Like Rodney Dangerfield, Canada’s forage producers sometimes feel they get no respect.
Despite having the biggest farming sector in the country, forage producers say others in the agri-food industry either take them for granted or largely ignore them.
“We have the largest agricultural acreage but no voice,” lamented Ed Shaw, chair of the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association.
Judging by the figures, producers have a legitimate complaint.
Canada has roughly 89 million acres of forage used either for grazing or hay. That’s 44 per cent more than the area devoted to grain and oilseed crops. Two-thirds of the feed protein in Canada comes from hay, fodder or grazing. The farm value of forage used as hay or silage is about half the value of feed grain crops.
WOULD BE KING
You’d think that, given those statistics, forage would be king in Canada’s multibillion-dollar agricultural industry.
Instead, forages are often treated as incidental: always there but not a real crop like wheat or canola.
As Canada’s newest agricultural commodity group, CFGA hopes to change that.
Formed earlier this year, CFGA held its inaugural annual convention in Winnipeg Dec. 14-15 to set a course for promoting Canada’s forage and grassland sector.
That includes acting as a national voice, something the industry has sorely lacked in the past, said Wayne Digby, the association’s executive director.
“It’s very difficult for government to ignore you when you’re coming forward with a united stand.”
Despite its size, the forage industry has always had trouble speaking with one voice, mainly because it is so differentiated.
Its main users, the beef and dairy sectors, often have conflicting policy views. Exporters and domestic producers have different needs. Forage itself comes in many different species and varieties: legumes and grasses, domestic and native.
COMMON VIEW DIFFICULT
Digby acknowledged it’s sometimes difficult for the industry to have a common view, given its diversity.
But he said last month’s convention sent a strong message that producers support CFGA and want to work together for the common good.
“They know the organization is firm, they’ve taken ownership of the organization and now we can move ahead.”
Digby described CFGA as an umbrella organization representing provincial organizations, exporters and major user groups.
A 12-member executive board has representatives from forage councils in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, with a seat reserved for British Columbia. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Dairy Farmers of Canada are represented. So are forage marketers for long-fibre hay (which is exported mainly to the United States) and compressed hay (which is mostly sold overseas).
One priority for CFGA is to push for improved public and private funding for forage research in Canada, Digby said.
ESSENTIAL TO DEVELOP
The need for a national forage and grassland strategy is also essential to develop the industry, he said.
CFGA has submitted a proposal to the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program to fund a strategic industry plan.
Individual provincial forage councils have done their own development plans. But Canada needs a multi-level analysis to provide a national road map for the industry, Digby said.
CFGA last year developed a long-term international strategy for exports. Digby said the value of a national forage body is that some countries will only deal with a representative organization, not with individual exporters.
Here at home, the message is starting to get through that forages are big business, he said.
“People don’t recognize the value. So when we go to government and indicate the value, all of a sudden their heads snap up and they say, holy smokes.” [email protected]