Forage Enhancement Pilot Program

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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., reduced length of rotations) and/or destroyed plantings (i.e., reseeding is required). Impacts from waterfowl may also result in soil problems such as compaction and ponding. Currently, the Agriculture Wildlife Program administered by the provincial government, compensates crop losses due to wildlife grazing. Program participants are reimbursed for a portion of lost yields over the growing season. These payments do not account for the whole economic impact of waterfowl damage to perennial forage crops, such as costs associated with the need to over- and re-seed forage fields that have been extensively damaged. These compensation payments have been steadily increasing as seen in Figure 1 below. The reason for the large deviation in compensation payments in 2015 was due to a substantially higher price for forage that year compared to other program years.

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Figure 1. Details of Agriculture Wildlife Program for the Lower Mainland by program year including area enrolled and compensation pay-out from 2013 to 2017.

Costs associated with waterfowl grazing have only been rising, as supported by Figure 1. More farmland is being converted to non soil-based forms of agriculture and/or developed. This is resulting in migratory waterfowl populations becoming increasingly dependent on fewer available acres of suitable farmland. Additionally, some waterfowl populations have also been observed to be steadily increasing, which is compounding the extent and intensity of grazing to forage fields. Some farmers are now having to re-seed their forage fields annually (as opposed to every 5+ years) as a result of the severe level of grazing- costing upwards of $350/acre. Dairy farmers and forage producers in Delta are now at a point where they are having to reconsider their current management practices and potentially introduce significant changes.

One particular change already occurring is the conversion of perennial forage fields to annual forage fields. The costs involved in maintaining perennial forage fields as a result of waterfowl depredation are reaching a level where it is becoming economically nonviable. This is resulting in more acres being planted to annual forage fields and other crops. The concern with the conversion to annual forage fields is that some dairy farmers will till those fields in the fall and then leave them bare over the winter migratory season in order to reduce the time it takes to access the fields in the spring the following year. 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 season are no longer available. This will only increase the pressure on remaining forage and winter cover cropped fields exacerbating the issue elsewhere.

As a result of this severe issue, last year DF&WT initiated a two-year Forage Enhancement Pilot Program. This pilot will assist forage producers with the increasing intensity of grazing that their forage fields are experiencing over the winter season. Past research conducted by DF&WT has identified perennial forage fields as providing some of the highest quality foraging habitat for migratory waterfowl. Through this new pilot 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 support the enhancement and continued provision of these high-valued fields both for dairy cattle feed as well as critical waterfowl foraging habitat.

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