March 20th, 2019

Important role of ag societies

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 9, 2018.

“Lest we forget.” This year, Nov. 11 falls on Sunday. I begin my column as I ended my last one – by remembering the service and sacrifice by members of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (First World War), the Canadian Armed Forces, and the Dominion of Newfoundland Enlisted Forces. Remembrance Day is for all of us to pay tribute to all those who have served, who are serving now around the world, and to the fallen.

“We are the Dead. Short days ago, We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow; Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders Fields.” – Lieutenant Colonel John McRae, May 3, 1915.

Soon after the last election, a number of my colleagues and I met, and together, we decided to have a “rural caucus” within our caucus, to discuss the related issues we saw and heard within our constituencies. Lethbridge-East is not considered a “rural” riding, but it is heavily tied to our neighbouring agriculture sector, both in terms of the industries and businesses here, and the high number of constituents who have come here after long farming careers. I realized long before I was elected how much rural Alberta interacts with Lethbridge and how important the issues of rural southern Alberta directly impact our city, and so many of our constituents.

I am sure every resident of Lethbridge has attended something at the exhibition grounds in Lethbridge. Was it the Farmers’ Market, or perhaps the midway during Whoop-Up Days? Are you going to the Christmas craft sale on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the Exhibition? All are actually connected to our ag society.

The Lethbridge & District Exhibition is the fourth-oldest agricultural society in Alberta. The very first fair was held in 1897. Since then, over 121 years of special events have happened through our Exhibition. Exhibition Park is governed by a board of directors representing members of the community. This year, the Exhibition Board president is Mike Davis. He and 12 directors, along with CEO Rudy Friesen, who leads the administration team, are all doing a wonderful job putting Lethbridge on the map.

Having said this, ag societies do more than just host events; they are volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organizations whose mandate is to encourage improvement in agriculture and enhance quality of life in their communities.

Ag societies receive funding each year from the provincial government for their programs. Across the province, we’re proud to support the 283 agriculture societies with $11.5 million each year. Our government has committed to providing this stable funding for the next three years. In 2016-17, the Lethbridge Ag Society received $398,853 in regional fair grants. Overall in the southern Alberta region, there are some 32 ag societies who receive funding (based upon their society’s size) between about $15,000 and $178,000 per year. Every community is unique, and Premier Rachel Notley and our government want to recognize hardworking volunteers for being the lifeblood of ag societies, and knowing what each community needs. I’m proud to be a member of a government that recognizes all that ag societies do in supporting things like bike safety events, 4-H clubs, farm beautification awards and farm safety programs.

I am certainly looking forward to the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies annual convention this February.

Now I would like to talk a little about farm safety. I believe our farmers in the south have mostly wrapped up a difficult harvest season, and I hope many are taking a well-deserved rest.

With the new $6-million Alberta farm safety grant, now is the time for farmers to restock and reassess their farm safety habits and ensure they align with the new Occupational Health and Safety legislation. Money from the grant will help farmers ensure their work sites are safe for their workers, their families and themselves. On Dec. 1, the OHS code will apply to farms and ranches that employ waged, non-family workers and the money will help farmers comply with the new regulations.

The program allows eligible farmers to claim 50 per cent of their safety expenses to a maximum of $5,000 a year or $10,000 over the life of the program.

The grant would apply to a long list of things, among them: First aid supplies, fire extinguishers, fire-resistant and chemical-resistant clothing, safety boots, welding screens, flashback arrestors and helmets. Installing roll-over protection, adding seatbelt auger guards, PTO guards or warning lights on equipment, or “overhead power line” warning signs also qualify. The program also helps pay for consultant fees to develop a health and safety policy, or emergency response planning for each farm.

Our provincial government knows farmers and ranchers are committed to safety and has worked with farmers to develop the OHS and farm safety guidelines. AgSafe Alberta, a coalition of Alberta’s farm and ranch groups, also offer farm safety management planning, risk assessment and on-farm safety consultation.

For more information on the grant program call the Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276), or email: For more information about AgSafe Alberta and to book a visit from a farm safety adviser, contact .

Check out “A Taste of Ecuador” at SAEA ( on Nov. 30, or perhaps take in the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden ( “Winter Lights Festival” opening on Dec. 1.

Lethbridge-East Constituency Office is open for “walk-in” visits Monday-Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Closed Monday, Nov. 12 in lieu of Remembrance Day.

Maria Fitzpatrick is the NDP MLA for Lethbridge East. Her column appears monthly.

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