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Canadian forage research on the rise

The Beef Cattle Research Council has increased forage research funding from $40,000 to $6 million since its inception

The forage industry has begun to see a promised increase in research funding from the beef industry.

According to Reynold Bergen, science director with the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), more of Canadian cattle producers’ checkoff dollars are being put towards research and the piece of the pie that had been allocated towards forages has also grown.

Reynold Bergen, science director with the Beef Cattle Research Council.

Reynold Bergen, science director with the Beef Cattle Research Council.
photo: Jennifer Paige

“If you look at this about 10 years ago, there were very little dollars going towards research. It was all directed towards marketing,” Bergen said. “But what we have seen over the past few years is that allocation to research has gone up and I think that is a reflection of producer interest in research and seeing some of the benefits of it.”

Bergen explains that there are a number of different groups funding research in Canada, including Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the federal and provincial governments.

“The issue is that a lot of these funders have operated just under themselves, they have focused on what they have been doing and not paid much attention to what anyone else is doing and there is very little communication between the different groups,” Bergen said.

In many cases, research initiatives had been overlapping and some of the less glamorous or more time-consuming projects have been left behind.

“So we have a situation where these funders are funding similar projects and forage researchers are fighting over nickels and dimes and not making progress,” Bergen said. “And, the beef industry was as guilty of this as anyone. If you look at where BCRC dollars went over the first seven or eight years of our existence, about 10 per cent of our funds went towards forage research and our budget was really small at that time. So, approximately, $40,000 a year was going towards forage research from us.”

Members of the forage industry explained to BCRC representatives that there was no one funding forage research or any way to collect forage checkoffs because most forage isn’t sold, but cycled into livestock operations.

“We realized that if the beef industry wants forage and forage research, it better start funding forage research,” Bergen said.

In the next round of BCRC funding, which ran from 2009 to 2013, the allotment of funds for forage research grew from 10 per cent of the BCRC budget to 20 per cent and over that five-year period $2 million was put towards forage research.

“In the current funding cycle that slice of the pie for forage got bigger again. About 30 per cent currently or $6 million out of a total $20-million budget going towards forage research,” Bergen said.

Those funding research have also become better organized with the establishment of the Science Cluster.

“The Science Cluster is an attempt to get everyone who is funding research to work together. Either by putting their dollars together or at least talking to each other about who is funding what,” Bergen said.

He adds that AAFC has also stepped up to support forage research by creating a number of new forage-related positions throughout the country.

Forage research highlights

  • BCRC has funded a wide variety of research projects and other related funding commitments in recent years.
  • It has funded a forage research chair at the University of Manitoba to ensure research expertise is available, funded work on optimal forage mixes and supported work on improved tame and native forage species.
  • It has funded practical research on extended grazing strategies including swath, stockpiled and bale grazing, finding all have considerable economic benefits over traditional winter feeding systems, including reducing or eliminating labour, feed and manure-handling costs during the winter.
  • Other key areas of research include forage establishment, cow efficiency, forage finishing, forage quality, grazing management, storing forages and weed control for forage stands.

For more information on the BCRC’s research initiatives visit, beefresearch.ca.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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