Science Focus Topic 4 Notes: Meeting the Need for Food and Fibre | Print |
Because we grow more than we consume, Canada exports the excess to other countries around the world. Canada is also a leader in forestry and agricultural research science. Scientists, farmers and foresters are working together, developing practices that will reduce the negative effects that sometimes occur when we harvest plants for food and fibre. Sustainability (an ecological balance) is essential if we are to keep our natural resources healthy in the long term.

Agriculture in Alberta

Agriculture is important, but relatively new as an industry in Alberta. The vast natural resources in Alberta attracted many settlers who cultivated the grasslands to grow crops and harvested trees for construction, manufacturing and fuel. Nearly all of the grassland in the prairie provinces was converted to cropland, thus destroying the natural vegetation and native plant species that had been around for a thousand years.

This map shows the ecoregions of Alberta where parkland, grassland and forests in Alberta have been cultivated to grow crops
of the 60 million hectares of land in Alberta, over 20 million is now farmland )

Click on Map
to see full view

Who's Who in Crop Country?

Alberta crops are worth almost $3 Billion. The food industry is second only to oil and gas in terms of earnings.





Wheat is used to make food. The seeds are ground to make bread, pasta and many other processed foods.

Oats are grown to feed livestock.

Oil is pressed out of the canola seeds and is used to make margarine, cooking oil and salad dressing.

Leftover 'meal' is used to feed poultry and livestock, because it is high in protein.

Is fed to livestock and is used for making malt flavouring (used in many foods).




Specialty Crops

High in protein - legume crops, such as field peas, faba (or fava) beans and lentils are grown in the Parkland and Peace River Regions

The cool climate is ideal for growing potatoes. Half of the potatoes grown in Alberta are processed into frozen french fries and potato chips. Many potatoes are sold to other farmers as seed potatoes.

This crop is grown for its leaves and stems. They are known as hay crops or forage crops and are fed to livestock. It has a very strong and deep taproot system.


Beans, field corn, sugar beets, lentils, safflower and spices

(grown in Southern Alberta)

Math Note: A hectare of land is equal to 10,000 square meters of land.

Growing Under Glass

The yield from crops that are grown outdoors is highly dependent on the environmental conditions, climate and soil types. In a greenhouse all of the growinging conditions can be controlled. There are obvious advantages, but there are also disadvantages. Make a list of those you are able to find out about and report your findings to the class to complete the chart.



higher yield


A wide range of warm-season crops, including seedless cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, house plants, and cut flowers grown in greenhouses

Farming Practices

To be economically sustainable, farmers need to make more money with their crops than they spend to grow their crops. They are able to do this by using very large machinery that can cover large parcels of land as they seed and harvest their crops. They also need to add fertilizer to the soil to increase the yield and irrigate to provide the need moisture for growth of the crop. Most farmers only grow one type of crop in one particular area - this is known as monoculture.

Farming Then and Now

Farming practices changed from using human and animal power in the early 1900's to total mechanization by the 1950's to modern computerized controls in the present. Comparison chart on p. 141.

Farming Activity

Technology of the Early 1900's

Technology of Today

loosen the soil

oxen or horse-drawn cultivator

cultivator machines

add nutrients

manure used as fertilizer

chemical fertilizers

fungi (disease) control

few controls for fungi

chemical fungi control

spreading seed evenly

seeds spread by hand

air seeders and seed drills

pest and weed control

people, including children, pulled weeds by hand

sprayed with chemicals

cutting of grain

scythe used to cut crops

swathers used to cut hay

threshing of grain

grain picked by hand (tossed in the air and caught in a basket - wind carried the straw away)

combines used to harvest grain and separate seeds and hay

taking crop to market

horse-drawn carts

large tractor trailer trucks

prepare land for another season

horse-drawn plough

modern plough

Saving Soil Moisture

Irrigation is a technique that farmers use to make sure that moisture gets into the soil for crop growth. It is often a problem in grassland areas, where the moisture evaporated quickly. Irrigation systems (using natural waterways and irrigation canals) can often be the life or death of a crop and must be maintained, to ensure an adequate supply of water is available when it is needed.

Fibre Plants and the Forestry Industry

Canada has about 10% of the world's forests. From these forests come lumber and pulp and paper products. Natural forests have many different kinds of trees, shrubs, and smaller plants. There are many animals that make their homes in, around and under these plants. A natural ecosystem has a higher diversity, or variety, of plants and animals than a field of wheat or a stand of trees. The species within this ecosystem are all interdependent. Forestry practices can increase the diversity of forest species by careful cutting to let in more light and air.

Who's Who in Fibre-Space?

Alberta tree species most valued for lumber and paper include:

Lodgepole Pine
White Spruce
Black Spruce
White Birch
Tamarack (Larch)
Graphs on p. 145 show the tree species harvested in Canada and the percentage value of forest products.

Harvesting Trees

Foresters explore a potential tree cutting area thoroughly before any work begins. They map the area indicating which trees to be cut and what special features should be noted. They also decide how to cut the trees, either clear cut (removing all the trees)- or, selective harvesting (removing only selected trees). See Figure 2.49 p. 146


Foresters attempt to improve the conditions (light, temperature, water and nutrients) within the forest. Leftover branches (from the logging operations) must be disposed of. They are chopped (shreaded) spread out over the forest floor and some smaller piles are burned. Replanting is always done by hand. When the trees begin to grow again, if too many of a particular kind compete, they must be removed by thinning or pruning. Fertilizer is dropped from a helicopter to improve the level of nutrients for the young trees. Forest fires are a natural development of forests, but foresters try to ensure that they burn in a controlled fashion (as much as possible).

Global Problems

Erosion is a worldwide problem. Frequent and long-lasting droughts have resulted in desertification - a process in which desert has taken over much of the agricultural land.
Topic 4 Review p. 148