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Keeping land in grass has a side benefit

Young beef producers need affordable access to grassland 
if the industry is going to grow

The beef industry has been struggling to retain and attract new producers while the average age of farmers, at 54, keeps creeping up.

The next generation of cattle producers might be looking for something different.

The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) released the National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Strategy this fall. The industry garnered top marks in most categories, however, producer viability was a weak link.

According to long-term average margins, a cow herd of 200 head provides a total annual income of $17,559. This will not support a family and is below Canada’s low-income cut-off. Up to 84 per cent of those in the cow-calf sector must rely on off-farm employment.

How do we ask young people to invest themselves in the cattle industry when they will likely be overworked and underpaid? We need to find ways to bring profitability back into our industry.

According to 44 per cent of producers surveyed by the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, the largest barrier to entry in the cattle industry is access to land. Across the country land values increased by 10 to 22 per cent annually from 2011 to 2015.

I can personally attest to the woes of competing for hay and pasture land with other industries. Like many others, I moved farther north and on to marginal land, but also farther from my off-farm job, causing even more strain on my time and energy.

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) also has a vested interest in the sustainability of the beef industry. DUC recognizes that forage and grasslands kept in the hands of cattle producers who manage these areas are productive for cattle and wildlife alike. A sustainable beef industry is critical to the retention and health of grasslands and wetlands.

In fact, the CRSB assessment shows the beef sector only accounts for 33 per cent of land that is in agricultural production, but provides 68 per cent of the wildlife habitat.

DUC’s Revolving Land Conservation Program is a tool that allows ranchers to access pasture land in a less competitive market. Land purchased by DUC has the wetland and upland habitat restored and then secured by a conservation easement on the land title. The land is then put back on the market and available for purchase by anyone looking to buy grass.

Essentially, it eliminates potential buyers interested in converting the uplands to grain or removing the water from the land. Both DUC and beef producers see the need for grassland landscapes to be managed by ranchers for generations to come.

It is our hope that programs like this that keep pasture land growing grass will create more accessible land options for beef producers while benefiting the sustainability of the beef industry.

DUC has a great deal in common with the beef industry. DUC believes a thriving and sustainable beef production system is essential on the Canadian landscape to continue growing more grass and protecting clean water. Opportunities that create and improve programs that stimulate this growth and the success of the beef industry is a key focus.

For more details on the Revolving Land Conservation Program, click here.

Find the National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Strategy here.

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