The Manitoba Forage Council is planning to change its name to reflect the group’s broader focus on those who make their living from all kinds of grass.
By calling itself the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association, the group hopes to become better aligned with the goals of the recently formed Canadian Forage & Grassland Association.
“We wanted to be more clear about what we are covering to include the native forage and rangelands, which is a huge chunk of Canada,” said chair Jim Lintott.
In Manitoba, forages and grassland comprise one-third of the total agricultural land in the province, or 5.9 million acres, with nearly half in pasture and the balance in hay production.
Lintott added that MFGA will boost its focus on promoting the environmental and community benefits of forage to prospective partners and the public.
The economic value of the forage and grassland industry in Canada is estimated to be $5.9 billion per year with Manitoba nearing $1 billion.
“We all know the benefit grasslands provide the soil, waterways, air quality, livestock and biodiversity; however, many don’t,” said Lintott.
With that in mind, one year of funding for a potentially multi-year Manitoba Rangeland (Ecosite) Classification project has been secured with assistance from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council.
Jeff Thorpe, a scientist with the Saskatchewan Research Council, has been hired to create a new ecosite classification tool for extension staff, landowners, and producers to determine potential forage yields, stocking rates for grazing, as well as aid in re-establishment of native species should an area experience flooding or drought.
Thorpe’s work will closely resemble work that he recently completed in Saskatchewan, which created classifications for the different types of native pastures based on region, climate, and soil type, whether it be loam, sand or “wet meadows.”
“For each of those soil types, we will try to come up with an average level of productivity that you could use for pasture planning,” said Thorpe.
Also, the classifications will list types of vegetation that each will support, and that information could be used by ranchers to assess damage that may have occurred due to various causes, including overgrazing.
“Some of your more productive grasses could be knocked out of the community if it’s hammered too hard over too many years,” said Thorpe, adding that improving management will often result in a spontaneous recovery of valuable species such as big bluestem.
Most of the work in the first year will involve desk work, mainly by overlaying existing data and maps to create a general picture over the whole province. Then, if funding is forthcoming, future years could see fine tuning of the classifications based on field surveys of benchmark areas and clipping sites to measure productivity.
The project also offers a side benefit of raising awareness of the economic value of native pastures with the general public about grassland species diversity and its value as habitat for myriad flora and fauna.
“If you’ve got healthy pasture lands, it’s better for cattle grazing as well as other stuff such as wildlife and watershed protection,” said Thorpe.