Field Margin Stewardship Program
What is it?
Strips of tall grass, broad-leaved plants, and native wildflowers are planted along the edges of farm fields and irrigation channels to provide habitat for small mammals, pollinators and beneficial insects. DFWT partners with farmers to deliver the program, as studies show that – in addition to providing wildlife habitat – grass and wildflower margins can increase farm profitability through improved crop pollination and reductions in insecticide applications.
Grass and wildflower margins also benefit the larger community by providing ecosystem services such as increased food production, pollination of fields and gardens, water filtration and wildlife habitat.
How does it benefit wildlife?
Grass and wildflower margins provide wildlife habitat along the margins of farm fields, and attract pollinators and beneficial insects. They support a diverse and healthy ecosystem by providing:
- Habitat for small mammals and insects that are a source of food for raptors, wading birds, and songbirds
- Habitat for a host of beneficial insects, including nesting areas for pollinators like bumble bees, and beneficial predators like lacewings, ground beetles, ladybugs, parasitoid wasps, and syrphid flies
- Safe hunting areas away from roadsides for species-at-risk, such as barn owls.
How does it benefit farmers?
Increased biodiversity on farmland offers benefits such as improved pest control and pollination. Studies show that when grass margins and hedgerows are created next to crop fields, they offer a safe refuge for beneficial insects that may otherwise be destroyed during planting and harvesting operations. When the overall ratio of beneficial to pest insects remains balanced, pest outbreaks can be prevented.
- Reduce crop damage from pests and the amount of insecticide required for pest control, by providing habitat for beneficial, predatory insects
- Improve crop pollination by providing habitat for native bees
- Reduce costs associated with insecticide application and managed pollination
- Reduce the need for ditch cleaning by trapping sediment before it can run off of the field
- Act as a buffer between conventional and organically-certified crop fields
- Help rainwater infiltrate into the soil and improve the soil’s water holding capacity,
- Capture nutrients in the soil that might otherwise be leached out through runoff
Grass and wildflower margins can increase crop pollination
Grass and wildflower margins attract native pollinators, such as mason bees and bumble bees. On a bee-per-bee basis, wild pollinators are more effective at pollinating crops than managed honey bees; it takes 250 mason bees to pollinate one acre of apples, versus 10-20,000 honey bees.
Native bees perform buzz pollination – the bee vibrates its flight muscles while on the flower, resulting in a greater release of pollen. As a result, pollination by native bees can lead to larger and more abundant crops. Native bees will also forage in wetter and cooler weather over longer periods of the day.
Studies have shown that optimal crop pollination occurs when both wild bees and honey bees are used to pollinate crops. For blueberry growers, native bees offer a cost-effective compliment to honey bees, whose hives are brought into fields at significant cost to pollinate flowering blueberries.
When the yields of highbush blueberry fields with wildflower margins were compared to the yields of control fields without, researchers found that fields with wildflower margins had higher yields (and revenue). Yields for two common varieties of highbush blueberry in the Lower Mainland could potentially increase by 30% if pollination deficits were eliminated by native bees.
How do DFWT and farmers work together to deliver the program?
The Field Margin Stewardship Program was developed to support farmers in planting wide strips of grass, broad-leaved plants, and perennial wildflowers along farm field margins. DFWT shares the cost with farmers of planting and managing the margins by providing an annual payment for the land removed from production.
What our research shows:
- Bumble bees prefer native to non-native plants.
- Natural habitat supports higher ratios of beneficial insects to pests, compared to weedy field edges
- Early results from ongoing studies show that hedgerows and grassland set-asides planted with various flowering species are visited more frequently by pollinators.
Want to learn more?
DFWT has partnered with the University of British Columbia (UBC) in a multi-year study to assess the impact of grass margins, hedgerows and grassland set-asides on beneficial insects and pests. The study also explores the benefits of native flowering plants on overall farm management. You will be able to read more about the results of this study in the coming year.