By Tim Kalinowski on September 22, 2021.
With the retirement of Mayor Chris Spearman of Lethbridge, Mayor Kim Craig of Coaldale and Mayor Dennis Cassie of Coalhurst, Reeve Lorne Hickey of Lethbridge County is pretty much the last man standing in the greater Lethbridge area when it comes to incumbent local leaders running for office. Hickey hopes to return for his eighth term after this fall’s election, and, if successfully elected, to eventually win the support of his fellow councillors to return as Reeve.
“There is still a lot of things one would like to see accomplished,” Hickey told The Herald on Monday. “Over the years things have changed a great deal, and I just want to put forward the knowledge I’ve gained to help people out in any way I can.”
While the challenges of agriculture and the pressures of development remain ever constant in Lethbridge County, Hickey said COVID-19 threw a whole new monkey wrench into the works this past term.
“COVID has been a very difficult issue to deal with from a lot of different perspectives,” he said. “It is hard to put it in perspective as to how it relates to agriculture, because it’s kind of different for it in a way you are not directly involved with a lot of people. But still, your staff and people you market stuff to. You have to be well aware of the situation there. And you have to be conscious of how you handle products, and the safety aspect of that.”
While drought and weather-related pressures are not new to local agriculture, Hickey credited advances in agricultural practices and technologies for preventing the heat crisis from becoming even worse this past year.
“As you evolve and change there is a way around most of this, but we just need a little help from nature,” Hickey stated.
But there are much broader challenges facing local agriculture that have nothing to do with the lack of rain, said Hickey. Chaotic market forces have been increasing trade pressures on Canadian agriculture due to a protectionist bent in the United States in recent years and ongoing tensions with China.
Local farmers will have to navigate the riptides of this new turbulent trade environment very carefully over the next few years, Hickey acknowledged.
“It’s like everything else, you got to work and do a lot of homework of who you market products to, and how you are going to get that product to market eventually down the road,” he stated. “I think most people nowadays, with the elimination of the Wheat Board and more open markets, you have to be more knowledgeable about what you are doing and how you do it. I think working with the right companies will get you to where you want to be eventually.”
Nothing drives home these challenges more forcefully for the county than the China question, Hickey acknowledged. Lethbridge County prior to 2018 had spent a great deal of effort in cultivating a good relationship with Chinese officials with the hopes of attracting potential investment in local agriculture, even exchanging official delegations at one point.
Hickey says those efforts have now ground to a halt due to recent political tensions between Canada and China.
“With the two Michaels situation over there, and the challenges we’ve had in the canola market with China, it has been a challenge,” he confirmed. “You have to have improvement in relations at a higher level of government than what we are looking at (in county).”
Hickey said his hope for the future of agriculture in the next four years in Lethbridge County is in the regional protein cluster and food-processing corridor concept, and in the strong partnerships the county has built with the City of Lethbridge and other local municipalities to achieve local growth and attract greater investment to the region.
“It has been extremely positive- like with the opening of Cavendish Farms here now, with another 10,000 acres of potatoes, and the revamp of canola,” he explained. “They (Richardson) have spent a lot of money on their canola crushing plant in Lethbridge. And, I think, there is a lot of crops coming online. There is a lot of people growing hemp again, and they if they can find a good processing facility in southern Alberta for that it would do wonders. The protein cluster groups- if they can get up and running, the world is out there to take advantage of what we can produce. That is the future. We have to work towards that otherwise we are going to be left behind.”
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