Today’s Research Provides Tomorrow’s Solutions

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Today’s research won’t help you weather this year’s drought, but the practical information and advice you’ll read elsewhere in this issue (and at www.beefresearch.ca) will. Those pasture management, early weaning, creep-feeding, feed and water testing, alternative feeds and ration balancing tips all originate from past research done by scientists and refined by producers. But producer-funded research underway today will help us cope with future droughts.
beef cattle kicking up dust in dry pasture
Crops, pastures and haylands throughout Western and Central Canada are parched. In a lot of places, the only green and thriving forage plants are forage legumes like alfalfa, vetches, trefoil, sweet clover and sainfoin. Legumes have specialized roots that allow them to capture nitrogen from the air and convert it into plant protein. This improves soil fertility and forage and animal productivity. Their root systems can also extend very deep into the soil and allow them to access subsoil moisture that shallow-rooted plants can’t reach during times of drought. Canada’s forage researchers are working hard today to develop tomorrow’s forage varieties and management practices that will improve productivity, nutritional quality and resilience under challenging environmental conditions. Continue reading

Dr. Surya Acharya Receives 2021 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation

Dr. Surya Acharya receives 2021 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation from Beef Cattle Research Council


Pictured l to r:  Beef producer Darren Bevans, BCRC Science Director Reynold Bergen, BCRC Executive Director Andrea Brocklebank, beef producer Doug Wray, 2021 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research & Innovation recipient Dr. Surya Acharya, beef producer and BCRC Vice Chair Craig Lehr, AAFC Forage Breeder Hari Poudel, beef producer and BCRC Council Member Graeme Finn and AAFC Forage Agronomy Technician Brandon Eisenreich.

An innovative and industry-engaged forage breeder has been granted the 2021 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation. Dr. Surya Acharya received this award today at the 2021 virtual Canadian Beef Industry Conference to recognize the positive impacts of his research on beef industry advancement.  

“Dr. Acharya is respected and appreciated by academics and producers alike,” said Matt Bowman, chair of the Beef Cattle Research Council and a producer from Thornloe, Ontario. “His work addresses real industry obstacles with solutions that consider producers’ needs through direct communication with stakeholders.”   

Dr. Acharya is a research scientist and forage breeder at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Lethbridge, Alberta, where he specializes in breeding legumes. His current research focuses on developing new cultivars of legume species with improvements in yield, nutritional quality and persistence, among other traits. His unique approach to plant breeding incorporates a consideration of multiple factors to best serve the needs of end-users, including beef producers. Indeed, many of Dr. Acharya’s past cultivars are appreciated for their practical use in solving industry challenges, such as his AC Oxley II and AC Veldt cicer milkvetch varieties, both of which are much quicker to establish than predecessors. Similarly, he assisted in the development of the online Forage U-Pick tool, which aids western Canadian producers in choosing appropriate forage species for their operations.  

Dr. Acharya’s most recent project aims to enhance the lipid content of legume vegetative tissues to improve their energy content for grazing livestock. Using conventional and genomic breeding techniques, his team has been able to select for plants with approximately five percent lipid content, compared to virtually none in the original plants. His project will have environmental benefits by using conventional breeding to reduce methane production through increased digestibility, which will allow western Canadian alfalfa producers to export to nations that avoid the GMO designation.   Continue reading

How Mother Nature Hedges Her Bets

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Pasture plants are generally classified as decreasers, increasers and invaders. Decreaser species are the plants you want to see and your cattle prefer to eat, so they face the most grazing pressure. Increaser plants tend to thrive when the decreaser species are challenged by overgrazing, drought or other sub-optimal conditions. Invaders (weeds) proliferate when increasers and the remaining decreasers are so weakened by overgrazing or environmental extremes that they have a hard time competing for nutrients, water and sunlight. 
cattle grazing on healthy, green pastures
Healthy, productive pastures are dominated by decreasers. The composition of the decreaser community in healthy native rangelands was shaped by thousands of years of natural selection and environmental pressures. In tame pastures, humans take the wheel from Mother Nature as we seek to establish and maintain a stand of tame decreaser species that can be productive and long-lived in our particular soil and climate conditions. In both native and tame pastures, good grazing managers adjust stocking densities, grazing intensities, grazing and rest period length and frequency, etc. based on annual and seasonal variations in growing conditions to maintain pasture health and optimize long-term forage and animal productivity. Continue reading

Persistence Pays

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


Photo credit to Agriculture Agri-Food Canada

Forage legumes provide high yields, protein, and good animal performance while improving soil fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air.  Alfalfa is the highest yielding and most widely-used legume but can cause bloat. Legumes like cicer milkvetch, sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil do not cause bloat. As little as 25% sainfoin in a pasture can virtually eliminate the risk of bloat even if the other 75% is alfalfa.

The problem is that older sainfoin varieties don’t regrow as fast as alfalfa after grazing. Alfalfa’s aggressive nature allows it to outcompete sainfoin for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Without careful grazing management, sainfoin can disappear from a pasture in a few years. This might be because plant breeders have traditionally selected new varieties for clipped forage yield under monoculture conditions. This doesn’t reflect the challenges sainfoin faces when grown with alfalfa and grazed.

Surya Acharya at AAFC Lethbridge has been breeding sainfoin that regrows more rapidly after grazing and persists longer in mixtures with alfalfa. New varieties (e.g. Mountainview and Glenview) have already been released, but there are more in the pipeline. An update on these ongoing efforts was published in 2017 (Performance of Mixed Alfalfa-Sainfoin Pastures and Grazing Steers in Western Canada, Professional Animal Scientist 33:472). Continue reading