Cattle leader says the future looks bright

Tim Oleksyn says more research dollars and a national strategy will pay rich dividends for cattle producers

More research and a new team approach in the beef sector is going to put money in the pockets of producers, says the chair of the Beef Cattle Research Council.

Tim Oleksyn

Tim Oleksyn
photo: Supplied

“The collaboration in the industry is refreshing,” said Tim Oleksyn, a cow-calf producer from Shellbrook, Sask.

“Actually, it’s more than refreshing. I think it’s the new business model — that there’s an understanding that all sectors of the industry have to work together.”

That collaborative approach is evident in the renewed interest in forage and grassland research and in the ambitious targets laid out in the National Beef Strategy, which was unveiled one year ago, said Oleksyn.

Funding for forage research, particularly from the federal government, started declining in the mid-1990s, but that’s now being reversed, he said.

“There has been a renewed interest and more funds flowing towards research in the past five years — no doubt about it,” he said.

“I’m very comfortable with where we are and where we’re going as we make solid, strategic decisions as we come into the next cluster.”

Forage and grassland research received increased funds under the Beef Cattle Research Council’s second “science cluster,” which began three years ago and runs to March 2018. The $20-million fund — three-quarters from government and the rest from the national checkoff and provincial cattle organizations — has funded 26 research projects, including nearly $5 million in forage and grassland research.

Equally important, said Oleksyn, is that there is a growing group of people — producers, researchers, government officials, and others — who understand the many benefits of more productive and better managed forage and grasslands.

“This is not just ‘let’s boost productivity and we get more beef,” he said. “This is about agriculture, but also about the environment and innovation. There are millions of acres of forages and grasslands that impact on the public good.”

The research council’s efforts to build a comprehensive database will improve the effectiveness of future research efforts, he added. The database, which is still in development but currently available to researchers, is designed to make it easy to share data, avoid duplication, and identify gaps in research areas.

“It’s a great approach,” said Oleksyn. “I know we’ve got this one solved, and we’ve got tremendous buy-in from the research community at all different levels both nationally and provincially.”

The same co-operative spirit is increasingly seen in what has been a fractured beef industry, and Oleksyn predicts that will allow the sector to achieve the goals set out in the National Beef Strategy. Those goals include increasing production efficiency by 15 per cent and also reducing cost disadvantages by seven per cent by 2020.

The Calgary-based beef research council has developed a funding plan to achieve those goals, and as long as research funding continues to increase, “I think we can more than comfortably hit those targets,” said Oleksyn.

“We’re in a new time of profitability and hopefully we can sustain that,” he said. “Those improvements are doable.”

At the ranch level, producers need to be on the lookout for innovations and advancements that can boost their bottom line, he added.

Although being chair of the research council frequently takes him away from his family’s operation, he offsets this by bringing new ideas back to the ranch.

For example, Oleksyn and his family are currently re-evaluating their feeding regime for cows in their second trimester because of new research on how that can influence the meat quality of their calves when they eventually go to slaughter.

“That’s where we are on some of our management practices,” said Oleksyn. “My brothers, wife and family have to pick up the slack when I’m away, but they can see it returns value right back to the farm gate.”

About the author


Glenn Cheater is a veteran journalist who has covered agriculture for more than two decades. His mission is to showcase the ideas, passions, and stories of Alberta farmers and ranchers.


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  • Steve English

    There are a wide variety of forages on the market today. That fact and my visit to the local equipment dealers, considering the price of farm machinery, helped me make my decision. I will stick to forages on my ranch.