Alberta Farmers have a passion for sustainability

Buying local keeps sustainable farming alive, says Alberta farmers

BY: Chris Standring

Postmeida Content Works

Allison Ammeter and Greg Sears are both third-generation Alberta farmers, whose families have produced crops here since the early 1900s. Ammeter’s farm near Sylvan Lake alternates between peas, barley, canola and wheat. Sears returned to farming 10 years ago, after spending 20 years as an engineer. He is now a canola producer in Alberta’s Peace region.


“What I love about farming is the diversity of tasks, perspectives and challenges it offers,” says Sears. “There is also a great sense of community in agriculture, which includes the privilege of working with your immediate family.”


For Ammeter, it’s “the circle of life, from bare ground in the spring through harvest in the fall. I find it incredibly gratifying to do all you can to improve the farm each year, then see the results after a good harvest.”


Both are passionate about sustainable farming. Says Sears, "Sustainable farming is about recognizing and understanding the interactions between our activities and the land, water, air and living systems in which we we operate… It's about trying to balance a society's needs for agricultural products with the imperative that our farm will continue to operate for generations to come. We can't be in this for short-term benefit.”


Ammeter agrees. “That means the land, water and soil must be continually improved, the markets for our products need to be protected and enlarged, so we continue to make a living, and consumers must have continuous confidence that we are farming in the best way for both Canada and the planet.”

Since the days when their grandfathers tilled the land, farms have become larger and more specialized, says Ammeter, “mostly because we can now manage more land in one season,” she explains. “It was all my grandfather could do to crop and harvest 160 acres in the '30s and '40s. The sheer time it took for him to prepare the land, seed and crop it (using horses, of course) limited the amount of land he could farm. Today, thanks to innovation and mechanization, my husband and I can plant 160 acres in a day and harvest it in a day. Therefore, we can manage more land in a year.”


What drives innovation is ever increasing demand, says Sears. “Supplying agricultural products to the world supports our standard of living. Being sustainable means not sacrificing the long-term health of our environment and society to accomplish that.”


Technology that has produced the "minimum tillage" equipment has allowed farmers to preserve more organic matter, improve the soil condition, encourage biodiversity, and reduce erosion, says Ammeter. She is open about practices on their farm, and believes transparency and consumer education are important.


Allison Ammeter, third -generation Alberta farmer near Sylvan Lake

Photo Credit: supplied

Photo Credit: supplied

Greg Sears, third -generation canola producer in Alberta's Peace Region

Photo Credits: Alberta Canola Producers

“Yes, we absolutely rely on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically engineered varieties, as we know each of these leave our soil in better condition than we started, protect the crops from damage, and allow us to produce the large amount of food necessary to feed our growing world population. 


“We are very careful to rotate our crops, and use everything safely, according to all regulations, protecting our soil, air, and water, as well as our family and neighbours. We live here, raise our children here. This is extremely important to us.”


Farmers have real concerns about how "sustainable" is defined and by whom, says Sears. “It often seems that the farmers' desire to do the right thing is complicated by a world full of marketing spin and retail competition that makes ‘sustainable’ a moving target,” he explains.

“We all need to recognize that sustainability is not about absolutes, it’s about an evolution of farming practices that considers many criteria. Too often people focus on a single aspect of production and suffer unintended consequences for others. We also miss the chance to become more sustainable because lines have been drawn in the sand that prevent constructive dialogue — the debates surrounding GMOs and organic production are prime examples of this.”


Both farmers see a role for consumers in achieving sustainability in farming.


Says Ammeter, consumers can help through their government, “by supporting trade agreements that allow us to market our products around the world, thus staying economically sustainable.”


When consumers buy local, says Sears, it “ensures that local producers remain in business, providing direct and indirect jobs, paying taxes and contributing to their communities.” Finally, he adds: “We need to understand that the science behind sustainability decisions is rarely definitive and requires repeated, high quality study to get the best answers. We encourage consumers to visit local farms, engage with agricultural organizations, and learn how their food is produced locally.”

Chris Standring is a writer for Postmedia Content Works, a custom content studio that creates, deploys and measures programs for brands.