- Canada’s forage resources include both native rangelands and cultivated crops. The area used by both wildlife and livestock exceeds 700 million ha or 70% of Canada’s land base.
- Only 7% or 68 million ha of Canada’s land base is used for agriculture, an area about three times the size of Great Britain.
- Agriculture is one of Canada’s primary industries. It is the third highest contributor to the gross domestic product after mining and oil (Statistics Canada, 2010). The agri-food industry contributes approximately 8% of Canada’s annual gross domestic product.
- The forage resource used for livestock grazing and production of forage crops covers over 36 million ha of Canada’s land base (Horton, 1994), compared to 25 million ha in grain and oilseed crops. This is divided into 72% native range (26 million ha), 11% cultivated pastures (4 million ha) and 17% forage crops (6 million ha).
- It is estimated that two-thirds of the feed protein in Canada comes from hay, grazing or forages and fodder corn production.
- Cereals are grown on the majority of cultivated lands, but the farm value of forage conserved as hay and silage accounts for 40-60% the value of feed grain crops.
- The four western provinces have 96% of the 26 million ha of Canadian rangeland used for livestock production with 36% in British Columbia, 29% in Alberta, 24% in Saskatchewan and 8% in Manitoba. The western provinces also have 82% of the nation’s cultivated pasture, 64% of the nation’s forage crop area, and 84% of the nation’s beef cow herd.
- Canada’s natural vegetation is simply classified as 24% tundra, 71% forest and 5% grassland. Plant geography classifies major terrestrial communities into biomes base on climate and natural vegetation. Canada may be divided into arctic tundra, boreal forest, deciduous forest, grassland and mountain cordillera biomes.
The Boreal Forest is Canada’s largest biome covering 53% (520 million ha) of Canada’s land base (Horton, 1994). It extends from the Yukon in a southeasterly arc to Newfoundland. The area is dominated by trees, rivers, lakes and the Canadian Shield bedrock which surrounds Hudson Bay.
While most of the Boreal Forest is not suited for agriculture, about 5 million ha are cultivated in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the isolated clay belt of northern Ontario.
Deciduous Forest – Eastern Canada
The deciduous forest biome of eastern Canada covers about 5% (45 million ha) of Canada’s land base. It can be divided into two ecozones; the mixed wood plains ecozones and the Atlantic Maritime ecozones.
Quebec ranks first for the number of milking cows. Over 60% of Quebec’s farm land (3.4 million ha) is in forage production, with approximately 0.7 million ha in pasture (20% of the forage area). Principal forage species are timothy and white clover.
About 15% of the soils in Nova Scotia, 20% in New Brunswick and 60% in Prince Edward Island are of high agricultural value with some areas specializing in potato production. Approximately 80,000 ha are utilized as pasture with another 388,000 ha used for cultivated crops (Papadopoulos et al., 1993).
Grassland Biome – The Canadian Prairie
The Grassland Biome in Canada is a continuation of the Great Plains of central North America. This biome covers about 5% (45 million ha) of the Canadian land base and most of the cattle grazing in Canada takes place in this region (Horton, 1994). It stretches from the Canada-United States border in a tear drop arc from Alberta, through Saskatchewan and into southern Manitoba. These grass plains are comparatively flat and were home to bison herds prior to settlement. Native grasslands have been extensively ploughed and cultivated for grain production over the last 100 years. Today most of Canada’s wheat, oilseeds and beef production are centered in the grassland biome.
The Aspen Parkland forms the northern edge of this biome and is an ecotone with the Boreal Forest biome. It is an association of trembling aspen and balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) groves with interspersed grasslands. The Aspen Parkland has expanded with the suppression of wild fires associated with European settlement and policy. The region is highly productive with wheat, barley, oilseeds, specialty crops, alfalfa seed and dehydration products and beef cattle being of primary importance.
The Fescue Prairie mostly found between the Aspen Parkland to the north and the Mixed Prairie to the south (Willms and Dormaar, 1993) stretches in an arc from the Alberta foothills through central Alberta, Saskatchewan and into western Manitoba.
The Mixed Prairie is the driest portion of the Canadian grassland biome. It extends across the southern prairies from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. Soils range from Brown Chernozems in the southcentral region to Dark Brown Chernozems further north.
Only 6.5 million ha or 31% of the total area remains with native vegetation.
Western Canada has 96% of the Canadian rangeland used for beef production, 82% of Canada’s cultivated pasture area and 83% of the national beef cow herd. From an ecological perspective, the Grassland Biome and Interior Mountain Cordillera are the most important areas for the beef industry in western Canada.