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Research and ranching

Brandon-based Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives is realizing its 
potential as education and research centre

The Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiative is fast becoming one of the key centres for sector education and research in Western Canada.

The rapid ascent could not be more perfectly timed, as the MBFI is in the midst of adding a learning centre to the Brookdale site, to complement the activities on the farm.

“Our plans for the MBFI Learning Centre are for a multi-use building that will host workshops, seminars, and farm tours for producers, students, agribusinesses, and other interested groups,” Glenn Friesen, Manitoba Agriculture representative to the MBFI, said. “The building will have a multi-purpose meeting space with modern audio-visual equipment, a food prep area, bathrooms and an office.

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“The facility will serve as our front door that welcomes everyone to the MBFI and designed in such a way that permits easy expansion as the need and budget arises.”

The MBFI is comprised of three research farm sites in the Brandon area: Brookdale farm, First Street and Johnson pastures. The MBFI Learning Centre at Brookdale is expected to be completed in the fall 2017. By adding the facility, MBFI is creating an effective educational and innovative outreach system around beef and forage production that will resonate with many audiences.

“We know that raising beef has many economic and societal benefits,” Ramona Blyth, MBFI chair, said. “Grazing maintains the health of grasslands, improves soil quality, preserves open space and wildlife habitat, and sequesters carbon in grazing lands. Beef is also important for health and economic development. As a nutrient-rich protein source, beef increases food security and nutrition.

“People need to know these stories and facts. We feel MBFI is a wonderful tool to tell this great story via our outreach and via the work of the innovative research on site.”

Group effort

MFBI is a collaborative effort between Manitoba Agriculture, the Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP), Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA), with input and leadership from producers, academia and other industry stakeholders across Canada.

Blyth says that the MBFI aspires to showcase the industry’s sustainable methods for managing the interface between cattle, land and water, for the betterment of the environment and producers’ profitability. Right now, MBFI is collaborating on 22 research and demonstration projects with Manitoba Agriculture, the universities of Manitoba, Winnipeg and Brandon, the Assiniboine Community College, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The MBFI projects are designed to boost the industry, demonstrate new technologies to promote sustainability in the agricultural sector, and provide unique training opportunities for the current and next generation of agricultural students and producers. The MBFI supports a community of beef and forage research and extension practitioners working hand in glove with producers.

“The grazing site enhances the research infrastructure in the province, complementing the confined feeding facilities located at the University of Manitoba,” said Kim Ominski, professor in the faculty of agricultural and food sciences. “Several projects which focused on fetal programming and fall grazing were successfully carried out at the site this fall in collaboration with MBFI staff. The site also serves as an excellent training ground for graduate students working on grazing projects like these.”

Sewn together, it all provides valuable pieces of the story that society needs to hear, says Brian Lemon, general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers.

“We hear it all the time,” says Lemon. “Producers throughout the industry have been asking for a model farm to test and demonstrate practices for a long time. Producers today no longer farm like their grandparents did.

“It is a very complex industry and innovation is key to keeping our industry profitable as well as making sure it respects the expectations of Canadians to protect the environment, produce safe, high-quality food and treat our animals with the best practices. Learning is essential and is best accomplished through observance and practice.”

Interest from new partners in MBFI continues to expand, from beef supply and value chain members to school outreach programs, demonstrating the significance and value of this demonstration farm. According to Blyth, the MBFI’s education potential appeals to all.

“Today’s consumers are inundated with messages around the food that is on their table,” explains Blyth. “As agriculture grows, the research and learning opportunities that MBFI provides will be extended to the general public. By engaging citizens and educating them about where their food comes from and the way it’s grown, we will develop a trust between the industry and the consumer, creating a profitable and mutually beneficial relationship for both.”

Public education

Wendy Bulloch, Manitoba Open Farm Day co-ordinator visited MBFI last summer as part of the McDonald’s Producer Day hosted at the Brookdale site of the MBFI. Bulloch, a strong proponent of agriculture awareness, believes the MBFI site can provide really well-timed insights into how the agricultural world is adapting to the times. In fact, she says, Open Farm Day (OFD) has approached MBFI about the possibility of MBFI being a host site for OFD September 2017.

“The addition of MBFI provides a new agriculture literacy component and consumer awareness for beef and forages industry,” says Bulloch. “To have access to such a facility is a huge benefit for all of us.”

The history of the MBFI’s Brookdale site naturally aligns with the health of the land philosophy that the MBFI partners advocate for with some of the research underway and, in particular, the farm’s outreach. The one-time ZeroTill Farm is chock full of wetlands and grasslands, including a large wetland near the front of the property that represents an excellent showcase for conservation and agriculture synergies for all visitors. DUC’s Ken Gross says the MBFI is a great tool to strengthen the link between the cattle industry and the environment.

“DUC supported the ZeroTill farm because it embraced conservation practices that benefited both producers and the environment,” Gross said. “Its legacy will carry on with the MBFI initiative which will continue to promote profitable practices that benefit the environment. DUC has long supported the cattle industry through our forage program and grazing clubs – and believes being a major partner in this initiative will have a positive impact on the cattle herd in Manitoba.”

Making that positive impact on as many levels as possible is vitally important for all partners and the MBFI is sure to receive a huge boost on the education front once the MBFI’s proposed Learning Centre is completed.

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