Farming in Alberta: pesticides or organic?

Fewer pesticides are being used on Alberta’s seeded farmland versus other prairie provinces. But, according to experts, that may have more to do with the province’s climate and crops than environmental consciousness — although organic farming could also be playing a role.

Alberta’s farming conditions are responsible for the decrease of pesticide usage despite similar climates in the other Prairie Provinces.

According to Statistics Canada, nine per cent of farmland in Alberta is treated with insecticides, while just 13 per cent was treated with fungicides and 35 per cent was treated with herbicides.

By comparison, 17 per cent of the land in Saskatchewan is treated with fungicides, nine per cent is treated with insecticides and 49 per cent of farmland is treated with herbicides. Meanwhile, 43 per cent of Manitoba’s farmland is treated with fungicides, 13 per cent insecticides and 49 per cent uses herbicides.

Peter Walsh, a professional cropper and instructor for the Agricultural department at Lakeland College in Vermilion Alta. says our lack of pesticide use can partially be explained by the fact “we don’t have a long growing season.”Alberta farmers are growing efficient crops without mass amounts of pesticides

Photo credit: Trevor Solway

In addition, other provinces grow a greater diversity of crops. That means Alberta has less crop pests, requiring the use of fewer chemicals to control them.

David Hobson, a staff member with Organic Alberta, says, “Another reason that Alberta uses less pesticides is because the other Prairie Provinces have a wetter climate, whereas Alberta is quite dry.”

But the decreased use of pesticides in Alberta farming is not strictly a consequence of the lack of limited crop diversity or the cooler, dry climate. It may also be due to the rising popularity of the organic farming industry.

The number of organic farms annually increased by 35 per cent between 2012 and 2013, according to a newsletter from the industry association Organic Alberta. As a result, there are over 300 certified organic farms in Alberta alone.

According to Hobson, those farms are “helping to grow supply and tackling the demand” for organic products, with 58 per cent of Canadians buying them each week.