Forage tool aims to make the perfect match

A new online tool promises to tailor forage choices for a producer’s field conditions and planned use

Developers of a new interactive online tool say it will allow producers to pick and choose the best forage species for their farm.

The Saskatchewan Forage Council, along with Beef Cattle Research Council, Alberta Beef, Forage Grazing Centre, federal government, government of B.C., among others, launched Forage U-Pick earlier this month.

Why it matters: Forage and beef organizations across Western Canada have put their weight behind a new interactive tool that promises better forage species selection and management.

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Shannon McArton, executive director of the Saskatchewan Forage Council, says Forage U-Pick is an effort to revamp an existing tool that was introduced 12 years ago.

“Of course, as time went on, it became a bit limited and information needed to be updated, and so the idea was developed to update it and, while we were at it, add a lot of new information, but also make it mobile friendly,” she said.

The Saskatchewan Forage Council first floated the revamp, “at least 18 months ago,” McArton noted. It was later approved for funding from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), Canadian Agricultural Partnership and from Alberta Beef, among others.

The free tool asks users to input their general region, field conditions such as soil type, planned forage use, preferred forage type (such as tame species versus native species) and the preferred timing of harvest. Details are then used to generate a list of suggested forages.

Other branches of the site include a seeding rate calculator and library of resources on weed control in forage.

A total 666 users visited the tool between its launch June 8 and June 17, according to the Saskatchewan Forage Council. Of those users, the council has logged 860 sessions of the tools actually being in use.

Most interest has come from Saskatchewan and Manitoba so far, McArton said.

McArton has said that Manitoba growers will derive equal benefit from the tool, despite major developing partners being based farther west.

Advisory groups were formed from each province in Western Canada, including Manitoba, to assess the tool’s usefulness for their region, she said. Those teams were responsible for submitting local data and co-operating, “to make sure our matrices were complete for as many soil types and plant types and every variable that we could imagine,” she said.

Duncan Morrison, executive director for the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association, said their board members were among those consulted on the tool.

“This is a great tool,” he said. “It really holds a lot of potential for producers.

“It’s an excellent starting point,” he added. “It allows the producers to select the best forages that they possibly can and are adequate for a healthy stand. That’s what we’re most excited about, the direct ability of the tool to appeal to producers in some very key decisions in terms of forage establishment and stands.”

The MFGA submitted a letter of support for the project along with the individual advisory participation from the board, he said, and the organization has no concerns about how the tool might translate to Manitoba conditions.

Morrison expects Forage U-Pick to draw, “significant interest,” from Manitoba growers.

Morrison also cited the involvement of the BCRC. The tool was recently featured on the organization’s blog.

“Any time you’ve got BCRC leading the outreach on it like it is, I think that right away that gives you quite a big network right off the bat,” Morrison said. “And here in Manitoba we’ll certainly do our part to make sure as many people as possible are aware of it.”

The tool may have limited use this year, given the timing of the launch, McArton acknowledged, although producers who have yet to plan their forage seed may yet derive use from it.

“For this seeding season it’s probably just a bit late for some areas,” she said, “although in many areas it’s been very dry and, now that they finally have rain, they’re looking to seed some forages, so I think it’s going to be used a lot. The beauty of the tool is that it should certainly stay well used and very relevant for several years to come.”

Producer feedback has been largely anecdotal through social media so far. That feedback has been positive, according to McArton, although she added that the Saskatchewan Forage Council is inviting anyone who has experienced bugs with the system to contact it, so that those issues might be addressed.

Producers can access the tool at upick.beefresearch.ca.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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