Garden Chat w/Oliver Green: Irrigation - Outlook's vision?

Dr. William Tufts, known to family and friends as Bill, once remarked seeing school aged children in Outlook faces pressed to the window of a local grocery store looking at oranges in the window they had heard about but never tasted. The potential for irrigation to change that scene along with the fact he relied on relief himself, as a doctor, for survival weighed heavily on his mind. He was aware of the St. Mary, Grand Coulee and Garrison Dams and PFRA was actively considering a dam on the South Saskatchewan as early as 1943.

He became almost a one man band advocating for a dam. With others and eventually the entire province he became heavily involved in the organization of the South Saskatchewan River Development Association in 1945 even meeting with Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent in Ottawa to achieve their association’s vision of a dam. It would take another 13 years for the ink to dry on an agreement to actually build it and another 10 to finish it.

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dr. tufts
Dr. William Tufts.

Fast forward to 2020 with the recent four billion dollar announcement to build on the results of that vision, we are now in need of a similar vision from mayor and council in Outlook along with other stakeholders to see that the dam and the water behind it is utilized for the province’s and Outlook’s maximum benefit.

With the reality of a dam, those early visionaries saw the need for agriculture, in practical terms, to transition from dry land to irrigation farming. As a consequence, the Pre Development Farm (now CSIDC) was established in 1949.

In 2020 terms there should be a concerted effort to see CSIDC maintained as a focal point of irrigation research technology and development with an emphasis on attracting processing operations for vegetables and other specialty crops. As it always has, CSIDC will continually need to change and adapt but it can and should be more than just a research facility.

For example, why are there no strawberry crowns being produced locally for export to North American markets? Research has demonstrated northern vigor exists for strawberries, similar to potatoes, yet research alone has not been enough for that crop to make a contribution to our economy.

The need to attract farmers to Outlook from Alberta with irrigation experience was also an early vision which in hindsight has contributed significantly to the growth of Outlook. Looking forward there will be a continuing need to attract boots on the ground with specialty crop experience especially when one considers, according to the RBC Farmer 4.0 Report recently released, there will be a shortage of agricultural workers by 2030.

We train doctors, bricklayers, cooks, machinists, lawyers in other professions but why is there no facility in Saskatchewan to train entrepreneurs to grow vegetables, one of our most basic food commodity groups especially when we import about 90% of our ‘in season’ requirements (other than potatoes) that could be grown here? Is there not an expectation, as well, that processing operations looking to locate in the Outlook area will be looking for that experience in the farming community?

That experience could very well come from immigration. We already have a viable contingent of hard working, energetic citizens from the Netherlands taking advantage of existing irrigation opportunities. Why are we not building on that?

As voters would it not be wise to elect candidates, in this and future elections, with a vision based on Dr. Tuft’s legacy?

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