Area producers are invited to learn about what has been working well and what challenges have come up during the first year of a pasture rejuvenation research project at Australian Ranch during a public tour next week.
The B.C. Forage Council and the Yorston family are hosting a pasture walk Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 5 p.m. at Australian Ranch at 6666 Yorston Rd. south of Quesnel.
The Yorston family’s Australian Ranch is one of four sites that are taking part in a research project with the B.C. Forage Council (BCFC) through the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program, which is managed by the Climate Action Initiative.
“Three producers in the Cariboo and one in the Prince George area all kind of identified the same need for more research and more on-the-ground information about pasture rejuvenation,” explained Serena Black from BCFC. “They had some specific new, innovative techniques that they wanted to trial out. As these discussions occurred, and as we started to put together our application for funding, it also became obvious that it was linking to this national initiative that the Forage Council is part of with the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association on carbon sequestration, so trying to develop a measured protocol for carbon sequestration across Canada.”
The BCFC was able to leverage some of the funding they’ve received from that national program with funding from the Climate Action Initiative, cash from the BCFC and funding from the Northern Development Initiative Trust for this project, explained Black.
“It was a complex process to get started, but what’s great about it is it’s all about collaboration, so we have all these partners involved,” she said. “We’ve basically developed this program with an overall theme of pasture rejuvenation, and there are some similarities between the sites but differences as well because we wanted the research to really be specific to that farm and their objectives. So their questions might have differed, and there are some differences, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to focus on what are the best ways to rejuvenate pasture to increase the amount of forage production so that they can sustain their livestock operations, but at the same time start sequestering carbon because that’s what our grasslands are phenomenal at doing.”
Through this research project, they will start measuring how much carbon is sequestered under these different practices and will be setting up baseline information.
“It’s accomplishing a lot of things all at once,” said Black.
This is the first year of a three-year program. Black says they will have different events at different locations each year. They will have more pasture walks and field days in 2020 and 2021, and they will be sharing the results with BCFC members.
“There will be a lot of opportunities to engage in the project, and this is just an opportunity to go to the Australian Ranch, see what their objectives were, look at their trial and see what some of the preliminary results were from Year One, but we’ll be continuing to collect data in Year Two and Year Three, so it’s not just one snapshot — it is a long-term project,” said Black. “The fun thing about partnering with Australian Ranch is they have so much history. They were granted the Centennial Farm award this year, so the Yorston family has been managing that farm for over 100 years. So when we’re looking at climate change, they have the perspective, they have that knowledge, and they actually set up the trials specifically so it would cover irrigated and non-irrigated because they knew that most of the ranch land is not irrigated. They actually set it up to try to make the research and the data collected as useful as possible to other producers in the region. They’re very mindful of that, and they’ve been just an absolutely amazing partnership.”
In the Cariboo region, there is also a research plot in Beaver Valley just east of Williams Lake at D and S Zirnhelt Ranch (owner David Zirnhelt writes a regular column for the Observer) and there is another research plot at Chilancoh Ranch in Redstone with the Bayliff family.
“Those two trials were structured quite differently than the Australian Ranch,” said Black. “They looked at using grazing pressure as one method in a no-till system, which is very unprecedented.”
A different research plot is at Pineview in Prince George.
At the Sept. 18 pasture walk, they will start at the research plot itself, and Black will give an overview of the project as a whole.
“It is really unique that we’re being part of this national project,” she said.
The main focus of the event will be talking to Bob Yorston and his daughter Holley.
“We have grazing cages set up that were harvested last week, so we’ll have all of that data connected, they’ll talk about the objective, what they were trying to do,” said Black.
Black says the Yorstons compared two different types of seeding equipment, so pasture walk participants will be able to see what different technology looks like in seeding in both irrigated and non-irrigated pastures.
They’ll talk about the challenges they faced, what they felt worked and didn’t work, how they felt the establishment went, and what their next steps will be.
After about an hour or so, there will be a chance to look at the Yorstons’ other trials, which are not connected to the B.C. Forage Council, as well, including turnips and alfalfa.
The Sept. 18 pasture walk at Australian Ranch is free for the public, and you do not need to be a member of BCFC to attend. The event is kid-friendly, and Black asks people to register by Sept. 17 by emailing email@example.com so they know how many people to expect. Anyone interested is asked to arrive around 5 p.m., so the pasture walk can start right away at 5:30 p.m., and the event is expected to last two hours.