Top Crop Manager

Features Agronomy Seeding/Planting
Farmers accept role for greater environmental stewardship

CCA helps to establish benefits of nurturing wildlife habitat.


November 19, 2007
By Top Crop Manager

Topics

Farmers have always viewed themselves as the primary stewards of the land.
Concerns related to issues such as the importance of preserving wildlife habitat
and a growing understanding about the ecological importance of wetlands in the
prairie grassland environment has recently surfaced. As a result, the stewardship
role of western Canadian farmers will likely be expanding.

Kevin Archibald is a rancher/livestock producer who is at the forefront of
transitioning his farming operation in a manner that has enabled him to take
on these expanded environmental challenges. He farms in the Killarney region
of southwestern Manitoba. The changes he has introduced have been greatly influenced
by the on-going activities of Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).

Archibald first interacted with DUC about seven years ago when he received
a cash incentive to grow winter wheat. A few years later he was designated as
one of the 'Core Growers' of this crop. The purpose of this DUC program was
to establish a pool of experienced winter wheat growers to advise new growers
of this crop.

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Some three years ago, Archibald became interested in converting some of his
'pothole' land into forage production. To gather grazing information, he joined
the DUC sponsored Cartwright Grazing Club. One of the main goals of this club
was to establish permanent, sustainable grassland systems. At the time, DUC
was looking for producers who could communicate and showcase the benefits of
adopting a managed grazing system.

Vicki East, a CCA (certified crop adviser) and agronomist with DUC, provided
the required technical expertise on topics such as stocking rates, forage mixtures,
system design, off-site watering, as well as financial assistance to help defray
some of the costs of the watering system. For DUC and East, the key benefit
was the opportunity to design a grazing and watering system that would improve
pasture wildlife habitat. For Archibald this opportunity to work with DUC represented
a win-win situation.

One key feature for DUC was the establishment of a pasture watering system
that reduced reliance of the livestock on water contained in potholes. Archibald
indicates that "Once off-site watering is available, the cattle prefer
the clean, cold water delivered through the pipeline. They stay out of the riparian
and pothole areas by choice."

The second benefit to DUC was the improvement in upland habitat achieved by
designing a rotational grazing system. Archibald indicates, "We use portable
fencing within our paddocks to control cattle movement. We graze with high stock
intensity, but allow the forage stand a lot of rest." This system meets
the goals of both parties.

The cattle are rotated through seven paddocks that are approximately 20 acres
in size and one larger 200 acre paddock in which the grazing area can be controlled
using a portable fencing system. While the seed mixture used for establishing
the forage stands varied somewhat depending on the soil and drainage conditions,
most of the paddocks contain a mixture of legumes (i.e. including alfalfa) as
well as meadow brome and orchard grass. Some paddocks also contain some areas
of Kentucky blue and native grasses. Archibald indicates that he designed his
grazing systems so as to achieve maximum flexibility. His goal is to graze the
forages in the vegetative stage for best results. What the cattle do not graze
he will cut for hay. In order to eliminate the risk of bloat, he introduced
Alfasure through the pipeline watering system.

In the late summer he has achieved gains of more than three pounds per day
with Simmental/Red Angus calves. "Part of these gains can be attributed
to the cattle drinking clean, unfouled water. In addition to great gains, the
alfalfa component provided a lot of quality grazing at a time when most typical
pastures are in their late summer slump. The health of our cattle has never
been better. Foot rot used to appear from time to time but is now very infrequent,"
says Archibald.

The payback for DUC is that the population of waterfowl, upland game birds
and all other types of ground nesting birds have increased greatly over the
past few years. "Birds that seem sensitive to man's presence, like bobolinks
and meadowlarks are increasing, despite the fact that our forage production
has exploded! What this means is an increased stocking rate. Grazing more cattle
on the same land base makes us more profitable," he says. But surprisingly,
it also benefits the wildlife.

"Our involvement with East and DUC has been a partnership that has worked
well for us and our ranch, and created a lasting value that has helped us to
reach goals that we both share," states Archibald. East, who has worked
with more than 60 producers and two grazing clubs, has a strong belief in conservation,
wildlife habitat preservation and the goals and objectives of the DUC programs.
She adds, "I believe that producers can work well with their environment
to help restore and protect wildlife habitat."

DUC has been playing a very important role in raising the level of consciousness
about environmental issues among prairie farmers. However, when it comes to
the preservation of wetlands and other types of associated wildlife habitat,
there is no question that DUC, in partnership with participating growers, has
played a strong leadership role in that regard within western Canada.

People who are as close to the land as farmers, and those who work closely
with them, such as agronomists and CCAs, also have a special responsibility
for protecting and preserving farmland and dealing with environmental issues.
"We need to ensure that the agricultural practices employed in food production
are based on sound principles of stewardship," adds East. -30-