Cattle producers may not be able to keep wildlife off their grazing swaths, but at least now they can get paid for the loss.
Bale grazing, swath grazing and grazing standing annual crops (including corn) will all be eligible for wildlife damage insurance this year, Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. (MASC) has said.
The new program will pay back 45 per cent of the loss caused by big game and waterfowl between normal harvest time and when cattle get access to the feed.
“Where we feel like the cows have access, then coverage ceases because we can’t tell the difference between what deer have eaten and what livestock have eaten,” David Van Deynze, MASC vice-president of innovation and product support, said.
The cattle sector welcomed the news. Compensation for wildlife damage has been a sticking point within the industry, and the Manitoba Beef Producers has long pushed for such a change.
In 2019, the issue came up at the Manitoba Beef Producers annual meeting, and membership overwhelmingly voted to petition the province for consideration on wildlife loss.
Producers argued that extended grazing was both more economical for winter feed and provided an environmental benefit, but that wildlife loss presented a hurdle to widespread adoption.
The Beef Cattle Research Council estimates that swath grazing is 41 to 48 per cent cheaper than keeping cattle in the yard, while the province’s 2020 cow-calf production cost put extended grazing cost at $1.05 per head per day (based on 35 days of stockpiled forage and crop residue grazing) compared to $1.61 head per day, based on 135 days in the yard.
Soil health advocates have also tied the practice to carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling and resilience.
Manitoba Beef Producers president Tom Teichroeb said he was “extremely pleased” to see the expanded insurance.
“This has been something that we met with the province and with MASC about for a number of years now looking for those particular options,” he said.
The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association also welcomed the announcement, and for similar reasons.
Extended grazing forms a major linchpin in the association’s policy framework as well as the environmentally minded regenerative agriculture movement, a movement the MFGA officially endorsed last year, but had hosted events supporting for years prior.
“It’s great to know that our voice is being heard as we at MFGA and the MBP have both been asking for wildlife coverage in these situations,” association director Ryan Boyd said.
Boyd is among the well-known names in both the MFGA and among producers who have bought into regenerative agriculture. Extended grazing forms a major part of his farm plan, and a year on the Boyd farm might run the gamut from swath grazing in early fall to corn grazing throughout the winter.
“One of the largest costs in cow-calf production is winter feed and the easiest way to reduce feed costs is by extending the grazing season,” he said. “We are always mindful that the wildlife are going to be utilizing some of our winter feed in these extended grazing situations — as they do in the traditional grazing seasons — but this will help in extreme situations where a large herd of deer or elk move in unexpectedly.”
The fine print
It is unclear when standing annuals would switch from regular wildlife loss insurance — a program with much higher coverage — to the extended grazing program.
“We’re not changing the existing wildlife compensation payment,” Van Deynze said, noting that crops would be covered under traditional coverage until normal harvest time.
“Once you’ve made the decision to leave it out there longer than you would have if you were planning to combine it, that’s when this grazing coverage kicks in,” he said.
Producers are also looking for clarification on how MASC defines access to feed.
Systems like corn grazing, where producers are moving fence to slowly move cattle through the field, may complicate that definition, producers have posed.
“There’s going to be some level of reasonableness there,” Van Deynze said. “If they’re moving a fenceline 10 feet every day or something like that, we’re going to have to find a balance.”
Those questions are fair, Teichroeb said, but added that they will have to see the program, and the complexities as it is applied to different farms, in action before properly evaluating it.
“Until we have a season or two or three under our belt, where producers are not only investing in it but when we get into those patterns and into the circumstances where we’re going to call a claim, only then will we understand exactly how the program is functioning,” he said.