Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


New "cool season" forage book targets sophisticated reader

It's billed as leading edge information you're not likely to get from regular sources

Posted: June 18, 2013

A new book entitled "Cool forages: Advanced management of temperate forages" brings together some of the leading developments in forages from around the world. It should be of particular interest to farmers and ranchers and others involved in forage across Canada.

Produced by the B.C Field Corn Association based in the B.C. lower mainland, it is the third in a series, all designed to provoke new thinking about some of the major developments in forages.

There is a lot of sophistication in the community and there is a scarcity of this kind of high level publication available to the community at large, says one of the lead editors, Shabtai Bittman of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Agassiz, B.C.

"Publications are either quite technical and dry, so you have to be very committed to read them. Or they are quite simple. So we felt we could advance knowledge by being quite technical but presenting concepts and ideas in a very palatable way, with a lot of illustrations, pleasing to the eye and in small chunks so it doesn't get overbearing.

"The goal is not to be comprehensive, but to stimulate ideas and thoughts. The target audience is diffuse, everyone from farmers, to journalists and tech transfer people, to university professors looking for resources to stimulate thinking in their university classes."

The book tackles ideas that not everybody is thinking about, says Bittman. Sustainability is a common thread. "Not all are successes stories. Some are a work in progress, or a story about failures. But all are things we can learn from. We didn't shy away from complicated subjects. We're not trying to give simple answers."

Topics tell the story

The range of topics is best illustrated with some examples.

Are forages green? The surprising thing about forages is that they are both green and very not green, says Bittman. They're green in terms of the landscape, but because they are associated with cattle, and cattle are under some suspicion by the public in terms of how they affect the environmental footprint. This includes concerns related to greenhouse gasses, energy and nutrient use. 'You can't dissociate these two divergent viewpoints. So you have a paradox of the most green and perhaps the least green of the crops."

Forages and biodiversity. There are a range of thought provoking articles on forage biodiversity, both the diversity they bring as different crops and also in the way they provide habitat. One Canadian article looks at grassland set-asides in the B.C. Fraser Delta area as habitat for voles and other animals and how that intricate relationship affects raptors.

Innovative manure injection. An article from Sweden looks at the trials and tribulations of commercializing new research technology. It follows the path of a new tool for injecting manure into grass, not on the market yet after 10 years of research and development.

GMOs in alfalfa. An article from California looks at GMO alfalfa. It's a potentially big issue for Canada and elsewhere with implications for hay producers, seed producers and organic growers, says Bittman.

Manure on alfalfa. Many dairy operations use alfalfa as the main forage, which leads to an interesting dilemma. The most potent nutrient in manure and the one of most value is nitrogen. Alfalfa doesn't need the nitrogen from manure, and producers are putting manure on the crop. This article looks at the benefits and paradox of that practice.

Nutrient losses from forage in winter. Forages are reputed to be environmentally beneficial but a joint article from Quebec and Finnish writers found that on fine textured soils there is nitrous oxide emission and leaching in the dead of winter. "That's lot of activity taking place on forages even in winter when activity was thought to have shut down," says Bittman.

Reducing greenhouse gases from grazing animals. There are potential win-win situations in which the land manager can improve efficiency of production and reduce methane and/or nitrous emissions according to Canadian authors of this article.

Managing phosphorus. It's a balancing act for economic and environmental interests. A Canadian article provides fresh information from the intensively farmed region of the B.C. Fraser Valley.

Filling knowledge gaps

"The bottom line is that in many ways forage does not get the profile of other crops," says Bittman. "This book gives a look into the window of developments that show the incredible range of progress across North America and around the world."

The new book will be available in print edition soon. Ordering information is available at www.farmwest.com. The first two books in the series, also related to forage developments and silage corn, are available free at this website for downloading. Hard copies of Advance Silage Corn Management are available for purchase. Cool Forages will also be available online at no cost in 2015.

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Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.

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