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Improved water system benefits beef operation

Developing an environmental farm plan introduced this farmer to management changes which have improved his overall operation

A chance conversation with one of the men helping him round up his 1,400 head of cattle first got Rob Purdie interested in an environmental farm plan (EFP). Purdie, a central Alberta beef producer, was hauling water to the herd at the time, and the helper suggested he look into pumping instead. Partial funding was available from the province after completing an EFP.

In 2009, Purdie completed his EFP and now has a mile and a half of surface pipeline with eight watering stations, which services about 700 of his 2,000 acres of pasture.

Purdie was surprised by the ease of the EFP process and gives credit to Ken Lewis, the local program technician for Red Deer County, Alta., who helped him prepare and submit his EFP. Purdie wasn’t able to attend the Friday seminars that Lewis offered to help farmers with their EFPs, so instead he came to the farm for one-on-one planning sessions at the kitchen table. “Ken was so up to date on what needed to be done and he really helped me through the whole process,” says Purdie. “All the people (at the Red Deer Growing Forward office) were very professional and really know their stuff.”

A better life

Implementing these projects has given Purdie more time and a “better life.” “I know the system works and it’s just real easy on the mind to know that things are going to be working when you go out there,” he says. With an improved watering system, his herd is healthier and he sees fewer cases of foot rot than he did when the cattle used dugouts. Also with more watering stations bringing the water source closer for the cattle, the individual animals access it two or three at a time, rather than 300 to 400 head at a time. This means manure is more evenly distributed and helps makes pastures more productive.

Purdie still has aspects of his EFP to complete within the next few years, including upgrading above-ground fuel tanks and extending the watering system further to cover another two or three pastures. He plans to further update his EFP with Lewis’ help, including other projects like putting in a 3,000-gallon water reservoir to eventually replace dugouts. Many of these things he hadn’t really considered before going through the EFP process.

“In the beginning I was just interested in the livestock part of it, but some other ideas have been brought to my attention through the program, which I never thought of,” he says. “When we set things up 20 or 25 years ago we did it to the standards of that time and over the last few years of course we know that the environment is much more of a concern and we need to look after it, so some of the rules have changed.”

Commitment needed

Purdie did access some provincial funding programs which encourage the implementation of best management practices (BMP) that are identified through the EFP process, but he emphasizes the commitment of the producer is still important. In Purdie’s case he received 50 per cent matching funds to assist with his BMP projects. That commitment extends beyond the money, however, says Purdie. “The EFP is only effective if you actually do something,” he says. “Even if it’s only one improvement.”

Purdie also emphasizes the EFP program and related projects are entirely voluntary. “No one is telling you that you have to do anything,” he says. “The EFP just brings to your attention to things that should be done in a different way if you want them done properly. Nobody has forced me to do anything. There’s just encouragement to try new idea and then there’s some assistance available to carry out those plans.”

Another benefit for Purdie has been networking with other producers to see what they are doing as a result of their EFP’s. “I have had a chance to meet lots of people and learn more ways to do things because of their ideas,” he says. “It’s been very beneficial for me and my farm.”

For more information visit Alberta EFP website at: www.albertaefp.com and for details on the stewardship funding programs visit: www.growingforward.alberta.ca/ProgramAreas/EnhancedEnvironment/index.htm. †

About the author

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Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at http://alovell.ca or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.

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