Volume 4 Issue 3 • January 4, 2011

In This Issue ...


Conservation & cattle go hand in hand at Excel/Key West Community Pasture

From the road, the pasture stretching out as far as the eye can see looks like any other ordinary parcel of land fenced for livestock grazing. But a closer examination reveals that the Excel/Key West Community Pasture is anything but ordinary.

Located in Saskatchewan, the Excel/Key West is among 85 community pastures across the Prairies managed by Agriculture and AgriFood Canada’s (AAFC) Community Pasture Program (CPP). Comprised of 929,000 hectares, the CPP contains the largest contiguous blocks of grasslands remaining on the Prairies and is home to many fragile soils and ecosystems. Preservation of the grasslands is the name of the game here, and the livestock that graze the land is the conservation tool of choice.

The grasslands, homesteads abandoned in the 1930’s after proving unsuitable for annual cropping given the multiple blights of sand, rocks, salinity, challenging topography and flooding, were eventually transferred to the Federal Government. The goal under what was then the federal Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) was to convert the lands into community pastures, recover the landscapes and use them for livestock production.

Horseback is the preferred mode of transportation for cattle handling on the conservation-minded Excel Community Pasture. Here stock dog Dot gets ready to bring in some heifers under the direction of Peter Gonnet and his ride, Peanut. Photo credit: Gina Teel

Horseback is the preferred mode of transportation for cattle handling on the conservation-minded Excel Community Pasture. Here stock dog Dot gets ready to bring in some heifers under the direction of Peter Gonnet and his ride, Peanut. Photo credit: Gina Teel

Today, the Federal Government’s main objective is to conserve the lands and their biodiversity, make them available for public use, and protect them for future generations, said Brant Kirychuk, AAFC manager, pasture planning.

“The fortunate thing is, from the economic side of it . . . conservation and livestock grazing go hand in hand,” he said on a recent bus tour showcasing the CPP’s Excel pasture.

On the livestock side, the Excel pasture supports 35 local program participants by caring for a combined 1,200 cow-calf pairs year-round. Keeping close tabs on the native rangeland by monitoring range health indicators such as litter rates helps to determine stocking rates.

On the conservation side, the habitat needs of the three species at risk that call the Excel home, namely the Ferruginous Hawk, the Piping Plover and the Sprague’s Pipit, are taken into account in the land management practices carried out by Excel/Key West pasture manager Scott Griffin.

Griffin and his cowboys operate largely from horseback to do their chores, which includes herding cattle to new pastures, treating cattle for illness, checking water supplies and tending the roughly 130 miles of 4X5 wire fence on the two pastures.

Under the program, farmers drop their livestock off in May and take them home in late October. Most of the CPP pastures have some amount of tame/seeded pasture.  “Where we do have tame pasture the cattle are put on this first, and then moved to native range later in the spring/early summer,” Kirychuk said. 

The livestock are comingled, with animals owned by five to 10 different producers on a pasture. The farmers and ranchers pay 40 cents a day per cow and get 150 to 160 days of grazing, and $22 per calf per year. Perhaps not surprisingly, the program is oversubscribed each year.

Breeding services are available for program participants at a cost of $39 per cow. During the summer months, 45 CPP bulls are available for breeding, including Red Angus, Charlois and Black Angus.
The breeding program owns 3,000 purebred bulls and will breed approximately 100,000 cows annually from nearly 3,000 herds across the Prairies, AAFC said. AAFC uses the CPP for other livestock-related testing such as traceability, as noted in the November 8, 2010 edition of Action News.

The community pasture program has been operating in Western Canada for the past 70 years. Today, AAFC’s CPP provides habitat to 25 species at risk, and employs 300 cowboys during the summer plus 75 pasture managers year-round.


Parity with USD here to stay; time to review business risk levels

Last month, the Bank of Canada announced it was leaving its key overnight rate at 1 per cent, citing a heightened risk factor as the global economic recovery proceeds.

While the Bank viewed Canada’s economic recovery as proceeding at a moderate pace, it noted that net exports were weaker than projected and that they continued to exert a significant drag on growth. “This underlines a previously identified risk that a combination of disappointing productivity performance and persistent strength in the Canadian dollar could dampen the expected recovery of net exports,” the Bank said in its release.

The relationship between the robust dollar and its impact on business has increasingly come under scrutiny given the parity-watch scenario Canada’s currency found itself in for much of the second half of 2010. It’s a situation not bound to reverse itself anytime soon, with the loonie reaching par with the U.S. dollar on November 10, and again on December 28.

With a close-to-parity exchange rate with the U.S. in the near-term a reality, now is a good time for business owners to take a close look at their business, said Mary Lou McCutcheon, an agricultural economist and consultant with Synthesis Agri-food Network.

McCutcheon said it is critical for business owners to understand what their risk is, understand what their sensitivity to that risk is, determine what risk they can accept, and then come up with a strategy to manage around that risk.

While many business owners may have been managing their businesses this way all along – and many producers would argue they’ve already sharpened their pencils and become more competitive as a result of BSE and COOL -- the one thing that’s changed is the dollar. Learning to manage the risk around it is key, she said.

The most important impact of the high dollar is in export market opportunities, in that it weakens Canada’s competitive position. “We do have a product that is in demand but the exchange rate means that we just have to be sharper,” McCutcheon said.

Generally speaking, business owners must first look at everything that is directly impacted by the exchange rate. A high loonie improves purchasing power in other markets for them. When buying inputs, for instance, business owners have to pencil that out to see if it makes sense, whereas when the dollar was at 65 cents, they might not have even considered it.

The other side of that is of course the market. In some cases, producers are marketing directly into the U.S., or their livestock in a lot of cases is exported as meat. It’s important to understand what kind of impact that is having on our export markets, even if it is one step removed from the farm.

The productivity of a business also needs a careful look to ensure business owners are getting the greatest output per unit input, “whatever that might be for your business.” The exchange rate at 65 cents made it a little easier to make those decisions. “Now at par we need to be as productive as possible in order to be competitive in those export markets in particular,” McCutcheon said.


Unique zoning initiative reduces risk and impact of animal disease

A foreign animal disease (FAD) outbreak could wreak havoc on the Canadian livestock industry. For example, some research suggests the financial ramifications of a large-scale Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak to the Canadian livestock industry could exceed $46 million. Having an effective zoning and traceability system in place could reduce the economic impact by as much as 50 per cent. An important component of Canada’s traceability system is the West Hawk Lake (WHL) Zoning Initiative.

Located on the Trans-Canada Highway near the Manitoba-Ontario border, the WHL control site is the only passage point for commercial vehicles between Eastern and Western Canada. This unique, single-road checkpoint effectively establishes two zones, and therefore creates the possibility to have a large disease-free zone, by World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards, in the event of an FAD outbreak.

Over the past 12 months, the control site recorded the movement of more than 98,000 beef cattle across the checkpoint. Due to limited operational hours during this pilot phase, it is estimated that only one third of all animals that crossed the border were tracked. Since December 6, 2010, the facility has run continuously, ensuring a complete data set of all livestock movement between the zones. This transition to a fully operational facility was facilitated by a federal government investment of $2 million, announced in May 2010.

With the cooperation of producers and the transportation industry, information about the passage of animals across the checkpoint, including animal identification and departure and destination premises, is gathered and stored in a database. The information storehouse is contained within the West Hawk Lake Zoning component of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency’s (CCIA) tracking system. Ensuring strict confidentially, the database will only be accessed in an emergency.

Information gathered by the WHL Zoning Initiative will significantly enhance the capacity to contain disease and mitigate associated risks. The data will also provide strategic, early tracking information, a benefit to the CFIA when negotiating with trading partners.

“From the start of this initiative, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has recognized the important contribution and the critical function that the WHL Zoning Initiative will provide to our traceability effort as part of Canada’s infrastructure for emergency management,” said Rob McNabb, General Manager, Operations of the CCA. “The WHL Zoning Initiative will be fundamental to our response and recovery for animal health and welfare and for regaining market access in the event of a disease situation that temporarily closes our borders.”

The tools and processes developed by the WHL Zoning Initiative have set the model for establishment of additional zones within Canada. Other zoning opportunities across the country include the Lower Fraser Valley, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Vancouver Island.

The initiative is managed by the Canadian Animal Health Coalition and guided by the Canadian Zoning Committee. It is funded in large part by the federal government, as well as several industry groups including the Dairy Farmers of Canada and the CCA.

CCA Action News

Written, edited and compiled by: Gina Teel and Tracy Sakatch

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