Producer Profile Third-gen rancher calls barley “integral” to beef industryDave Solverson wears many hats, but most of them are in the shape of a Stetson.
A third-generation rancher, Solverson runs about 2,000 cattle, including calves and yearlings and 800 mother cows, with his brother Ken on their land out- side of Camrose. He is the current vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and chair of its foreign trade committee, and recently wrapped up his commitment as a delegate with Alberta Barley.
About half of Solverson’s 5,000 acre Windwood ranch is seeded in grain (mostly barley), which provides vital protein to cattle feed. The crop provides 50 per cent of the herd’s needs, and he buys the rest from his neighbouring farmers.
The synergy between the two indus- tries, cattle and barley, is what drove the already busy rancher to become a region four delegate in 2010.
“I was interested mainly because I really saw the need for us to work together and understand each others’ concerns and problems,” he said. “Barley is such an integral part of the beef industry.”
A big part of the famous taste of Alberta beef is that it is nearly all finished on barley, adding to the flavour and making the fat colour whiter—an important consumer selling point, he noted.
Solverson enjoyed his time as a delegate, meeting the people in the barley industry and the Alberta Barley staff.
“We all have similar goals and concerns,” he said.
While approximately 80 per cent of Alberta’s barley crop is used as feed for livestock, such as cattle and hogs, half of the grain is sown for the malting industry. Malt barley often becomes feed barley if it does not meet brewers’ low- protein, low-moisture specifications.
“It would be nicer if there were more feed grain varieties planted,” said Solver- son. “Barley is the main energy source in our feed, so we are far more interested in how many calories there are per bushel than we are in brewing quality.”
Since 2006, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has funneled a cool $1.5 mil- lion of its multi-million dollar research budget into barley because of its role in making Alberta beef competitive inter- nationally.
The focus on research is made more acute by competing crops of corn, soy and canola, which have seen tremendous increases in yields due to concerted research, he said.
Solverson said declining barley acreage is a concern for cattle producers across Canada who fear growing acreage of competing grains will prompt a further contraction of the beef industry. For example, his corn crop was “phenomenal” this year, results he attributes to re- search which developed northern-hardy varieties unavailable even a decade ago.
The development of hardier, prolific barley varieties will depend on more ongoing research programs. He believes Alberta’s $1 per tonne check-off levy, compared to beef ’s $3 per head toll, could be increased to better serve both farmer and producer industries.
“I see a real opportunity going forward for cattle producers to work more closely with grain producers,” said Solverson.
“I think we were moving towards fair return for barley producers, where both of us could make some money. But it’s all based on supply and demand, and the fact that our country is so integrated with the U.S.”