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Agriculture and technologies, the existential dilemma of the Hutterites

David Hofer worries that technology will become indispensable in the management of his land.

The Hutterite colonies thrive, especially in the agricultural industry. However, this religious sect faces a delicate choice. The technology, essential for their large-scale agricultural activities, puts their unique way of life at risk. Visit to an Alberta community where cameras are not welcome.

Like every lunchtime, in the colony of White Lake, south of Lethbridge, the whole community gathers to eat in the refectory. The room is divided in two, the women on the left, the men on the right.

Everyone knows their task. They cook and do the dishes. They have dinner, then go to work. The clothes worn are made on site and the meals are made with products from their farm.

More than 80 people live in houses stuck one after the other, and are part of 19 Anabaptist Christian families whose main language is German.

They are unique, says John Lehr, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Winnipeg, who has studied nearly 40 colonies. It is the longest-lived community society in the world.

Some colonies allow smart phones only to its officials. Others, more progressive, give it to teenagers from 15 years old. Internet access is then very limited.

Following the precepts of their religion dating back to the 16th century, the Hutterites all live in community, withdrawn from the world, have only one community bank account and have one main activity: agriculture.

David Hofer, secretary and treasurer of the colony, is among the senior members who have the right to an all-terrain vehicle to get around. Wheat, potatoes, pigs or chickens: the farm covers 8000 hectares.

If their clothes look like they belong in ancient times, their tractors and harvesters follow the latest trends.

You can't run a farm without a computer or phone these days. This helps us better understand the state of our land and easily communicate with each other if there is a problem at the other end of the colony, says David Hofer.

The White Lake settlement spans 8000 hectares.

They may want to live outside society, but their agricultural activities are linked to the global market. Their potatoes end up in Korea and McDonald's. Their chickens and pigs are sold in major grocery stores. They experience the same difficulties as other farmers.

We have to work harder than before and diversify, says David Hofer. His colony began growing corn and lentils to offset the rising price of fertilizer, gasoline, and electricity.

Even though their figure business is down 15% in 10 years, this community is doing well, financially, like most settlements, according to Simon Evans, an adjunct professor of geography at the University of Calgary who wrote an article in 2019 on the importance of hutterites in agriculture.

Hutterite agriculture in Alberta is thriving. This trend is expected to continue over the next two decades. There will be more colonies and they will be bigger, writes Simon Evans.

According to provincial agribusiness organizations, Hutterites produce 80% of the eggs, 40% of the pork, 25% milk and 20% Alberta chicken.

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