Farmers, like most humans, like to keep score.
They pay close attention to crop yields, the weight of their calves and the number of eggs per hen.
Measuring the productivity and ecological benefits of grasslands is trickier than keeping track of canola yields, but Manitoba producers now have a tool for assessing range and pasture health.
In early June, the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA) unveiled its Range and Pasture Health Assessment Workbook.
The workbook is based on a similar tool in Alberta. The environment and parks department in Alberta created a set of questions to gauge pasture performance and whether the pasture is performing key functions, such as:
• maintenance of soil stability
• net primary production
• capture and release of water
• nutrient and energy cycling
• functional diversity of plant species
MFGA tweaked the Alberta assessment method for the growing conditions in Manitoba. The Manitoba assessment tool produces a health score and producers can use the health score to compare themselves to other farmers, or shoot for a higher number.
“The health score gives an idea of how much improvement in range and pasture health and function may be possible with modifications to land management practices,” said Kerry LaForge, a range and forage biologist with Agriculture Canada in Swift Current, Sask.
Saskatchewan Environment has a similar workbook. It has the Saskatchewan Grassland Range Health Assessment.
The Manitoba worksheet asks questions about the plant community on the pasture, the amount of soil erosion and the presence of invasive species.
The worksheet and other resources for pasture and grasslands health can be found on the MFGA website at www.mfga.net/range-pasture-workbook.