Representatives from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), Andrea Brocklebank (Research Manager) and Dr. Reynold Bergen (Science Director), recently attended a Research Stakeholder Consultation hosted by the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association in Regina. The November 22 meeting provided an opportunity to discuss and prioritize Western Canada’s beef and forage research issues. More than twenty other participants representing Alberta Beef Producers, Manitoba Beef Producers, Saskatchewan Forage Council, the Saskatchewan Forage Network, Canadian Forage and Grassland Association, the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Manitoba Agriculture and Rural Initiatives, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada also attended the meeting.
It quickly became clear that forage research was a shared concern for all of the groups in attendance, so the conversation quickly focused on the shortage of forage research expertise. The lack of forage breeders is particularly acute. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada currently has one tame legume breeder remaining at the Lethbridge Research Station (Dr. Surya Acharya), and is supporting the perennial grass breeding program headed by Dr. Bruce Coulman at the University of Saskatchewan. This situation will become even more critical shortly, as both of these researchers are expected to retire within the next few years.
Bringing new forage breeders into the system before our remaining breeders retire will allow them to be mentored, trained and gain from the valuable experience these experts have gained from working closely with the industry. However, there is no clear plan in place to identify and hire new forage researchers. The shortage of forage researchers in general and forage breeders in particular was also clearly highlighted in the National Beef Research Strategy developed by the BCRC earlier this year through a Beef Value Chain Roundtable initiative.
Current restrictions on re-filling vacant federal research positions are not expected to relax for the next few years. Not-for-profit industry groups do not have the financial resources to fill this role on their own, so a collaborative approach involving university research programs supported by industry, federal, and provincial government funding needs to be explored. Saskatchewan’s beef industry has a long history of supporting similar initiatives, including Beef Chair positions in the Department of Animal Science, the Western Veterinary College, and most recently the Beef Cattle Teaching and Research Unit.
There was consensus that industry and government need to address these forage research capacity needs in the very near future. The BCRC looks forward to participating in the development of new forage research capacity through the Beef Science Cluster program. Reinvigorated forage research expertise will play an important role in future Beef Science Cluster research activities, and will be critically important in ensuring that Canada’s beef industry has access to higher yielding forages with optimal feed values.
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