Forage Centre of Excellence key to sector success

Alberta has set noble goals for cattle production: reduce winter feeding costs by 50 percent, reduce a cow herd’s environmental footprint by 15 percent and improve cow efficiency by 15 percent.

Alberta Beef Producers recently outlined these and other relevant goals pertaining to the long-term sustainability of cattle production in Canada.

The effort and clarity of thought demonstrated by ABP and the corresponding support from the provincial and federal governments should be applauded.

Not only do the research goals cut to the core of beef cattle production, but they also tell a great story about beef production in Canada and the potential to be part of innovative and balanced improvement both locally and within the global context.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan has been noticeably quiet on such innovative and relevant research goals, especially given the vast potential for cow herd expansion within that province.

The potential for increased forage acres and resulting beef cattle production in Saskatchewan is huge and part of the reason why the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence was announced at the University of Saskatchewan in July.  The university, industry and provincial and federal governments were all pointed in the same direction at the time of the announcement, but outwardly obvious momentum for the initiative seems to have dissipated since then.

Is the initiative still a priority? I hope so.

The re-emergence of the cattle cycle south of the border will likely pull Canadian cattle producers along for the ride, and a downward slide in markets always encourages a focus on the fundamentals of production and corresponding profitability.

The successful demonstration of forage and livestock nutrient cycling and corresponding soil health is key to local profitability of beef cattle production as well as national and international recognition of livestock production as a sustainable practice.

Saskatchewan’s centre of excellence has the potential to co-ordinate such concepts, but one has to wonder why the progress appears to be stalled, especially given the momentum that ABP has created with its well thought out research goals.

Similarly, Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia has recently announced it will offer a diploma focusing on sustainable ranching.

The core concepts that could be supported through a livestock and forage centre of excellence would obviously lend themselves to strengthening a sustainable ranching program.

The academic and applied synergies across the country are truly exciting, given that forage and cattle production practices and their impacts are not bound by provincial borders.

The announced but silent Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence has the potential to fill a major gap in Canadian research capacity and bring together many of the provincial initiatives that are part of the Canadian story.

I hope that the direction announced in Alberta and British Columbia will enhance the momentum across the country for those key objectives, which are fundamental to a stronger future in soil, forage and beef production.

Ross Macdonald, M.Sc., P.Ag., ranches in southern Saskatchewan.

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