By Leanne Thompson, Executive Director, Saskatchewan Forage Council
June 24, 2013
The Saskatchewan Forage Council (SFC) was officially formed May 2, 1988 by a visionary group of forage industry stakeholders. The original board of directors included: Robert McGillivray, S.E. Beacom, Les Bohrson, Rodney Duczek, Don Gayton, Clare Phillips, Ken Stoner, Greg Sommerfeld and Bill Weighill. This group represented people from the forage seed, research, export, processing and livestock sectors – indicating that since its inception in 1988, the SFC has recognized and embraced the diversity of the forage industry.
The Statement of Purpose and Objectives submitted along with the articles of incorporation read as follows:
- The SK Forage Council cooperative is committed to the growth and development of all aspects of SK’s forage and grassland industry, including production, protection, harvesting, storage, utilization and marketing. This goal will be reached by:
- Assisting in the promotion and priorization of research for the forage industry, and encouraging further research when it is needed;
- Actively assisting in the dissemination of current information on forage production and utilization to members;
- Promoting the use of forages in cropping systems to prevent and reverse the deterioration of soils and the natural environment;
- Advising various levels of government on policies related to forage production and marketing.
In speaking with former board member, Greg Sommerfeld, he indicated that the SFC was formed as a means to provide the forage industry with a voice. Smaller fractured groups were working on forage issues, but the formation of a provincial council would be a way to pull them all together. It was also noted that forages were not adequately represented by other crop commodity groups thus there was a gap to be filled. Recognition is something that the forage industry struggles with still in a world of annual crop commodities and livestock groups.
Michel Tremblay, former SFC employee and long - time board member, remarked that there was a strong desire to get organized in the late 1980’s and there was money available for provincial organizations to help get things going. As a result the SFC was formed along with several other provincial organizations around this time.
As a means of setting the structure and goals for the council, an opinion survey was conducted in late 1987 to provide direction and gather information on issues that were affecting forage industry stakeholders. Results from the survey indicated that promotion of forage and range research and putting on forage and range seminars and conferences ranked as the top priorities.
An initial meeting was held in Regina during Agribition in 1987. In the invitation letter sent by Don Gayton, the Provincial Forage and Range Specialist at the time noted – “We have reserved a block of rooms, but they cannot be held for long. During Agribition, empty hotel rooms are about as common as Roughrider
touchdowns, so make your reservations early”! Anyone who remembers the rider years during the 80’s can attest to the truth of that statement! Glad to know that the Provincial specialist had a sense of humor!
After looking at the opinion survey from 1987, it was interesting to note that research and extension are still priorities for the organization. In fact one of the current SFC initiatives, Development of a Forage Network in Saskatchewan, is focused on this very topic.
One of the very first projects for the SFC was a hay certification program that was active for 4 or 5 years which looked at providing an objective third - party description of hay in partnership with Agriculture Canada, the University of Saskatchewan and the SK Wheat Pool.
During the 1990’s the SFC also partnered with DUC on a flushing bar project managed by Neville Wholberg. This is just one of the examples of how the SFC has worked with partners to address the needs of this industry – something that the SFC still prides itself on today.
Another important early program was the Variety Evaluation program which ran for 10 or 12 years. This was a mainstay for the council and was initially managed by Michel Tremblay and later by Randy Pastl.
During this time, the SFC maintained an office and owned equipment and other assets - that is until program funding became difficult to obtain. Once the board decided that the variety testing program would have to be shut down, there was a major discussion regarding the future of the council. Would this spell the death of the forage council??
The answer was a resounding no. Largely due to the vision and willingness of the board to be adaptable, the forage council shifted its focus to extension and communication activities. This willingness to adapt has been the major reason the council has persisted through the many changes in government policies, markets and other influential factors over 25 years.
Greg Sommerfeld noted how dramatically the forage processing industry in Saskatchewan has changed over the past few decades. He felt that this change was also mirrored in the SFC – an organization that has needed to adapt and change to respond to the opportunities and needs of the industry.
In more recent history, the SFC has been involved in the formation of the Saskatchewan Forage Seed Development Commission (SFSDC) and the formation of the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association (CFGA). Recent projects successes are numerous but the Forage Industry Assessment – a project that placed a value on the forage industry in SK is a major success for this group. In fact several other provinces have followed SK’s example and published similar reports. A national industry assessment report has also completed in which Saskatchewan’s report is referred to as the most comprehensive provincial assessment.
This is something the SFC can be proud of. Other provincial and national livestock and forage groups often look to Saskatchewan as a leader in the forage sector with the SFC as a major contributor to this success.
Michel Tremblay put it well when he remarked that it is truly amazing what the SFC has accomplished over the years on a next to nothing budget – a tradition that the SFC carries on still!
It is important to acknowledge the hard work and vision of all the former board members and employees that have helped make this council a succes. Here’s to another 25 years serving the forage industry!