Over the last year, I have learned a lot about Alberta’s opportunities for international trade. The one consistent message is that Alberta is an exporting province and we need to cultivate trade partners in order to have our industry grow and thrive. As agriculture is changing before our eyes and the challenge of feeding our rapidly expanding world population has taken centre stage, we in Alberta are perfectly positioned to face that challenge head on. We need to be at the forefront during ongoing trade negotiations to ensure agriculture’s message is heard.

We grow the finest crops in the world here in Alberta, and in Canada as a whole, but if we are not at the bargaining table, countries like Australia and Argentina will jump in and gain market share at our expense. In 2012, Canada exported approximately 1.5 million tonnes of barley, primarily to Japan, the United States, Saudi Arabia and China. It is important that we keep these markets open and support trade activity in these regions to maintain and expand our market share.

I recently attended the Alberta Government’s announcement of its new international strategy, which includes opening several trade offices in new and existing markets to make sure Alberta’s voice is always heard in trade discussions and negotiations. This is a huge step towards guaranteeing Alberta’s place at the bargaining table and barley’s place in international markets. This international presence is vital to Alberta barley farmers, who are always looking to increase the profitability of their versatile crop.

The barley industry has the ability to promote trade opportunities in many ways. We have the ability to export feed, malt and food barley. In emerging markets all of these varieties have the potential to grow market share. With the growth of the middle class in some of these countries, meat is becoming more available, so feed barley is needed for livestock. The same trend increases demand for malt in the beer industry. Additionally, barley as a whole grain is becoming recognized as a healthy food option and the key component in beverages like barley water and barley tea.

With this increased demand for barley products, trade offices have become an invaluable conduit between Alberta’s barley farmers and these new markets. In order to be a powerhouse in the export arena, we cannot sit back on our laurels—we need to drive home the message that Alberta is open for business and ready to trade.

Lisa Skierka (left) and Linda Whitworth (centre) present Premier Alison Redford (right) with a barley gift basket.
Credit: Tyler Difley