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Onward and upward for the CFGA

Notes from the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association annual conference

The sixth annual Canadian Forage and Grassland Association conference was held in Saskatoon on November 17 to 19.

The Canadian Forage and Grassland Association drew the year to a close on a high note coming out of its annual conference at Saskatoon in November. As the theme, “Capturing the Intensity” suggests, the event offered a lineup of insightful presenters on an array of topics from intensive forage management systems and soil health to adoption of research findings and virtual farm tours, along with a great opportunity for networking.

Operating on a slim budget, the annual conference is the one time of year when members get to meet face-to-face with one another and bring supporting industry partners, forage and livestock producers into the fold.

The CFGA was incorporated in 2010 to provide a national voice for all Canadians who produce hay and forage products for those whose production is dependent on forage and grassland output.

While the profile of forage and grasslands continues to gain momentum, the CFGA went through some growing pains in 2014-15 that started with the process of hiring a new executive director following the 2014 conference and building rapport with member livestock organizations and industry partners.

Cedric MacLeod, who runs a grass-finished-beef operation and agri-environmental consulting company at Fredericton, N.B., accepted the executive director position as of June 1 and has been instrumental in the CFGA’s onward-and-upward outlook.

Activities of the CFGA are funded mainly by its members and industry partners.

Members include the provincial forage councils, forage exporters, and livestock associations, including the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association which has returned as a major supporter for 2015-16 at the same level as the Dairy Farmers of Canada. The Canadian Bison Association has been a consistent supporter and the Canadian Sheep Federation became a member.

Pickseed and Forage Genetics joined Nutritional Feeds and New Holland as funding partners. New Holland increased its significant contribution to help support a communications program. CFGA has also been working with Farm Business Communications to develop a CFGA brand and with RealAgriculture on a social media strategy.

Partnerships are a two-way street, involving what the partner needs and the value piece CFGA can provide, MacLeod says. One role is providing expertise by participating in the Beef Value Chain Roundtable, Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Seed Sector Value Chain Roundtable and Special Crops Value Chain Roundtable.

Communications is all encompassing in the forage world from producers and beyond because forage is important to society as a whole, says the newly elected CFGA chair Ray Robertson.

While the livestock sector is the largest direct user of forages, this crop provides vital and valuable ecological functions. Cultivated forage for pasture, forage and seed production is the largest crop in Canada, covering 33.8 million acres, or 39 per cent of land used for crop production, according to the 2011 National Forage Assessment. Another 36 million acres is native rangeland and unimproved pasture.

Robertson sums up the broad scope of a the CFGA’s program: “To support research and innovation and to promote the production, beneficial management practices, market development and benefits of forage and grass in Canada and to provide a forum for information exchange between producers, researchers, industry and farmer stakeholders.”

The board is working with consultant Wendy Bulloch of Building Up at Brandon, Man., to develop a strategic plan. Her survey of conference participants highlighted areas consistently recognized as challenges across provincial borders including knowledge transfer, lack of awareness of the contribution of the forage industry among consumers, funding, research and advocacy.

Robertson says finalizing a strategic plan and pushing the strategy forward will be a focus during the upcoming year alongside activities of the three standing committees: environment, exporters and research/extension.

The environment committee has been collecting research supporting ecological goods and services provided by grasslands as it works to gain public recognition of the value of grasslands and forages and assisted with a Manitoba project exploring the value of forages and grasslands in drought and flood situations.

The export committee has developed strategies to target overseas markets and is arranging for forage producers and a dairy nutritionist to accompany exporters on a mission to China in March. Hay exports to the U.S. have slowed, largely because of good supplies south of the border and drought-induced high prices in Western Canada.

The research strategy is closely aligned with the National Beef Research Strategy’s forage and grassland’s section. The CFGA continues to document research on legume-specific inoculants; however, none of the major companies have come forward on the supply side.

Outgoing and inaugural CFGA chair Doug Wray, a beef producer from Irricana, Alta., who represented the Alberta Forage Industry Network on the CFGA, says he is encouraged by the CFGA’s accomplishments raising the profile of forages and most of all by the networking it has facilitated.

Robertson has been with the CFGA as the Ontario Forage Council’s representative since day one as well. He is a former dairy and beef producer, who now runs a custom-grazing operation near Markdale, Ont. In addition to serving as general manager of the Ontario Forage Council, he is the founder and executive director of Grey County Agricultural Services Centre, a non-profit organization established in 2000 that provides extension, communication and administration services for agricultural groups and events.

The CFGA 2016 conference will be held November 15-17 in Winnipeg. Many of the presentations from the Saskatoon conference will be posted to the CFGA website.

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