Advocating for forage crops is critical work and needs to continue

The Canadian Forage and Grassland Association works 
on a tight budget, but is in it for the long haul

harvesting a hay crop in a field
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Recent reports on the financial situation of the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association suggest its future is grim.

But while we’ll be on a tight budget in the coming year, the association is on firm financial footing and we intend on being around for a long time.

In fact, the need for an organization like ours has likely never been greater. Improving forage productivity is critical to the long-term future of Canada’s beef industry and one of the primary reasons why the association was formed in March 2010.

Here’s why:

First, forage research has declined sharply in recent years even as the big seed companies have ramped up investment in annual crops. I expect more money is spent on corn research in a couple of months than what is spent in a decade on forages, which is by far our largest crop by acreage.

So while grain and oilseed productivity has shot up, productivity of forages has lagged. There is huge potential for upping the game when it comes to forages, particularly pasture acres.

Second, this situation has not only seen hay and pastures — including a lot of marginal land better suited to forages — go into annual production, but made the economics of cattle production less attractive. Sure, grain and oilseed prices are down and cattle prices up right now, but not investing in forage research impacts the long-term economics of raising cattle.

Third, no one is making more land and so we need to produce more beef per acre. That’s key to reversing the shrinking of the Canadian herd. And the industry needs those cattle to utilize the feeding and packing/processing capacity in this country.

This is a concern I’ve heard from feedlot operators and those in the packing sector. They want the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association to succeed, and so does the Beef Cattle Research Council, which has dramatically increased industry funding for forage research.

That’s been a major accomplishment of the association, but much more is needed.

The reason corn and other major annual crops attract so many research dollars is that seed companies sell seed to grain and oilseed growers every year and can recoup their investment. The economic model for forages is much different. We have pastures that are 15 years old and still productive. We believe there are reasons for public money to invest in forage research because of the significant environmental benefits accruing from grasslands.

That’s why we’ve not only been publicizing the decline in forage research capacity, but advocating that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada address this critical issue. We’ve repeatedly raised it with Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, and also raised awareness in the beef and dairy industries. We participate on the national value chain roundtables for beef, special crops, and the seed trade, and have compiled a national forage assessment.

There are also specific issues we have addressed, such as working with industry and other stakeholders to get inoculants for minor legume crops back to the commercial Canadian marketplace. (In November, a clover inoculant received registration and we’re working for the provision of inoculants for other clovers, trefoil, cicer milk vetch, and sainfoin.)

There is a host of other initiatives we’ve been involved in, including helping to develop an export protocol with China for timothy, going on trade missions, building partnerships with a host of groups, raising awareness of the ecological benefits of pastures and grasslands, and promoting best management practices for farms and ranches.

We know that funding is tight, so we’ve been prudent with our finances, paying off a startup loan we received from the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association, building a small reserve fund, and using a team approach to get the biggest bang for our limited dollars.

And the team is getting bigger as more and more people realize we can’t afford to neglect forages because they are the foundation of the beef industry.

That’s why we have an energized board and membership, and why we’re confident as we face the future. While there’s lots of work to do, there’s a big payoff for getting it done.

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