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Celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day and Beef Producers who Safeguard the Environment

Today, we celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day. Canadian beef farmers raise cattle, produce nutritious beef, provide jobs, and create economic value, making the beef sector an important part of Canada’s agriculture and food community.Canada’s beef producers also play a vital role in taking care of the environment, a large responsibility that farmers and ranchers are not always credited for. While there is still room for improvement on some fronts, there is much to celebrate while the beef sector continues to improve its environmental track record. These facts demonstrate some of the valuable ways in which beef producers manage environmental resources:

  • Beef producers steward sensitive grassland and riparian ecosystems that provide many ecological, economic, and societal benefits. These ecoservices include biodiversity conservation, flood control, and habitat for species at risk, wildlife, birds and pollinators, and more.
  • Beef cattle make use of steep, erosion-prone, rocky, or forested land that cannot grow crops for human consumption. This marginal agricultural land is unsuitable for crop production, yet it is well-matched for grazing, which is a natural disturbance necessary to support rangeland habitat, improve forage production, and enable nutrient cycling. Grazing cattle upcycle the forage grown on marginal land into nutrient rich beef.
  • Farmers are reducing their use of fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizers by using innovative grazing management strategies and seeding cover crops to improve their soils and increase forage production.
  • Producers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve feed efficiency by implementing growth promoting technologies that maintain a high standard of food safety and animal health.
  • Cattle make a significant contribution to reducing food loss. Canada has committed to the United Nations goal to cut global food loss (e.g. harvest and storage losses, crop residues and processing by-products) and food waste (retail, restaurants and home) in half by 2030. Cattle convert high fiber crop residues and food processing by-products into high quality protein more efficiently than other livestock.
  • Science and innovation have reduced the overall environmental footprint of Canadian beef. Researchers found that producing each unit of Canadian beef used 17% less water, required 29% less breeding cattle, 24% less land, and produced 15% less greenhouse gases in 2011 compared to 1981. The beef sector is committed to emissions reductions and have set a 10-year goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 33% during the primary production phase by 2030.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association recognizes the outstanding environmental stewardship efforts of Canada’s beef producers each year. The 2020 winners of The Environmental Stewardship Award were BC’s Woodjam Ranch.

With a focus on fact, innovation and communication, Canada’s beef producers strive to continually improve environmental outcomes. Today, as we celebrate Agriculture Day and beef for their important contributions to agriculture and food, let’s also celebrate the role they play in managing Canada’s environmental landscapes.

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Curt GeschFebruary 23, 2021

As I strong supporter of the BCRC, I still need to say that the diversion, damming (and use of irrigation water) for some of the irrigated crops that provide feedlots with forages are not something to be proud of, but something to regret and--in time--reverse.


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Beef ResearchFebruary 25, 2021

Thanks for reading, Curt

You raise an important point. Water is a critically important resource and it is essential that the beef industry (and the rest of society) use it in a sustainable manner. Water gets classified as “green” (precipitation) or “blue” (surface water). Irrigation is blue water. Only 5% of the water used in Canadian beef production is blue water (irrigation). That is the water that cattle drink, the water used to operate processing facilities, and the water used for irrigation. The good news is that the Canadian beef industry’s blue water footprint has decreased – it took 20% less blue water to produce each kg of Canadian beef in 2011 than it did in 1981. There’s more on that here.

So irrigation is a small part of beef production, but where it exists, it’s really, really important. In addition to providing very valuable insurance against both spring floods and unpredictable rain and snowfall in some very arid areas, the dams and other infrastructure that support irrigation in Western Canada have allowed both agriculture and the overall economy to become much more diversified. As these irrigation projects rely on snowfall and glacier runoff from the mountains, they may be considered to be significantly more sustainable and renewable than irrigation that relies on renewable underground aquifers that take centuries or millennia to recharge.

Some Western Canadian irrigation acres are certainly devoted to forage, and some of that forage is used by the feedlot industry. But some of these acres are used to produce forage seed, others produce forage for the dairy or equine sectors, and forage for dehydration and export. And keep in mind that the same economic pressures that favor the conversion of forages to cropland apply on irrigation land as well; they’re just amplified many, many times because irrigation allows the production of higher yields of much more valuable crops. As a result, many of the forage acres in irrigated areas are actually annual forages that are seeded as part of a crop rotation to break disease cycles for more intensively produced (and much more valuable) crops.

This highlights a potential risk that irrigation poses to the beef industry. Because irrigation allows the production of more valuable crops, the expansion of irrigation projects may threaten forage and grassland acres. Cattle, pasture and forage are great ways to use arid land. But when irrigation means that land is no longer arid, it’s a lot more lucrative to plow the grassland down for potatoes, onions, or whatever.



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