Conserve rangelands through sustainable utilisation

Visiting the Beaver Creek Conservation Area south of Saskatoon.

Every four years an International Rangeland Congress is held in another part of the world. In July 2016, the 10h congress, themed “The future management of grazing and wild lands in a high-tech world”, was held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. A total of 574 delegates from 58 countries met to discuss this important topic. Twenty-four delegates represented South Africa, including Annelene Swanepoel and Nelmarié Saayman from the Programme Research and Technology Development Services, Directorate Plant Sciences in the Western Cape Department of Agriculture. In this short article, some highlights of the tour are discussed.

Under the sub-theme “State of Global and Canadian Rangeland and Pasture Resources”, Nelmarié and co-authors presented a poster entitled: “Does grazing management matter in the arid Koup region of the Karoo, South Africa?” and under the sub-theme “Multiple Use of Rangelands” they presented a poster entitled: “Possible rehabilitation methods of abandoned croplands in the Cederberg Mountains, South Africa.”

One of the overall messages of the congress was conservation of our rangelands through sustainable utilisation with livestock and wildlife, while taking care not to over-utilise our rangelands. A farmer, Hyland Armstrong from Canada, said by using innovative and flexible veld management strategies it is possible to use livestock grazing as a tool to manipulate the biodiversity and endangered species’ habitat to improve the health of the rangeland. He stressed that, to maintain biodiversity, it requires cooperative efforts of farmers, government agencies (national and provincial), NGOs and environmental groups. Several other speakers also stressed this collaboration, especially to ensure that the research findings also get to the practitioners.

Many papers mentioned the use of technology and tools to streamline research and make information available to farmers, and to utilise it in their day-to-day management decisions. Barry Adams, rangeland extension specialist from Canada, mentioned that these “knowledge tools” should be made more accessible to land users.

The delegates also took a three-day pre-congress tour to the south of Saskatchewan. The vegetation of south Saskatchewan is Canadian prairie with large areas of native grasslands (short grass prairie), planted pastures and crops, mainly canola, wheat and lentils. Grasslands and pastures are mainly used for beef production. Only 20% of native grasslands remain in Saskatchewan, the rest are planted under pastures and crops. Their average annual rainfall is 300-400 mm with a 30 year wet – 30 year dry cycle and they also experience extremely dry years.

Nelmarié Saayman and Annelene Swanepoel at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park outside Saskatoon.

The Beaver Creek Conservation area covers an area of 86 000 ha just south of the city of Saskatoon. The main focus of this visit was the control of invasive species and restoration of old lands.

The pre-conference tour joined one of the field days at the Outlook research station. This field day was organised by the Saskatchewan Irrigation Projects Association, Agriculture and Agri-foods Canada, the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation Crop Diversification Corporation. The format of this field day was similar to the information days and attracted around 200 people.

“At the Swift Current Research and Development Centre we met with Drs. Michael Schellenberg and Alan Iwaasa. It is the only federal facility in the semi-arid region of Canada and the only facility with a programme that examines native plant material for its utilisation and benefits. They also do research on crops and planted pastures,” says Nelmarie.

The Grasslands National Park is one of two conservation areas in Saskatchewan run by the federal government, with an area of 900 km2 and a herd of 300 genetically pure plains bison. It is also home to the endangered burrowing owl and threatened prairie dog. Over-utilisation is prevented through annual sales of the surplus bison.

The Valjean Community Pasture is part of the Saskatchewan Pastures Programme, which provides grazing on provincial government land, together with all management services for participating (paying) farmers. The farm is 13 250 ha in size with animals of 39 different farmers. This programme is mainly for farmers who do not have enough grazing land of their own.

“Experiencing agriculture in Saskatchewan was indeed exciting and inspiring!” says Nelmarie.

For more information, contact
Nelmarié Saayman: nelmaries@elsenburg.com
Annelene Swanepoel: annelenes@elsenburg.com