We have questions. You, as a cattle producer, have the answers

Research on the Record with Reynold Bergen

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This column usually tells you about a research project that the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) has supported using Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off funds paid by producers like yourself. Sometimes you may ask yourself “why on earth did they fund that?” , “why don’t they do research on this?” or “do they ask producers what they need?” Well, read on. Here’s your chance to tell us what you need.

The 13 cattle producers from across Canada who sit on the council aren’t the only ones who decide how check-off research funds are allocated. You fund us, so we’re asking you what you want Canada’s forage, cattle and beef researchers to work on over the next five years.

It’s easy to provide a general answer to this question — most of us would likely identify long-term profitability, environmental sustainability, and public and consumer confidence as important challenges facing Canada’s beef industry. But what are the specific long-term profitability, environmental sustainability, and public and consumer confidence challenges you face? It depends on who you are, where you are and what sector of the industry you operate in.

The key to long-term profitability for a retailer may relate to cut size and price point. An exporter’s answer will depend on which markets they’re targeting. A packer may suggest labour availability, higher quality grades and simple, cost-effective strategies to ensure food safety. Feedlots may mention labour shortages and cost of gain. Cow-calf producers may raise concerns about rising land prices due to competition from crop production. We could ask the same questions about environmental sustainability and public confidence in the beef industry.

But the BCRC funds research and technology transfer, so our real question is, “How can research help tackle these challenges?” For instance, how can research help deal with the profitability challenge posed by escalating land prices? One producer may suggest plant breeding to produce higher-yielding forage varieties, so that the land can support higher stocking rates. Another may think that stocking rates could be increased if grazing management researchers could demonstrate improved soil health and forage productivity. A third may suggest research to determine whether cover crops can help reduce cow wintering costs as part of an extended grazing strategy. His or her neighbour may want to see improved vaccines to improve calving rates and reduce abortions and death losses. Another may say the key is to figure out how ranchers and crop producers can work together more closely and mutually benefit each other’s operations.

Everyone’s answer will also depend on which region of the country they’re from. So asking a handful of producers what their research priorities are may generate some pretty wide-ranging answers. But themes will start to emerge if we hear from hundreds of you.

We’re also active in technology transfer. Once the research has been completed and the results are in, what’s the best way to present the information to you to help make meaningful management decisions? Provincial governments traditionally played a leading role in extension and technology transfer, but many have significantly reduced their extension activities over the years. Some have eliminated extension entirely. The BCRC is working hard to help fill this gap as best we can with our limited resources, and is trying to find the best ways to get reliable, regionally relevant, science-based production and management information into your hands.

What we’re doing: We’ve opened an online survey to shape the next version of the National Beef Research and Technology Transfer Strategy. You can participate if you have 15 minutes and internet access.

What we’ll learn: We’ll use the survey responses to establish and update our priorities in the strategy. This will focus the BCRC’s research funding decisions over the next five years. We’ll work with federal and provincial government funding agencies as we develop the strategy so that they’re aware of what the beef industry’s research priorities are, and to encourage them to align their funding priorities and decisions with producers’ priorities.

So what does this mean to me? Have your say. We’re listening. Pour yourself a coffee, go to beefresearch.ca and fill out the survey before March 5. You’ll likely be done before you reach the bottom of the cup. Most of the questions are multiple choice, but there are also opportunities to make suggestions, recommendations and comments about research and technology transfer. Over 500 people participated in the 2016 survey. Those survey results, together with information about research that had been recently completed or was still underway, informed focus groups of producers, industry stakeholders (e.g. forage companies, nutritional consultants, packers, veterinarians, etc.), and key researchers who together mapped out new research priorities. These priorities were then available for comment before they were finalized. We’ll follow the same process again this year; we’ll just be doing it all virtually this time.

Help make sure we’re funding the research that will answer your questions and we turn research results into information and tools that are useful to you, your operation and your industry.

The Beef Cattle Research Council is funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off. The BCRC partners with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, provincial beef industry groups and governments to advance research and technology transfer supporting the Canadian beef industry’s vision to be recognized as a preferred supplier of healthy, high-quality beef, cattle and genetics.

About the author

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Dr. Reynold Bergen is the science director of the Beef Cattle Research Council.

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