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Forages targeted in Atlantic Canada

The Maritime beef industry is largely comprised of cow-calf operations that produce replacement heifers and market feeder calves. The Atlantic Beef Products plant in Albany, P.E.I., is the only federally inspected plant within the Atlantic region. With the projected growth of ABP, the plant will be anticipating an increased requirement of 10,000 additional feeders per year. In addition, there is increased market demand for Atlantic cattle to supply Ontario’s Corn Fed Beef program.

“With this in mind, the Maritime Beef Council recently developed a growth and expansion strategy for their industry,” said Brad McCallum, manager of the red meat commodity associations in Nova Scotia. “To meet this potential increase in demand for their cattle, the beef producers realized their grass production resource was underutilized. As a result, they wanted to promote and enhance the use of pastures as an integral part of their expansion strategy.

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Over the years, Dr. Yousef Papadopoulos, a forage breeder at Agriculture and Agri Food at Kentville, Nova Scotia, has developed pasture management systems for increased forage production in Atlantic Canada.

“The traditional weakness of alfalfa and other legumes in our area is usually poor persistence, often a result of periods of prolonged wetness or flooding. We are seeing a decline in legumes in our pastures and this results in reduced animal gains,” said Papadopoulos. “This is due to our flooding conditions and lack of winter hardiness in legumes. John Duynisveld at the Nappan Agriculture Canada Experimental Farm and I are co-leading a recently proposed project with the national Beef Cluster to identify the factors associated with the re-establishment of legumes in existing forage stands. Our goal is to sustain an adequate long-term legume content of 30 per cent legume on a dry matter yield in forage mixtures under grazing management. We want to identify cultivars with increased seedling vigour, and develop some new seed treatments to promote enhanced root growth of the new legume seedlings.”

“Our research has shown that some cultivars within a species are more suited for use under grazing management than others. We looked at timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, orchardgrass, meadow fescue and meadow brome mixed with birdsfoot trefoil, alfalfa and white clover. We found that within most species there are some cultivars that can produce pasture with significantly greater yield and quality. We will then use these cultivars to create new forage varieties that are better adapted to our growing conditions. We also want to develop fertility and forage stand management systems to improve legume establishment in pastures.”

The commercialization of a new alfalfa cultivar developed by Dr. Papadopoulos that offers farmers a tougher alfalfa variety for extreme conditions is currently underway and seed of this cultivar should be available to producers by 2020.

Frost seeding and sod seeding of legumes into existing forage stands can increase the legume content of the sward without the economic and environmental costs associated with cultivation and re-establishment of the entire stand. However, these methods can produce variable results, and without predictable success their implementation on farms is difficult.

Dr. Kathleen Glover, the new forage agronomist at Nappan, is studying the environmental conditions during seedling germination for frost and sod seeded legumes. “I will be looking at how soil moisture, temperature and light intensity at ground level affect seedling growth in an established forage stand in the spring and summer. I will also be evaluating the use of some new growth promotants applied to the seed, to help the seedling to establish,” said Glover.

“After the new forage stand has been established, we find that legume longevity in the stand is impacted by abiotic stresses. In the future, we think that this problem will be more severe with climate change. We have recently submitted a research proposal to investigate the use of agricultural biologicals for enhancing the stress response of forage crops. These naturally sourced products help plants to adapt to stress. Research elsewhere has shown that these products can improve resistance of some crops to pathogens and are being considered for improving tolerance to environmental stresses such as drought or waterlogging. Very little work has been conducted in forage crops. We plan on evaluating these products to reduce the problems associated with lengthy exposure to abiotic stress in forage crops.”

For a number of years, John Duynisveld has been evaluating the economics of late-fall grazing tall fescue and red clover stockpiled pastures until Christmas then bale grazing through the winter with a spring calving beef cow herd.

“We find that the cattle grazed outside through the fall and winter under our Maritime conditions maintained good body condition and had similar weight changes to cattle housed and fed in a barn over the winter. Our cattle grazing outside through the winter reduced cow wintering costs by 54 per cent, or $0.92 per head per day,” said Duynisveld.

When manure is spread on forage fields in the high precipitation areas of Atlantic Canada it can lead to potential nutrient contamination of water systems from tile drainage effluent. Dr. David McKenzie, a field crop scientist and microbiologist Dr. Linda Jewell, AAFC in St. John’s, Nfld., have established a study to assess an improved tile drainage system using wood chips to reduce the amount of runoff nitrates coming from manured fields.

“Ideally producers want to reduce nutrient exports from their subsurface drainage systems and reduce overall fertilizer inputs and costs. However, with our high precipitation and intense weather events in Newfoundland coupled with over-fertilization and soil type, we find that nitrates and phosphate will leach into these systems,” said McKenzie. “Our team has developed one of the world’s best field structures to monitor the year-round nitrogen movement under a typical Atlantic forage production system.

“The soil water drains through beds of wood chips generating tremendous environmental benefits before leaving the farm,” explains Jewell. “The bacteria and fungi living in the wood chips enable a process known as denitrification. These organisms use the chips as a source for carbon, and transform the nitrates from the water into nitrogen gas, which exits into the atmosphere.” Jewell and her team are characterizing the types of microorganisms that are responsible for denitrification in the St. John’s bioreactor.

McKenzie is also working with environmental systems engineer Dr. Lordwin Jeyakumar who has found the nitrate removal rate of more than 50 per cent and the system can reduce nitrate run-off in a cool climate. Farmers in Newfoundland and Labrador often work with shallow, rocky soils that have poor nutrient retention and drainage. This research has the potential to provide a method of reducing the amount of nitrates in run-off water in forage and cropped fields.

The Morden Research and Development Centre in Manitoba has two bioreactors evaluating this process in Western Canada.

There has been a lot of interest in technology transfer of research to the forage and grazing industry in Atlantic Canada. Dr. Papadopoulos, John Duynisveld and Dr. Alan Fredeen have been teaching a fourth-year undergraduate course on pastures in sustainable livestock systems at Dalhousie University faculty of agriculture. This advanced course is designed to provide students with an overview of current sustainable pasture management practices in northern latitudes, with a focus on grassland ecology, the environmental impacts of livestock production and applied pasture management. Students participate in lab sessions on practical grazing management techniques, as well as, touring local farm operations.

In addition, Bill Houston, a senior range and forage specialist in Saskatchewan with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s science and technology branch and Tanya Dykens, a knowledge transfer officer in New Brunswick, developed a national project to share and promote forage research for use by Maritime and other Canadian farmers. They formed an industry advisory panel that was composed of members from different national and provincial specialists who work with forages to prioritize a list of the top five research projects that the industry wanted to see transferred.

In Atlantic Canada, they concentrated on extending the grazing season through bale grazing. There has been relatively slow uptake by Atlantic beef producers on using bale grazing to extend the grazing season as they believed their animals could not maintain body condition over the winter if grazed outdoors. “In the future, we will be working with the Maritime Beef Council’s beef and forage management schools to highlight the economics of extended grazing in Atlantic Canada,” said Houston.

— Duane McCartney is a retired forage beef systems research scientist at Lacombe, Alta.

Wet conditions and lack of winter hardiness wear on legumes like this six-year-old plant.

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Duane McCartney is a retired forage-beef systems research scientist at Lacombe, Alta.

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