By Alberta Beef Producers staff
One of the mandates of Alberta Beef Producers is to help the beef industry reduce its environmental impacts and try to promote areas where we can demonstrate how raising cattle on native and tame pastures can benefit the environment. This is mostly done through recognizing the value of ecosystem services that we provide on our land for the benefit of all Albertans, while raising cattle or other livestock.
A particular area of interest is whether we can capture some of the value from carbon that is stored in intact native grasslands, or carbon that is sequestered when restoring perennial forages on previously cultivated annual cropland. We are involved in many discussions on what tools or market mechanisms could be developed to help receive payment for these ecosystem services, carbon storage being one of many that we provide.
We have been helping the Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association and Viresco Solutions in their development of a Canadian “Avoided Conversion of Grasslands Carbon Credit” protocol, where a landowner could potentially sell carbon credits or offsets to a large emitter or organization interested in contributing to conservation and stewardship. While this project can be developed to sell credits under the U.S. Climate Action Reserve voluntary carbon market, CFGA and Viresco have submitted a pilot project proposal to test how the carbon credit would work on Canadian pasture lands. Another carbon credit opportunity in the future could be to capture value on carbon sequestered through a “Conversion of Annual Cropland to Perennial Cropland Carbon Credit” protocol.
Carbon storage is not the only ecosystem service that pasture lands provide. While we do benefit by raising cattle on these lands, we also provide wildlife habitat, maintain biodiversity, provide nutrient cycling and water filtration services that everyone can benefit from. Many of our environmental non-profit organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Nature Conservancy of Canada and ALUS provide value to landowners by paying for the stewardship, conservation or restoration of privately held lands and wetlands.
Wildlife habitat is another ecosystem service we provide that benefits recreational users of private and lease lands. Alberta’s ranchers and farmers depend on a healthy, natural environment to run sustainable operations and recognize that proper stewardship of the soil, water, air and biodiversity is essential. Livestock owners place great value on environmental stewardship which ensures healthy rangelands and riparian areas for both domestic livestock and wildlife. Ranchers also recognize that healthy wildlife populations are not only an indicator of rangeland health, but also provide wellbeing and enjoyment to both landowners and the rest of society.
Unfortunately, while we are passionate about stewardship this sometimes comes at a great cost, especially if we lose crops or livestock to wildlife. We continue to work closely with the Alberta government on our proposed “Co-existence with large carnivores” pilot project, which will hopefully help to better manage and reduce predator conflict while providing sufficient compensation when losses occur. As predator depredation claims on livestock increase, we hope to address these issues and minimize the risk of worst-case scenarios resulting in unnecessary loss of livestock and wildlife, or the conversation of rangeland. This project would be another way to help recognize the value we provide through wildlife habitat where we do sometimes incur losses.
Lastly, we know our industry produces many ecosystem services for others to share and enjoy, like recreational access for hunting. Unfortunately, we still see conflict between hunters and landowners in certain regions, which we are also trying to address. For example, we are currently working with the Canadian Land Access Systems to give landowners an opportunity to manage capacity on their land and set rules for access through an online system. While this may not work for everyone and other options may be better suited to your operation, this tool could be useful in managing access on one’s property.
As always, we greatly value environmental stewardship that not only benefits our producers, but also the rest of society. If we continue to take care of the land, the land will take care of us.
Forage U-Pick: An interactive forage species selection tool for Western Canada
Karin Schmid, research and production manager, Alberta Beef Producers
This tool is designed to provide users from British Columbia to Manitoba with a selection of forage species best suited to a particular region or field, and for a specific use (such as pasture, hay and reclamation).
You begin by choosing your province and soil zone/eco-region and then you can choose from 10 different selection criteria that best represent the conditions of the area you intend to seed. Search results will be the best if you limit the criteria to the top two or three priority characteristics. The “My Field Characteristics” selection criteria allows you to choose the use of forage, timing of use, whether you prefer native or tame, or grass or legume species, desired stand longevity and soil characteristics, including soil type, acidity, salinity and erosion tendency.
A list of suitable forages matching your selection criteria will be displayed. Unsuitable forage species will be greyed out. More information is available on each species by clicking their picture. Forage U-Pick also contains a seeding rate calculator and resources for weed management.
This tool would not have been possible without the active and engaged participation of forage researchers and specialists from more than 13 different organizations, as well as funding from the Beef Cattle Research Council, Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre, Saskatchewan Forage Council, and the Government of British Columbia and Government of Canada through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.
For more information, visit upick.beefresearch.ca.