As Alberta farmers and ranchers make strides in reducing their carbon footprint with new winter-feeding methods for livestock, they continue to be hindered by explosive over-populations of deer and elk.
Many farmers are attempting to practise low-cost and environmentally friendly forms of livestock feeding such as bale grazing, swath grazing and banked standing forage. These methods of winter feeding are simple and economical, saving upwards of 20 per cent over traditional feeding methods. Tractor use is greatly reduced by not transporting feed to and from stackyards, with resulting fuel and labour savings.
“It costs us money every time we turn the key in that tractor,” says Wade Poffenroth, a Calgary-area producer. “Not just in terms of fuel and equipment usage, but time. The elk destruction has become so extreme in our area that we had to alter our entire feeding system, as we can no longer swath graze at all.” Any operation that sees the need to build feed compounds or barriers, will experience a drastic increase in the labour required to manage the herd.
While feed is left in the field where it will be later eaten by livestock in winter as swath or stand grazing, it also creates forage-rich islands for wildlife at the same time. The Alberta Government’s solution to this overpopulation of wildlife that can move, eat and often degrade forage supplies is to force producers into building expensive game fence around feed supplies. The costs associated with this practice however, far outweigh the benefits of using bale or swath grazing or leaving banked forage for winter grazing.
In comparing costs of my low-cost system to another rancher’s new reality of having to pile the hay in the stackyard and then feed it out shows a shocking difference of about 70 cents per head, per day. And that was before you had to hire a Cat to plow the snow and bring stacks home that you cannot keep the elk away from.
Landowner pays cost
This is an Ecological Goods and Services (EGS) conversation, but it is also an agriculture and Land Use Framework (LUF) issue. Who is best suited to steward grasslands in an ecologically appropriate fashion?
Tools to deal with large ungulates need to be developed.
Swath grazing is a significant step in the right direction environmentally, but a step that has become the sole responsibility and cost of the landowner when it comes to wildlife predation.
In the spring of 2010, on the advice of the minister of sustainable resource development, the WSGA proposed that a small pilot program be implemented to study a market-based system which could provide rewards and compensation to private land managers and owners. The program was designed to provide a marketplace for those producers supplying Ecological Goods and Services (EGS) such as grizzly bear and elk habitat. Section 23 of the recently passed Alberta Land Stewardship Act provides new tools for the support, research, and development of a market-based approach for the objectives of the act.
The WSGA, in partnership with Sustainable Resource Development, had started to develop a marketplace for these important environmental services, but the pilot project did not move ahead. The concept of a marketplace for EGS has continued merit and well worth pursuing as the act is implemented.
A partnership between farmers, government and other NGOs will be paramount in providing a sustainable relationship between agriculture and the environment. Alberta farmers and ranchers are working very hard to be leaders in environmentally sustainable methods and as such, deserve the support of the government to reach a resolution.
WSGA again urges the Alberta Government to reinstate the Ecological Goods and Services pilot project which would be a first step in building an EGS marketplace.