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Forage Council Seeks Funding For Industry Strategy

“We are going to need a reliable source of funding.”

– WAYNE DIGBY, MFC

The Manitoba Forage Council is requesting government assistance to implement an ambitious strategy for developing the province’s forage and grassland industry.

The MFC is negotiating with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives for an annual grant to fund research, extension services and market development for grazing and forage production.

Forages and grasslands are an important part of Manitoba’s agricultural economy and can become even more significant, says a recently released strategic industry plan conducted for the forage council.

LACKS RESOURCES

But the council lacks the resources to carry out its development plan alone, said Wayne Digby, MFC’s executive director.

“We’re facing real challenging times with regard to financial sustainability and in implementing some of these actions because of the lack of a consistent mechanism to finance the forage council,” Digby said.

“We are going to need a reliable source of funding.”

MFC is currently funded by memberships and service fees for research projects.

But it lacks the regular funding available to other commodity groups through checkoffs on product sales, said Digby.

For that reason, MFC wants a financial partnership with MAFRI, he said.

The council may also approach Manitoba’s cattle, dairy and sheep producer groups for funding.

CO-ORDINATED EFFORT

The Manitoba Forage Council currently co-hosts an annual grazing school and pasture tour.

Digby said his group hopes to co-ordinate lobbying efforts with the recently formed Canadian Forage and Grassland Association.

The CFGA recently visited the Middle East to assess the potential for increasing forage exports to the region.

The 63-page report says the total acreage of Manitoba forage crops, including improved and unimproved pasture, is 7.6 million acres, far more than for wheat and canola. Tame hay alone takes up 2.45 million acres.

Manitoba has 1 . 5 million head of cattle, including 600,000 beef cows, giving it the third-largest beef cow herd in Canada with 12.4 per cent of the national total.

The report cites many “strategic opportunities” for Manitoba’s forage and grasslands. Some include more use of nitrogen-fixing forage crops, improved hay-marketing systems and agronomic research into forage production.

It notes recent positive trends in the forage and grassland sector, such as greater emphasis on hay quality and grazing technology, more consumer interest in “natural” (i. e., grass-fed) beef and lamb, and growing recognition of the environmental benefits of forage production.

But the report also lists several negative trends, including higher operating costs, depressed cattle prices because of BSE and decreased research funding.

The number of Manitoba beef cattle farms fell by 17 per cent from 10,800 in 2001 to around 9,000 in 2008, largely because of BSE-related fallout. The number of farms deriving over half of their income from beef cattle fell 31 per cent to 5,000.

But while the number of beef farms is shrinking, the amount of land devoted to hay and grazing is increasing.

Between 2001 and 2006, the area devoted to improved pasture rose 30 per cent to over 1.2 million acres. Tame hay acreage grew nearly 18 per cent to 640,000 acres. Alfalfa and grass-mixture acreage increased 4.4 per cent to nearly 1.7 million acres. [email protected]

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