Forage Enhancement Pilot Program
Perennial forage crop losses caused by grazing waterfowl represent a considerable cost to many Delta farmers. Crop losses may be reflected in lower forage yields, reduced harvest quality (protein), a reduction in the number of cuts (i.e., 5/year to 3/year) and on some occassions destroyed plantings that require reseeding. Impacts from waterfowl may also result in soil problems such as compaction and ponding. In some cases, grass forage fields are now having to be re-seeded annually (as opposed to every 5+ years) at a cost upwards of $350-500/acre. For a producer needing to re-seed 100 acres, this amounts to an extra $35,000-50,000 cost to their operation.
The current extent of this situation has brought dairy farmers and forage producers in Delta to a point where many are having to reconsider their current management practices. One particular change already occurring is the conversion of perennial to annual grass forage fields. The costs involved in maintaining perennial grass forage fields as a result of waterfowl depredation are reaching a level where it is becoming economically nonviable. This is causing some producers to plant annual forage fields and other forage crops (i.e. corn). The concern with regards to migratory waterfowl is that annual forage fields will be tilled and left bare over the winter season. Bare fields tend to dry out quicker in the spring, permitting earlier access and planting, which is critical for nutrient management in their operation. However, the consequence of this practice is that fields that once provided significant foraging habitat for waterfowl over the winter migratory season will no longer be available. This decrease in perennial grass forage fields is expected to only exacerbate the issue elsewhere by increasing pressure on remaining forage and winter cover cropped fields.
As a result, in 2017 DF&WT initiated a Forage Enhancement Program. This program is designed to assist grass forage producers with the increasing intensity of grazing that their forage fields are experiencing over the winter season. Through this new program, DF&WT will be sharing in the costs associated with over- and re-seeding forage fields in the spring due to waterfowl grazing. This will provide support to the enhancement and continued provision of these high-valued fields both for dairy cattle feed and critical waterfowl foraging habitat.