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StatsCan World Water Day Report
CANADIAN CROP IRRIGATION
By Ronan O'Doherty
Agriculture has been a key part of the Canadian economy since the country has existed.
We are the fifth largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, and we send our produce out to 169 countries.
The industry employs over 2 million Canadians on the over 200,000 farms across the country.
It also uses a staggering amount of water.
According to Statistics Canada, farmers used 1.7 billion m3 to irrigate their crops in 2014, the last time the number was tallied.
To put that in perspective, it is enough water to fill the Rogers Centre, with its roof closed, over a thousand times.
Of course, the water is spread out over a far larger area. Farmers irrigated around 586,000 hectares worth of land, which is slightly smaller than the area that makes up the entire GTA.
Of that land, the grand majority of it was located within Alberta's borders. Almost ¾ of all irrigated land in Canada is in the Sunshine Province, where the somewhat thirst wheat remains the largest crop.
The Alberta crop with the largest water footprint however, is Canola. While wheat has a water footprint of 1635m3/ton, Canola's is around 2,427m3/ton.
Most water in the eastern provinces was taken from on-farm surface sources, while the western provinces relied quite heavily on off-farm provincial sources for the bulk of their irrigation.
Saskatchewan and Alberta used well over 90% off-farm sources while British Columbia used around 60%.
Although Alberta has all the sunshine it needs to produce a great many crops, it's naturally occurring water is somewhat unpredictable and as such the province has 13 irrigation districts to provide reliable water sources to their agricultural sector.
Richard Phillips is an executive member of Alberta Irrigation Projects Association (AIPA) representing the Bull River Irrigation District.
"We deliver water for about 5.5 months of the year during the growing season," Phillips said. Since it's currently the offseason, he added, "We're in a constant state of upgrading our infrastructure and getting ready for spring."
Phillips pointed out that these irrigation systems are far from new, with most of them being around since Alberta was given provincial status in 1905.
There are benefits to these systems that reach outside of agriculture as well.
"We're quite interested in providing good wildlife habitat," Phillips said, "Creating wetlands has been a significant thing," adding, "Most work has been done in partnership with Ducks Unlimited."
More than 87,000 acres of wetland habitat have been created or enhanced by irrigation development in southern Alberta.
It's not just the waterfowl that take advantage however.
"The reservoirs themselves are very popular for recreation with anglers, boaters and campers too," Phillips said.
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