Farmers, Winter Cover Crops & Waterfowl

Final Project Report: Farmers, Winter Cover Crops & Waterfowl, 2013-14

Goals and Objectives

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 its proximity to the urban center of Vancouver provides abundant opportunities for outdoor
recreation (e.g., bird watching and hunting). Though waterfowl can benefit from agricultural habitats, they
can also impact the viability of farming operations by grazing off hay and pasture grasses, thereby reducing
springtime hay yields and affecting the supply of feed for dairy operations.

Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust encourages farmers in Delta (located on the lower Fraser) to plant Winter
Cover Crops on their fields after they harvest their vegetable crops. Farmer and DF&WT share the cost of
planting the cover crop through the Winter Cover Crop Stewardship Program. These cover crops contribute
to the conservation of wildlife, including migratory waterfowl, because they:

1) Provide high quality feeding habitat to migratory waterfowl.

2) Lure waterfowl away from hay and pasture crops, thereby mitigating economic loss due to ducks and
geese and contributing to regional dairy farm viability.

3) Improve and maintain agricultural soil quality (by building soil organic matter and preventing soil erosion),
thereby contributing to the long-term viability of vegetable farming operations.

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.

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
for waterfowl and shorebirds. On average, over 3,000 acres of Cover Crops are seeded through the Stewardship
Program, including 200 acres of clover.

Benefits to Waterfowl, Wetlands-Associated Species, and/or Other Wildlife

Cover crops benefit herbivorous waterfowl, wetland-associated birds, and migratory game birds by providing them
with a protein rich food source during staging and wintering periods. Cover crops also provide habitat for
invertebrates, that are fed upon by waterfowl and shorebirds.

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).

Project Location

Delta, B.C.

Project Contact

For more information on this project, please contact Christine Terpsma, Program Coordinator, Delta Farmland &
Wildlife Trust, Delta, B.C.