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Challenges in sustaining beef and temperate grasslands in Alberta
NFRF-Exploration grant awarded 2020: Sustainability of the beef industry and sustainability of temperate grasslands are equally challenging
currently. Beef cattle don’t typically graze on tidy fields of managed pasture, but instead graze complex
landscapes with highly diverse vegetation and plant species where they generate an ongoing variety of
socio-economic benefits. Moderate grazing increases the ecosystem benefits of pastures such as carbon
sequestration by forages and soil, and plant species diversity. Grazing also reduces shrub and tree
encroachment, helping maintain grassland habitats required by many wildlife species. Grazing is regarded
as the most beneficial use of this land from both an agricultural and ecological point of view. However the
public is conflicted by the dire information on the environmental footprint of beef production and some
individuals are beginning to make choices of alternate products – such as plant based meat products.
Within these prairie grasslands, cattle grow well, eating and living naturally. Under sustainable grazing
practices, grasslands provide critical habitat for co-habiting species, help maintain critical water resources
and help sequester carbon, reducing greenhouse gases, thereby limiting the impacts of climate change.
Canada’s grasslands are a vital and endangered resource and well managed cattle grazing can contribute
to their sustainability. The challenge is how to quantify the totality of costs and benefits of raising cattle on
temperate grasslands and to ensure the public, the industry and science are working on the same results.
If we cannot align the ecosystem benefits with public environmental concerns and maintain beef
productivity to help achieve the benefits we could lose both the benefits and the unique grasslands
themselves. Without a multidisciplinary approach we will miss the triggers of consumer behaviour and cow
calf producer behaviour as they link to the scientific findings. In this project, we will use a variety of
approaches to understand how variation in pastures, forage grasses, beef cattle, and the vast number of
microbes they come in contact with, work together to influence sustainable beef production in a
relationship that enhances ecosystem quality. We will develop tools that help farmers decide which types
of cattle are best for the grasses on their land, while better aligning the availability of forage resources with
cattle nutritional needs throughout the grazing season.
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- © John Parkins, Cameron Carlyle et al. All rights reserved other than by permission. This document embargoed to those without UAlberta CCID until 2023.