An Evaluation of agricultural utilization possibilities for unimproved land on farms of the Eastern Parkbelt of Saskatchewan
Halford, James William
1.1 The Problem Situation Canadian agriculture is experiencing the continuation of two major shifts. The forces of decreasing farm numbers, and simultaneous increased total output began after World War II and have been particularly evident in the prairie provinces in the 1960's. Annual degree of change has been rather constant, when influences on production are omitted. Dominion and provincial governments have become concerned with decreasing farm numbers, and have acted primarily to assist and relieve disturbances created by the rural to urban movement of the population. Increasing total farm production has only recently become of concern to senior governments and economists. In the past, maximization of total farm production was the central objective, now a main concern is the balancing of the supply of certain commodities in line with anticipated demand. Interest has primarily centered around the shifting of some resources from grain to livestock production, in line with anticipated future consumer tastes and demands. The increase in per capita disposable incomes in Canada, has created a greater desire for high protein foods, and livestock products in particular. Drummond and Mackenzie1 made estimates of livestock requirements to meet Canadian market demands in 1980. They estimated that with a rising productivity and improved efficiency, an increase in cattle and hog inventories of 36 and 50 per cent respectively over the 1951-1955 levels would meet the demands. They further suggested that Canadian livestock production would involve more intensive grain-fed operations, with more rapid turnover. The prairie provinces are expected to account for a major part of the increased livestock output. In the case of cattle, with available grazing lands being used near capacity2, certain regions where forage and feed grain production is relatively competitive with grain could shift to cattle production in the next 10 to 15 years. The problem of optimum utilization of land, labour and capital, which occurs in various combinations in the eastern Saskatchewan parkbelt is examined in this study. This area contains a rather unique management problem in that arable land is interspersed in varying quantities with small unarable blocks of bush and/or temporarily water-covered areas, which suggest inefficient resource use at present. In initiating this study, it was felt that reorganization of farm enterprises could enhance efficiency of resource use, and therefore improve farm income. The study utilized a land use survey to provide a backlog of basic information, which was then supplemented with experimental research and production statistics available for the area. Thereafter, a series of benchmark farm situations were examined by means of linear programming to develop guidelines for agricultural resource use in the eastern parkbelt region of Saskatchewan. The emphasis of the study is on agricultural resource utilization, but overall results could be interpreted in multi-resource use considerations such as widldlife, recreation and natural resource programs. These alternative use-possibilities are becoming more important as toatal population, per capita disposable income and leisure time increase, thereby furthering hunting demands and placing increased pressure on wildlife populations. These alternative possibilities should be borne in mind when interpreting the results. In Western Canada, a regional shift from grain to livestock production in an area such as the Parkbelt could favourably improve total agricultural returns. The reduction of wheat production would somewhat reduce periodic market pressures benefitting all grain producers. As well, the parkbelt could be a potential market for feed grains and range-reared feeder cattle. Reorganization of farm production in the Parkbelt could therefore be beneficial to the rest of Western Canadian agriculture. 1.2 Area Description The park belt area dealt with in the study is located in the southeastern region of Saskatchewan and is comprised of the Oxbow and Yorkton soil associations. These soil associations contain approximately 6.75 million and 1.8 million acres respectively. Together they represent approximately 60 per cent of the black soil zone3. Figure 1 designates the area of interest in this study, and also indicates the extent of the parkbelt in Saskatchewan. The term 'parkbelt' is generally regarded as referring to the transsoil is dominant. Soils in this zone developed under a grass cover, and it is only since the beginning of settlement and the concurrent control of prairie fires that trees have encroached on this area. Poplar trees became established initially by seed, but more recently have spread by root suckers. At the present time, trees or bushes occupy only a small percentage of the total land surface but their presence in varying quantities creates management problems. Tnese problems center around how to make use of these bushland areas, particularly when they occur in small pockets within predominantly arable land. The topography of the Oxbow soil is characterized by a wavy type of relief with a series of knolls and small depressions, whereas the Yorkton association is very gently undulating and contains numerous wet marshy flats and meadows. The Oxbow association tends to be better drained than the Yorkton association. Loam is the most common textural class on both soil types and both soils are considered to give good response to phosphate fertilizers. Utilization characteristics of the two soils are mainly the same; with the Oxbow soil having a somewhat higher level of arability, while the Yorkton soil gives slightly higher yields4. The eastern parkbelt area generally receives a higher average rainfall than the rest of the province. The crop seasonal period of August to October, plus April to July inclusive has shown a forty-five year average of 12 to 14 inches of rain per year while annual precipitation is 16 to 18 inches5. Rainfall in Saskatchewan generally increases from west to east, while average temperatures decline. Counteracting the advantageous precipitation and temperature conditions, the eastern parkbelt is more subject to frost and rust damage than most of Saskatchewan6. Census Division No. 5, encompassing the Oxbow and Yorkton soil associations along the eastern Saskatchevran border, is principally a parkbelt agricultural area7. Reference to Section 2.1, Table 2:2 indicates the comparison between average farm size in Saskatchewan and Census Division No. 5, as well as the specific Rural Municipalities in which the survey was conducted. 1.3 Objectives of the study The general objective of this study was an examination of farm use possibilities for existing non-arable land areas in relation to a build-up of the livestock economy on Parkbelt farms. To evaluate the potential of non~arable land, numerous land resource-use alternatives and combinations were examined simultaneously with a wide range of livestock and crop production systems. In conjunction with the resource use study, considerable emphasis was placed on development of coefficients suitable to the type of farms which characterize this region. The specific objectives of the study, in order of their approach and examination were: To develop specific resource combinations, assumptions, coefficients and standards based on some prior knowledge of the area, in conjunction with a wide range of livestock and crop production alternatives feasible for the area. This involved selection of separate arable and non-arable land use systems as well as combinations of the two classes of land in joint production systems. To determine optimum fanning systems , with emphasis on livestock production, for a range of farms with differing land and labour complements. The range of land complements was stated in terms of arable acres per farm, while labor varied in total supply available by months. To evaluate from the optimum farming systems the general potential for more developed and/or integrated non-arable land use in terms of livestock production. A few objectives of lesser importance in this study were concerned with management decisions regarding selection of roughage feeds, leased versus owned pasture, and the pasture rotation system commensurate with an optimum crop-livestock complement. These objectives were included as they appeared to be of primary interest to farmers and extension workers, particularly in an area characterized by intensive farming. 1. Drummond, W.M., and Mackenzie, W., "Progress and Prospects of Canadian Agriculture", Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prospects, 1957. 2. Drummond, W.M, and Mackenzie, W., op. cit., in which they suggest grazing lands are being used near their present capacity, but pasture improvement will be a main force in accomodating cattle increases. 3. Hitchell, J., Moss, H.C., and Clayton, J.S., Soil Survey Reoort No. 12, University of Saskatchewan, College of Agriculture, 1947, pp. 104, 113. 4. For further information see Ibid., pp. 104-107 and 113-116, and Moss, H.C. Average Yields of Wneat for Saskatchewan stations, 1932-1961, Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, 1964. 5. Average crop seasonal rainfall as t aken from Canada Department of Transport, Monthly Record, Meteorological Observations in Canada, 1916-1960. 6. See Guide to Farm Practise in Saskatchewan, 1963, p. .5. 7. See Figure 1 for designation of Census Division No.5.