Local alfalfa farming contemplated

Experts weigh in on the possibility of alfalfa farms in Terrace to supply planned Chinese processing factory

Plans for the alfalfa protein extraction plant out at the Skeena Industrial Development Park have some entrepreneurial-minded people in the area wondering how they might cash in on the nutrient-rich crop.

And while local and provincial experts agree that alfalfa could be grown in the Terrace area, they are also of the mind that wet summers mean the business would be a risky one.

According to local ecology expert Norma Kerby, alfalfa grows best in warm conditions.

“The problem with Terrace is the great swing in rain/temperature conditions from year to year,” Kerby said. “A summer like 2013 in Terrace could most likely support alfalfa production, but a summer like 2011, where we had about three days of sunshine and the temperatures were cold, would not support good alfalfa production.”

Kerby added that genetic modification experiments have yielded strains of alfalfa that can grown in atypical conditions. But even if a farmer took that controversial route of using a wet-weather alfalfa strain, “the next problem would be to get large acreages of tillable land that weren’t being eroded by the river.”

A statement from the provincial Ministry of Agriculture says pretty much the same thing.

“There may be an opportunity for small-scale alfalfa production in the Terrace area but it would be limited by climactic variables such as high amounts of precipitation, cool growing season temperatures, and winter losses from ice forming over the surface of fields,” said the statement.

According to the ministry, there are areas east of Terrace suitable for alfalfa production.

“Inland sections of the Highway 16 corridor and the Peace Region have historically produced alfalfa and could be potential supply-sources, depending on the processor’s requirements (fresh or dried, protein content, purity etc.).”

If this is the case, then supply for the alfalfa protein extraction factory could come from B.C. as well as alfalfa-plentiful Saskatchewan, a province that Mayor Dave Pernarowski said would be one of the suppliers.

Chinese officials from the Qinhuangdao Economic Development Zone who were in Terrace several weeks ago to purchase land to build the factory on, as well as other planned factories, said they want to have the alfalfa processing plant up and running by 2017 or 2018 and are sending a technical team here later this year to begin design work.

The factory is to supply 10,000 tons of feed-grade alfalfa protein annually for livestock and 2,000 tons of food grade alfalfa protein for human consumption for shipment to China and possibly North American markets as well.