Winter Cover Crop Stewardship Program

Program Highlights

An average of 3,070 acres (1,242 ha) of winter cover crops are established annually
A total of 89,095 acres (36,055 ha) of winter cover crops have been planted since the stewardship program was established
$4.1 million dollars in cost-share payments have been disbursed to local farmers to support this sustainable practice

The Winter Cover Crop Stewardship Program helps farmers establish vegetative cover on their fields after the harvest of their cash crop in late summer/early fall. A $60-80/acre cost-share is offered to participating farmers to incentivize this sustainable practice. Winter cover crops provide an array of benefits including:

  • Providing feeding habitat for herbivorous waterfowl and shorebirds
  • Providing food and habitat for soil microorganisms
  • Protecting the soil from erosion due to heavy winter rain
  • Scavenging excess nutrients such as nitrogen before they leach from the soil
  • Increasing soil organic matter
  • Reducing soil compaction
  • Improving water infiltration
  • Suppressing weeds
  • Increasing yields of cash crops

Unique to farmers in the Cities of Delta and Richmond is the level of waterfowl use that occurs on their farm fields. The Fraser River estuary supports hundreds of thousands of hungry waterfowl every winter during their annual migration. As the estuary has been significantly altered from its natural state due to urbanization and agriculture, many species of waterfowl have become dependent on farmland for foraging habitat. Waterfowl primarily forage on remnant crops leftover in the field after harvest, sports fields and perennial grass forage fields. Winter cover crops are also heavily grazed acting as alternative foraging areas, which reduces the extent of damage that may otherwise occur to higher-valued sports playing fields and grass forage fields. In annual surveys, waterfowl have been observed foraging in higher densities on fields with a cover crop versus fields without as seen in the figure below. Vegetation surveys have also found that over half the cover crop fields planted annually are completely grazed to the soil surface by waterfowl.

Download Winter Cover Crop Fact Sheet & Program Guidelines

Additional resources on winter cover crops can be found at the links below:

Winter Cover Crops on the Fraser River: 20 Years of Greenfields. A review of the last 20 years of cover cropping, including the role of cover crops in wildlife management.

Managing Cover Crops for Conservation Purposes in the Fraser River Delta, British Columbia. A detailed expose on cover crops and their role in maintaining soil fertility.

Managing Cereal Grasses as Waterfowl Lure Crops. An experimental study that quantified the impact of variable planting date and crop type on waterfowl field use.