Native plant species for the benefit of pastoralists

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Many Canadian cattle producers depend on introduced species of forage plants, such as alfalfa, to feed their animals, but there is a growing interest in native plant species.

Many Canadian cattle producers depend on introduced species of forage plants, such as alfalfa, to feed their animals, but there is a growing interest in native plant species, and there is good reason for that.

A group of researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Swift Current Research and Development Center worked with native forage plants that have been proven to survive extreme prairie climates.

Dr. Sean Asselin is one of the researchers studying these plants and the benefits they have on the surrounding environment. Dr. Asselin and his colleagues are working together to study the distinctive characteristics of native plant species in the context of agricultural production. In this case, it is native species in the food systems.

One of the key discoveries is that these native plants could provide a whole new feeding opportunity for Canadian cattle ranchers, along with ecosystem benefits that are great for the environment.

These studies should enable them to develop seed sources that can be used by growers if they wish to plant distinct species. This would allow more options in terms of the plant species they can put in, it also allows them to utilize the natural benefits of those native plant species.

These native plant species could provide greater genetic diversity and different mutualisms with the environment. Since these plants have been here for hundreds of thousands of years and have taken a long time to adapt to growing conditions, some of these adaptations include cold tolerance, persistence in the environment, and longevity, life expectancy.

When using native plant species, you will not encounter adaptations, which you would encounter when using an introduced plant species.

“If we get our seed sources from places like Colorado or New Mexico, it can be a native species in North America and a native species here in Saskatchewan; they are not necessarily suitable because different populations may have different characteristics. from the south, they don’t always have the cold tolerance to survive because they’re adapted to the south,” Dr. Asselin said.

“So we really need to focus on materials that are already there and take advantage of that genetic diversity, so we have materials that are suitable for this growing region. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of money to plant seeds, but if these plant seeds are of poor quality or come from an area that has too much environmental unsuitability, the results could be very risky.

The items that Dr. Asselin and his colleagues are studying are the following:

• Selection and integration of native plants in agricultural systems.
• Vigor of prairie legumes.
• Landscape genomics in prairie clovers (signals of their genetic adaptation to climate).
• Responses to drought and protein levels of different populations of native forage species upon which historic wood and plains bison depend.
• How to conserve germplasm (germplasm) in a natural landscape that is grazed and mowed, as opposed to a controlled laboratory environment.

If you want to learn more about Dr. Asselin’s research and discoveries, go to https://agriculture.canada.ca/en/news-agriculture-and-agro-food-canada/scientific-achievements-agriculture/ benefitting-cattle-producers-and-environment-value-indigenous-forages.

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