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Getting started in horticulture in Alberta

September 11, 2015  By Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

September 11, 2015, Edmonton, Alta – Drought, BSE and low commodity prices deterred many people from agriculture over the last decade and changed the minds of some of even the hardiest producers, says Dustin Morton, commercial horticulture specialist, Alberta Ag-Info Centre.

“However, over the last couple of years, agriculture has seen a substantial increase in the number of people considering it as a viable career option. Increased interest in local production as well as the desire to know where and how food is grown means more are people looking to get into agriculture and primary production.”

Morton says horticulture continues to lead in this area for several reasons:

  • consumers typically are able to hold, feel and use the end product without processing or interference, making it more tangible (eating a carrot as opposed to bread made from flour, ground from wheat)
  • it can be practiced on virtually any scale, in nearly any location, with very few inputs (container gardens, empty city lots, 10 acre parcels, basements)
  • it is relatively easy to understand and do because most people know somebody who grows food or ornamentals already
  • it covers a broad range of production areas (fruit, ornamentals, trees, vegetables, etc.) meaning nearly something for everybody

“One of the biggest hurdles facing new producers is a lack of resources,” says Morton. “While typically this refers to financial resources, information on trends in the industry, considerations for start-ups, and even credible information on how to grow a crop can be equally difficult to find. Further complicating matters is that horticultural production is largely done in warmer climates than our own, including Ontario, British Columbia, Washington and California. This can make extrapolating varieties and growing practices to Alberta’s climate and growing conditions challenging to say the least.”

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry tries to reduce this gap through many of the specialists and programs available.

“Specialists such as new venture coaches can work with new producers to help them to develop a business plan, find their niche market, and look at opportunities for grant funding. Commercial horticulture specialists deal with primary production in this broad and diverse industry and can discuss production considerations, pest concerns, and best management practices. Farmers’ market and food safety specialists can help with food safety concerns both on farm and in the market, ensuring a safe product. And resources like Commercial Vegetable Production on the Prairies, Farm Direct Marketing: Know the Regulations and the Farmers’ Market Food Safety Home Study Course can all improve the chance of success in a new operation.”

These same resources and more are also often available in workshops and webinars.

“Explore Horticulture is a workshop geared towards new entrants to horticulture and runs the 19th and 26th of September in Red Deer, and Lethbridge respectively,” says Morton. “This one-day workshop will look at different production and marketing methods available to new growers and will include a tour of a local farmers market as well as a local producer. Workshops such as this offer the opportunity to not only meet other start-up growers, but also established producers and learn from their successes and failures. If time or travel is a concern, webinars such as HortSnacks-to-Go or the Explore Local Initiative’s Series can be another great venue to learn about new production or marketing techniques, hear from other producers, or explore food safety concerns.”

Finally, while workshops, webinars, and much reading can all help in the beginning stage, Morton says nothing beats the experience and wisdom of a seasoned grower.

“Networking with these growers at every opportunity will not only grow ones knowledge of the industry but also of the players in it, improving the chance of success in your venture. Regardless of the venture you choose, resources come in many forms and using these to their full extent can often mean the difference between a business that survives and one that truly thrives.”

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