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Sustainable beef demonstration and research farm well underway

Industry partners collaborate to establish a first-of-its-kind demonstration and research farm exploring sustainable beef production and grassland management

Manitoba beef producers will soon have a new resource in the province dedicated to exploring beef and grassland management.

“We want to keep the work done in this initiative ahead of the curve, break new ground and try new practices on behalf of farmers,” said Glenn Friesen, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) project manager. “We want to try new ideas so that our farmers will know what does and doesn’t work here before they spend the money to try it out on their own farms.”

The project was announced earlier this year at the Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) annual general meeting, where the federal and provincial governments pledged $3.1 million over three years through the Growing Forward 2, Growing Innovation- Capacity and Knowledge Development program.

The project will see the creation of two sites, a full-section demonstration farm located 11 miles north of Brandon and a research farm located a few miles east of the city on 900 acres.

The initiative is a collaboration between MAFRD, MBP, Ducks Unlimited and the Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association.

“This is a huge project and a huge opportunity for Manitoba to really put itself on the map,” said Friesen. “To have all these parties at the table, this is brand new. A first-of-its-kind initiative in Manitoba, with the potential to be different than similar initiatives in Alberta and Saskatchewan because we have so many active partners.”

Though guided by the four main partners, the project is producer led with the intent of researching the Manitoba beef producer’s most pressing questions.

“We want the producers to come to us with their questions and we will try to apply those questions on the farm,” said Friesen. “Our intent is to take the foundational research that has already been published in the last while and grab the portions of that, that producers are interested in knowing more about and applying them on a field scale.”

Following the funding announcement in February, beef producers were surveyed through a number of routes in order to determine what they are most interested in exploring.

An advisory committee was formed, consisting of 15 individuals ranging from academics, industry partners, and local producers.

“We have a really good cross-section of producers involved, ranging in age, and location.”

The day-to-day operations and final decisions are left to a steering committee, consisting of a representative from each of the four major partners.

“We have a complete system with the research ideas coming from the farmers, people on the ground to carry it out and the experts telling us what to do and how to do it,” said Friesen.

Today, both farms are active, growing a variety of forage and cereal crops, with grazing 50 pairs at each site.

The project will be looking at a number of different grazing systems and tactics including energy-dense forages and poly crops, to determine what works best in Manitoba conditions and what producers should avoid.

“On the extension farm, where we will keep the resident herd, we want to have a year-round grazing system. We will develop a crop and forage rotation that will accommodate that and within that section we would look at various grazing practices, different rates of moving through pastures, and different stocking densities,” said Friesen.

In the fall, research will focus on swath, bale and stockpile grazing and in the spring, will look at calving practices in different pastures.

“In the spring we will look to focus more on the calving season, how the pastures respond after calving, how they are impacted negatively or positively and which species do well.”

All aspects of the system will be monitored, both above and below ground, with the intent of frequently dispensing the findings to producers, as well as providing yearly in-depth reports.

“Within these processes we will monitor the soil and the plant root systems as well as the animal’s condition and how they are performing,” said Friesen. “We have portable scales and are weighing the animals on a monthly basis, as well as looking at their body condition score.”

Project organizers have been working with similar institutions, such as the Western Beef Development Centre in Saskatchewan, and the North Dakota State University to gain advice and knowledge on the best procedures in establishing the sites.

While still in its first year of operations, organizers have also been meeting with post-secondary institutions to develop relationships and examine the possibility of future collaboration.

Once completely established the site will be open to farm tours for local producers, as well as groups like 4-H and Ag in the Classroom.

“Having tours with groups like these doesn’t often happen in most of the other research farms across the country, but because of our close proximity to a major centre, we will have a strong place to promote beef production.”

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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