AAFC creates new forage research position
Growers pumped over news of forage research position - Posted Dec. 8th, 2016 by Ed White
After years of stagnation, Agriculture Canada said the recent hiring will give pasture and forage research a much-needed boost
They provide a multibillion-dollar Canadian farm industry, but forages and grasslands get little respect. That’s an agricultural attitude that committed farmers and researchers vow to change.
“Ag Canada has really gotten the message,” Reynold Bergen, science director of the Beef Cattle Research Council, said during the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association’s annual conference in Winnipeg Nov. 17, referring to the new forage researchers hired by the federal agriculture department.
Researchers and farmers seemed confident about forages and pastures, even though the sector is often treated like a minor concern. Forages and pastures have sometimes been seen as just a subordinate realm of beef cattle production or as a minor crop sector for hay producers. However, research in recent decades has revealed the pivotal roles pasture and forage systems can play in protecting vulnerable soil, storing carbon and making farming systems more sustainable.
As well, some beef production approaches now focus as much on creating rich and fertile grass systems as they do on the minutiae of cattle physiology. After all, a beef animal can be seen as just a form of value-added grass, forage and grain.
Researcher Daniel Hewins of Rhode Island College said grazing provides the best way to protect soil-stored carbon from release into the atmosphere, but few of the carbon pricing programs being introduced by governments do anything to recognize or reward that.
Researchers discussed ways to encourage year-round grazing, promote perennial forages and help conventional farmers better understand the value of incorporating more forages and pastures into their farming systems.
Bergen said the recent hiring by Agriculture Canada is a welcome reversal after decades of loss, in which forage research positions were dumped as researchers retired. “They (knew) that when a forage researcher retires and they don’t replace him, nobody’s going to complain,” said Bergen.
Beef farmer and industry groups spent their money on beef-specific research, seeing forage as being the responsibility of forage groups. However, forage groups didn’t have checkoffs, so they had no money. It was a broken system, allowing forage research to stagnate, but the recent move to “science clusters” has allowed organizations and researchers to work more collaboratively, and that has seen beef money flow back into forage and pasture research, Bergen said.
It has happened within his own organization, which spent only 10 percent of its research budget on forage in the early 2000s. That increased to 20 percent from 2009-13 and is now up to 30 percent.