Agriculture in the County of Newell

Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week
 Brooks is situated in a region classified as semi-arid, with average growing season precipitation (between May 1 and Sept 30) of 223 mm. Fortunately, in the early 1900’s, the Government of Canada and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) realized the necessity of supplementing the low seasonal precipitation with an irrigation system. This was done in large part to attract foreign settlers familiar with agricultural production to the area. The CPR initiated the irrigation infrastructure for diverting and distributing water from the Bow River into the County of Newell, but the continued upgrading, expansion and maintenance of the water diversion and distribution is now the responsibility of the Eastern Irrigation District (EID) with support from the Province of Alberta.
The EID currently delivers irrigation water to over 113,000 hectares of cultivated land, and supplies water to the City of Brooks through Lake Newell, numerous towns, villages and hamlets as well as processing industries, wetland habitat projects and acreage owners and farmsteads.

The landscape in the Brooks area, agricultural production, wildlife, human population and industrial development potential would be radically different if water diversion had not occurred. As it is, agricultural production and crop diversity thrive in the Brooks area due to affordable, readily available water for irrigated agriculture production. Forage and silage production support a robust beef cattle industry including feedlot, cow-calf and back grounding. Growing of cereal grains, oilseeds, pulse crops, potatoes, silage corn, grass seed, alfalfa seed and some specialty crops are possible in the area due to the favorable climate and availability of irrigation water. Crop and livestock production support many ancillary industries that provide employment for residents in Brooks and the surrounding area.

The area is unique in it's agricultural diversification. About two thirds of the surrounding 1.5 million acres is native and improved dryland pasture. Over 50 percent of the remaining land is planted to irrigated crops with the rest in dryland crops. The dryland crops are mainly wheat, canola and barley. The dryland pasture is home to native wildlife and grazing cow/calf pairs. These cattle provide the local feedlots with valuable livestock input. Much of the irrigated land is dedicated to cereal and corn silage, feed grains and alfalfa hay for livestock. Other major crops include: soft and hard wheat, canola for commercial and seed production plus numerous special crops. The main special crops include: alfalfa for seed, confection sunflowers, peas for seed, potatoes, sugar beets, edible beans, grass seed, vegetables and other more minor crops. In addition to beef cattle, several large dairies and hog operations help diversify the agricultural economy.

This area is the heart of Alberta’s alfalfa seed and leafcutter bee production. Leafcutter bees are able to pollinate the unique flower tripping mechanism of alfalfa. The combination of long sunshine hours over 2400, warm temperatures, minimal winds, reliable irrigation water, experienced growers and seed handling facilities make this Canada’s prime growing area. Seed is exported all over the world but primarily to the U.S. and Europe. Surplus production of leafcutter bees is exported to pollinate alfalfa seed, blueberries, melons, canola and other crops.

The potato acreage in Alberta dramatically increased in 1999-200 when McCain and Lamb Weston located processing plants near Taber. Alberta production is almost exclusively contract production with the highest average potato yield per acre of all the potato producing provinces in Canada. We rank fourth in number of acres planted, but are second only to P.E.I. in overall production because of our exceptional yields.

In 2007, approximately 52,200 acres of potatoes were grown in Alberta. Of the total, 40,250 acres were planted for processing (fries and chips), 9,600 acres were planted to seed potatoes and 2,350 acres were planted as tablestock. There are three major fry processing plants in southern Alberta, two potato chip plants, a dehydration facility, and a number of packers. The overall value of the industry in Alberta has been estimated at more than $350 million dollars.

Alberta’s greenhouse industry has a value of $150 million dollars with 300 acres under cover, either glass or plastic. Alberta is fourth in greenhouse production acreage after Ontario, BC, and Quebec. The majority of greenhouses are located in the Redcliff and Medicine Hat area but there is greenhouse production in the County of Newell producing vegetables, cut flowers and bedding plants.

In the County of Newell, there are two established berry farms plus a number of smaller operations in various stages of development. Local hutterite colonies, a major vegetable market gardener, and a few smaller market gardeners can be found Thursday’s providing fresh locally grown produce at the local Farmers Market.

From its roots as the Canadian Pacific Railway's demonstration farm during the Great Depression, the Crop Diversification Centre South at Brooks has evolved as a leader in horticulture and special crops research development and extension.

In 1935, the CPR had losses of $400,000 in the “eastern section”; the Headquarters Farm was turned over to the Provincial Government. Since 1935, CDCS has played a key part in aiding in the establishment and further expansion of horticultural industries in Alberta.

The vegetable and fruit breeding programs at the Centre in the late 1950’s through the 60’s paid off with the release of Castle sweet pepper, and Brookpack tomato. Many of the fruit varieties with Brook in their name like Fallbrook raspberry and Brookgold plum originated from here. Speaking of plant releases, crosses made between a native female cottonwood collected at Stevelle in 1918, by Mr. Augustus Griffin, and a male Russian poplar are backbone of many of today’s farm shelterbelts. Six male clones were selected from the cross from these six, Brooks #1 was named “Griffin Poplar”, after Mr. Gus Griffin and Brooks #4 and #6 became part of the shelterbelt program in Alberta.

In 1981 the Centre was instrumental in the establishment of the commercial saskatoon berry industry. An over-the-row blueberry harvester and bush fruit cleaning equipment was adapted to saskatoons. This equipment was lent to producers to start them on their way to success in the saskatoon berry industry. Today there are about 2200 acres of saskatoon berry production in Alberta.

CDCS has been instrumental in educating growers in the “how-tos” of growing. We have long worked along side the greenhouse industry in Alberta trying new production methods. In the fall of 2009, a new state-of-the-art greenhouse will open at CDCS. This facility will have 1 acre of pre production greenhouse as well as 9 separately controlled greenhouse bays that will meet the needs of CDCS researchers.
Share via
For more information about the content of this document, contact Shelley Barkley.
This information published to the web on July 30, 2008.
Last Reviewed/Revised on January 4, 2017.