The B.C. government is partnering with the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust to help local food producers improve soil health and mitigate the effects of climate change in the Fraser River estuary.
The $150,000-project, announced earlier this month, will provide educational support and offer funding for specific programs that promote the sustainable use of agricultural land, contributing to healthier soils, increased food production and stronger local food security over the long term, according to a press release.
“Healthy soils are vital for growing food on B.C. farmland, and our government is committed to supporting producers move toward regenerative agriculture practices that will improve soil health,” then-Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said in a press release. (Popham was made minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport as part of Premier David Eby’s cabinet shuffle Dec. 7.)
“Regenerative agriculture is a strong defence against the effects of climate change, and implementing these practices will help ensure we have a resilient ecosystem, while strengthening local food security.”
The funding will support several Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust initiatives, including the grassland set-aside program, the winter cover crop program and the blueberry rest program, as well as climate-focused soil health educational materials featuring annual field tours, printed resources and online content.
“We are pleased to partner with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to support farmers in implementing regenerative practices. The funding will result in hundreds of acres of winter cover crops within the Fraser River estuary,” Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust executive director Christine Schmalz said in a press release.
According to the release, the planting and incorporation of cover crops and “set-asides” into crop rotations increases the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices that can improve soil health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Grassland set-asides can improve soil health by relieving compaction, increasing carbon sequestration and enhancing soil structure. Under the grassland set-aside program, grassland plantings remain in place for up to four years, with participating growers receiving annual cost-share payments to help offset some of the cost of field preparation, seeding, management and leasing the land.
With the winter cover crop program, planting happens in late summer/early fall and establishes dense vegetative covers that protect soils from erosion, improve soil fertility and reduce nutrient leaching. Growers participating in the program are eligible for a cost-sharing payment to assist with the cost of planting and managing a cover crop.
The blueberry rest program offers financial assistance to growers who remove fields that have become unproductive due to blueberry scorch virus and plant soil-regenerating cover crops until new virus-free blueberry plants can be planted. Benefits of the program include rebuilding soil health by relieving compaction, increasing drainage, improving soil structure and sequestering carbon, and participating growers are eligible for an annual cost-share payment.
Cover crop and set-aside programs also help support local wildlife by providing habitat and food sources for, among others, the hundreds of thousands of birds who migrate annually to and through the Fraser River estuary — one of Canada’s most important areas for birds.
“Through climate-focused initiatives like regenerative agriculture, we are strengthening the legacy of complex ecosystems like the Fraser River estuary. The importance of soil health is front of mind as we work towards creating a strong and secure future for Richmond/Delta farmers and wildlife alike,” Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon said in a press release.
Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust was established in 1993 to promote the preservation of farmland and wildlife habitat in the Fraser River estuary. Since then, it has planted and maintained more than 89,000 acres of winter cover crops, 14,600 acres of grassland set-asides and 10 kilometres of hedgerows — the latter providing year-round wildlife habitat along farm field margins, including for pollinators and other agriculturally beneficial insects, and contributing to “increased habitat connectivity across agricultural landscapes,” according to the organization’s website.
To learn more about the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust, visit deltafarmland.ca.