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The importance of forage research

The following contains excerpts from a letter the Canadian Forage Growers Association sent to the federal government in April.

The Canadian Forage and Grassland Association represents farmers and ranchers that produce, manage and utilize Canada’s largest acreage crop (National Forage and Grassland Assessment, June 2012).

Cultivated forages for pasture, feed, and seed production, account for 33.8 million acres or 39 per cent of the land in Canada devoted to crop production. In comparison, the next largest crop, wheat accounted for 20.4 million acres or 23 per cent of cropland. In addition, over 36 million acres of land are devoted to native or unimproved pastures and rangeland.

The economic value of the entire forage industry was $5.09 billion in 2011, following only wheat at $5.2 billion and canola at $7.3 billion. The forage industry is the foundation of the dairy and beef industries which together contribute $11 billion in direct value to Canadian farmers and generate over $50 billion in economic activity. This value reflects the direct measurable benefits of forages.

The forage industry is a unique part of Canadian agriculture in that approximately 90 per cent of the production is fed to livestock on farm or ranch. In addition to direct economic value, perennial forages deliver significant environmental benefits including reducing soil erosion and increasing water infiltration, just to name a few.

Our national association is very concerned about the future of forage breeding, agronomy and management research within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. As a result of severe cutbacks over the past 15 years there remain very few forage research scientists in the Science and Technology Branch.

We realize that federal budgets are very tight but we would encourage you and your department to re-evaluate the need to have sufficient forage research scientists and supporting technicians at different eco-region locations across Canada to meet the future research needs of not just the industry but the true beneficiaries, Canada and the world’s consumers.

It is important to note that the vast majority of forage research is in the public domain requiring public support. As an organization representing industry we see the need for and benefit from a long-term strategy including a commitment to supporting forage research capacity.

In addition, we would also encourage you and your department to develop a succession plan for scientists who are nearing retirement so that the next generation of researchers can continue to carry out the current research programs that would otherwise be lost through retirement.

Without a succession plan where younger and older scientists can work through the transition period, a significant amount of research information and momentum will be lost.

Our other concern is the very limited and restricted ability for research scientists to be able to attend producer and industry meetings/events at the provincial and national level as well as national and international scientific conferences.

It is extremely important for the future economic growth of Canada’s agriculture industry that research scientists be able to present their research findings and discuss future research needs with industry partners, stakeholders, producers and colleagues.

The participation of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists in major provincial and federal producer meetings is critical to ensure the development and transfer of research results is achieved, and to ensure that the research questions under consideration by scientists are the most relevant and impactful questions, and stand the highest chance of impacting the resilience and vibrancy of the industry.

The Canadian Forage and Grassland Association is appreciative of the tremendous research effort that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has made in the past. Forage management and agronomic information as well as new forage seed varieties have created economic growth and stability for Canada’s forage and grassland industry.

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