Grassland Set-Aside Stewardship Program

What is it?

DFWT partners with farmers to plant set-aside fields with flowers, grasses and broad-leaved plants, then leaves them to rest for up to 4 years. The resting fields are replenished with vital nutrients over time, while providing food and homes for birds, pollinators, and small mammals. The grassland set-asides (GLSAs) also provide ecosystem services for the larger community, such as carbon storage, water filtration, pollination of neighbouring fields and gardens, biodiversity, and birdwatching opportunities.

How does it benefit wildlife?

In Delta and Richmond, these grassland fields resemble the tall-grass habitats that used to exist in the Fraser River Estuary before it was diked and drained for agriculture in the late 1800s. The fields provide vegetative cover for foraging, roosting, and nesting wildlife and support a diverse ecosystem that includes raptors, wading birds, songbirds, pollinating insects, and small mammals. The fields also provide safe hunting grounds away from roadsides for species-at-risk, such as Barn Owls and Barn Swallows.

GLSAs in the Fraser River delta provide habitat for:

  • Species-at-risk, such as Barn Owls, Short-eared Owls, and Pacific Great Blue Herons
  • More than 11 different species of raptor, including ground-roosting raptors such as the Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl
  • Large numbers of small mammals, such as the Townsend's Vole, which are a valuable food source for wading birds and raptors
  • Beneficial insects that pollinate neighbouring fields

How does it benefit farmers?

Farmers typically enroll in the Grassland Set-Aside Program to restore degraded land, transition conventional field into organic production, or diversify crop rotations to strengthen their soil health.

Farmers in the Fraser River delta have a unique set of challenges. The area’s heavy silt and clay soils require intensive tillage, and tend to degrade over time due to compaction, rain erosion, and low organic matter in the soil. Crop yields can decline as soils degrade, and farmers must continuously add organic matter to maintain ideal growing conditions.

When fields are planted with the recommended grasses and left to rest:

  • Soil structure improves; the soil becomes less compacted and drainage improves
  • Organic matter, nutrients and microorganisms in the soil increase
  • Pollinating insects are attracted
  • Soil condition can be restored in areas where fields are wet and salty

How do DFWT and farmers work together to deliver the program?

DFWT and the farmer identify agricultural fields that would benefit from the program. The farmer then plants the fields with the recommended flowers, grasses and broad-leaved plants. For every year that a field is enrolled in the Grassland Set-aside Program, the farmer receives a per acre cost-share from DFWT to help with the cost of planting and managing the grassland, and to offset the costs of temporarily removing the land from production.

What our research shows

  • During a 2020-21 survey of raptors and Pacific Great Blue Heron in grassland set-asides, researchers recorded higher species diversity and greater use of the set-asides for habitat and hunting, compared to annual crop fields.
  • A study that evaluated the benefits of short-term GLSAs on Delta farmland concluded that short- to medium-term (2 to 4 year) GLSAs positively affected soil quality, improving soil structure and compaction in productive fields after two years, and in unproductive fields after three years.
  • Studies have shown that increasing semi-natural habitat on farmland can increase yields of pollinator-dependent crops.

Want to learn more?

DFWT has conducted several studies to assess the benefits of GLSAs on soil productivity and wildlife. You can find them here.

 Funding has been provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

How Can You Help?

Your donation will work towards conserving important farmland and wildlife resources contained in the Fraser River delta.

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