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Could agri-tourism be Lethbridge County’s next big thing?

Posted on August 27, 2014 by Sunny South News

Picture this… buses full of visitors from across the globe taking in what southern Alberta and especially Lethbridge County is world-renowned for — agriculture.

It’s no wonder one of Lethbridge County’s future endeavours is looking at the opportunities in regards to agri-tourism in the area.

During an Economic Development Quarterly Report to Lethbridge County council Aug. 21, Martin Ebel, from the Community Services department, offered his thoughts on the possibility of future growth in the agri-tourism industry throughout the county.

The report highlighted Ebel’s activities from Mar. 1 to August 2014.

“I do see it as a good opportunity and something that fits into the overall tourism plan for the southern Alberta area and something unique that we can offer,” said Ebel, during his report to county council, adding maybe it’s not a top priority for county council but an opportunity to pursue.

Agri-tourism, Ebel noted, is a relatively new idea that is growing.

“There’s people trying to eat more healthy and have a better understanding of where their food is coming from and trying to get that 100-mile diet,” Ebel explained but added there’s a fair bit of trendiness regarding the growing market.

“There’s some of this that is kind of the flavour of the day, as it were, but some of this is genuine interest on the part of people,” said Ebel.

One of the biggest assets for Lethbridge County, Ebel said, is its agriculture.

“The thing is, nobody else in southern Alberta is really focused on that right now, so that’s where I see the opportunity. We don’t necessarily have to take away from our Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump or Waterton — it’s not a competition. It’s being able to offer people that come into this area something else, something unique and something worthwhile,” said Ebel.

Ebel’s report to county council also highlighted areas of business retention and expansion, networking and relationship building, communication and promotion and capacity building.

With business retention and expansion, the report stated Ebel has been working with a number of partners from the private and public sector, successfully attracting a new 22,500 square-foot DuPont Pioneer quick-maturing corn research facility in the county. 

According to the report, the facility may expand its operations to include research into other crops such as soybeans. The report stated Pioneer specifically cited its positive experience with its existing canola facility in the local community, as part of its decision to locate in the county.

“I think it’s a real credit to the county. DuPont Pioneer stressed that because of the success of their existing canola research facility, it was one of the things that made them very comfortable about investing and putting another facility into this jurisdiction. They spoke very highly of that. It was a very quick process. They kind of started looking last fall and to make the announcement within 10 months is really moving quickly by economic development standards,” said Ebel.

“Again, I think the fact that they had such a positive experience with the canola facility really allowed them to move more quickly than usual,” said Ebel, adding the facility is located at the former Newco property and dirt has already been moved and foundation work has been put into motion on the project.

Eventually, Ebel said, he thinks the company wants to expand the facility to include research on soy beans and other crops.

“It will not just stay corn research. I think the ultimate vision is a lot bigger. This fits in really well with the county’s focus on agriculture and also on bio-industrial research and so forth. It’s kind of right what we’re looking for. I’m very pleased about that. I think it’s a tribute to the county,” he said.

Ebel has also been assisting with the Sept. 24 Mexican consulate county tour.

“I think it’s a good opportunity to showcase to an international market what the county has going on,” said Ebel.

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