Farm Level Stewardship in the lower Fraser River delta: Cover Crops & Waterfowl, 2014-15
Goals and Objectives
The Fraser River delta contains productive agricultural soils and supports hundreds of different migratory bird species annually. Large volumes of birds utilizing the area have prompted the designation of the Fraser River delta as Canada’s most significant Important Bird Area, a RAMSAR site, and a Pacific Coast Joint Venture (PCJV) Priority Area (with a PCJV Implementation Plan nearing completion). Farm Level Stewardship in the lower Fraser River delta: Cover Crops & Waterfowl seeks to aid DF&WT’s Winter Cover Crop Stewardship Program, which establishes cost-share agreements with farmers in order to establish vegetative cover on fields before winter.
Farmers engaged in this Stewardship Program plant cereal grasses, clover, or annual forage grasses as cover crops, which in turn provides feeding habitat for herbivorous waterfowl and shorebirds. Cover Crops mainly benefit herbivorous waterfowl, providing them with a protein rich food source during staging and wintering periods. Lesser Snow Geese, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Mallard, and Trumpeter Swans are all species that frequently feed on winter cover crops. Cost-share stewardship agreements benefit farmers by covering a portion of the cost to establish a winter cover crop. Cover crops provide additional benefits to farmers, including preventing rain-induced soil erosion, building soil organic matter, enhancing soil structure, as well as improving soil infiltration rates to manage flooding. They also lure waterfowl away from economically important hay and pasture crops, thereby mitigating overgrazing, which can impact the viability of local farms.
The primary goal of this project is to establish Winter Cover Crops to provide feeding habitat for waterfowl, mitigate waterfowl damage to hay and pasture crops, and contribute to long-term soil fertility.
1) Enhance agricultural habitat with Winter Cover Crops for wildlife use; increase soil stability;
2) Plant 150 acres of clover to enhance agricultural habitat for waterfowl use and contribute to soil fertility (fix nitrogen, build soil organic matter);
3) Ensure cooperating farmers are in compliance with Stewardship Agreement.
Specific Habitat Products/Results Supported by WHC’s Contributions
DF&WT will enter into Stewardship Agreements with farmers in Delta, BC, to establish Winter Cover Crops (including cereal grasses and legumes). Through the Winter Cover Crop Stewardship Program, farmers that comply with the Stewardship Agreement are eligible to receive a cost-share payment ($45 – 55/acre). The payment covers a portion of the cost needed to establish cover crops after the harvest of vegetable and grain crops throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons. The cover crops quickly form dense canopies of vegetation that can be fed upon by migratory waterfowl. Spring cereals planted as cover crops tend to frost kill and provide dense vegetative cover for invertebrates dwelling near the soil surface, which in turn become food for waterfowl and shorebirds. On average, over 3,000 acres of cover crops are seeded through the Stewardship Program, including 150 acres of clover.
Benefits to Waterfowl, Wetland-Associated Species, and/or Other Wildlife
The lower Fraser River delta is a critical migration node along the Pacific Flyway, and millions of migratory birds use its various habitats as either a migration stopover or wintering site. Farmland on the lower Fraser River delta provides feeding and resting habitat for a diversity of migratory birds, including waterfowl and shorebirds. Herbivorous waterfowl feed extensively on potato and corn crop residues, spilt cereal grain, and hay and pasture grasses. Shorebirds, such as Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover feed on the invertebrates found in farm fields. The habitat provided by farmland contributes to the conservation of many migratory species, and was selected as a limiting factor for waterfowl in the nearly-completed PCJV Implementation Plan. Stewardship of agricultural lands for waterfowl-compatible crops is a priority habitat objective for PCJV, under short-term Habitat Retention.
Relevance to Habitat Planning, Decision Making and/or Management
Indirectly, Winter Cover Crops contribute to the retention of agricultural habitat. Cover Crops lure waterfowl away from hay and pasture fields, thereby offsetting grazing damage early in the season. By mitigating damage to hay and pastures caused by waterfowl, cover crops planted on vegetable crop fields can contribute to the economic viability of dairy operations by offsetting crop loss. Cover crops also contribute to the maintenance of long-term soil fertility by preventing soil erosion and building soil organic matter. While short-term benefits from cover crops are difficult to observe, the long-term impact is soils that are more capable of sustaining agricultural production. This contribution to the viability of dairy and vegetable farming operations contributes to the long-term viability of agricultural production on the lower Fraser, and therefore, habitat for wildlife (including migratory waterfowl).
For more information on this project, please contact Christine Terpsma, Program Co-ordinator, Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust, Delta, BC.