the direction of further agricultural development. On the one hand, advances in different spheres of life, such as improved education and new technology, forced the authorities and entrepreneurs to reshape the regions agricultural model. On the other hand, agriculture shaped the region. The research asserts that after the World War II, the western Canadian lands experienced degradation (Marchildon, 2011). It was a result of production changes in the industry. Overall organic and nutrient losses were rather high in the region. This problem was aggravated by wind and water erosion of soil, salivation, and soil compaction.

Since 1930, the dust bowl has become a major problem in western Canada. Besides water erosion and soil compaction, the region also faced the problem of salinization, particularly in southern Alberta. Thus, overall changes in human activity contributed to salinization of the soil. In the 20th century, farmers were determined to improve the situation by growing crops that tolerated the quality of the soil.

Major Challenges Facing the Industry Today

In the 21st century, the agricultural industry still remains dominant in the region. Although, Saskatchewans livestock industry is well-developed in the province, it does not outnumber wheat production in terms of income. For example, in 2012, the total income of livestock was only $1.67 billion in comparison to crops (Heppner, 2015). Nowadays, Saskatchewan is the third region after Ontario and Alberta in yielding annual sales. Agri-food sector in western Canada has been discussed at different conferences, e.g. the 5th annual agri-food policy conference in Ottawa of 2015. The main idea of the conference was to understand the policy implications of the changing landscape.

Western Canada, as one of the biggest agricultural producers in the world, is seen by the world community as the main contributor to feeding of the large population in developing countries (Heppner, 2015). In the 21st century, new agri-business models replaced small family farms. Another agricultural region in western Canada is the province of Canola, which is famous for the production of crops. In the 21st century, the province has improved its economic importance and increased its acres. This increase was reached by cultivation of new lands that were not cultivated previously as they were considered as marginal (Marchildon, 2011). For example, Canola has one of the largest agricultural companies such as world-famous Cargill Limited. Coastal seaports became a vital component of the industry success. However, the declining quality of rural roads is of concern to many farmers.

Heppner (2015) argues that the political, economic, and environmental concerns with off-farm artificial drainage have led to increased support of the alternative on-farm water management. It requires redistribution and consolidation of resources. The farmers who need increased efficiency and productivity should, however, consider the adverse impacts of wildlife habitat loss and off-farm flooding complications. Dale-Burnett (2006) assumed that the reality required tackling of environmental problems that arose out of the use of fertilizers. Nowadays, acidification by industrial pollution and chemical fertilizers has furthered soil degradation (Bone, 2013).

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Agriculture dominated in this region since the beginning of the 20th century. For example, wheat, which was the main crop in Saskatchewan, still predominates nowadays. Although Saskatchewan succeeds in other industries as well, the agricultural industry remains the largest one in the region. The settled era was determined by the development of farm economy. Wheat acreage is growing annually and comprises about 5.7 million hectares (Dale-Burnett, 2006). The region is also famous for production of rye, canola, flax, oats, forage crops, barley, and pasturage for livestock.

Future of the Agricultural Industry in Western Canada

The agricultural industry in western Canada is ready to produce sustainable food amounts in the nearest future. Canadian farmers have already implemented practices that are helpful in improving the quality of the food production. Agriculture of the future should be adapted to the changes in sustainability measures, fertilizer management technologies, and conservation tillage among others. Canadian authorities sent initiatives to the government to provide supporting programs to the agricultural industry, which would allow implementing technologies to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, soil organic carbon, soil loss, and energy use.

The success of western Canadas agricultural industry will be determined by innovations, investments, and government initiatives. For example, Alberta can increase the potato production since it has a suitable geographical location with low winter temperatures, which can kill pests and diseases. Heppner (2015) argues that the favorable location of the prairies will offer new opportunities and high profits due to the export of agricultural products. Many experts consider that the future of agriculture in the western Canada will be adapted to the market demands.


The agricultural industry in western Canada is well-developed and grows fast. The historical review of the western Canada has shown that the prairies were adapted to the agricultural industry growth due to the economic and technical developments. Western Canadas agricultural industry continues to develop and makes a great contribution to the countrys economic well-being. It is a valuable source of food production not only inside the country but also all over the world. Nowadays, the government plays an essential role in the development of agriculture due to new initiatives.

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