Is This a Good Investment?

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

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) projects featured in this column are funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off. When the checkoff increased a few years ago, the BCRC’s budget rose from around 15 cents to 67 cents per head marketed. This allowed us to start some new research programs. Now that we’re a few years in I can update you on how they’re going.

One is our “Proof of Concept” program. Research is complicated and costly, so we have independent scientists review each research proposal to make sure it is scientifically sound and likely to achieve its goal before investing your dollars into it. Sometimes the reviewers say, “This is an interesting project, but it’s really costly, and it all hinges on an untested idea. It’d be better if they had some preliminary evidence that this new idea is worth pursuing, before funding a costly, full-scale project.”

In 2018 the BCRC started funding Proof of Concept projects to gather these preliminary results and help decide whether these new ideas are worth scaling up into full-scale research trials. Here’s what two of the first Proof of Concept projects told us.
intercropping corn and high-protein forages for better beef cattle nutrition
Exploring corn intercropping strategies to increase protein and profitability of beef cattle grazing:
Corn’s high yields and energy content make it a popular wintering grazing crop for some Western Canadian producers. However, it’s low protein content may make it unsuitable for younger, growing cattle. Seeding corn together with high protein forages may be a way around this challenge.

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Setting Goals and Adding Diversity is key for Intercropping

There is a lot of buzz in beef and forage production systems around the concepts of sustainability and soil health and the numerous different production practices that can support those ideas. Innovative producers are seeking ways to work within their landbase to become more efficient and improve their soils, whatever that may mean to them on their farms. Intercropping is one strategy that may help them achieve their goals.

What is intercropping? Is it different from planting cover crops, interseeding, or relay crops? How does intercropping fit in for beef and forage systems?

The lines are blurry but the goals are clear

Manitoba producer Alan MacKenzie considers intercropping to be two crops that are grown at the same time to be harvested together. The Nesbitt area cow-calf producer has been an organic farmer for twenty years and has used intercropping on-and-off as a tool on his mixed farm for the past decade. “I would say the main benefit is just trying to get some diversity and anytime we can get some legume in the mix for the nitrogen, that’s good,” MacKenzie explains. Continue reading