Multi-Species Summer Cover Cropping & Grassland Set-Asides Field Day Highlights

Posted on Wednesday, 20 December 2023 under Webinars and Field Days

Cover cropping is an agricultural practice that involves planting crops specifically to improve soil health, increase climate adaptability and promote climate mitigation. Cover crops are grown primarily for the benefits they provide to the soil and the ecosystem. Producers can strategically choose and manage cover crop species for their targeted goals. Farmers can see positive outcomes from using cover crops, including protecting the soil from erosion, suppressing weeds, reducing soil compaction, increasing soil organic matter, improving soil structure, increasing soil water-holding capacity, and enhancing nutrient cycling.

In September 2023, we hosted a Multi-Species Summer Cover Cropping and Grassland Set-Asides Field Day at Green Fire Farm. We invited farmers from around the island to learn from our host farmer and regional agrologists. The field day was hosted by DeLisa Lewis, who is the Lead Farmer at Green Fire Farm and a Research Associate with the Sustainable Agriculture Landscapes Lab led by Dr. Sean Smukler and his team at UBC.

Green Fire Farm is a 40-acre, diverse farm with a mix of certified organic vegetables, fruits, flowers, and livestock. They are a family-run farm focused on sustaining their business while stewarding the soils, water, and biodiversity, and building their capacity to contribute meaningfully to their community. They use cover cropping to maximize living roots in the ground, maximize soil cover, minimize disturbance, and where possible, maximize biodiversity.

This year, Green Fire Farm, participated in pilot research with the Sustainable Agriculture Landscapes Lab team to trial multi-species summer cover crops and grassland set-asides. This research aims to identify seed types and seeding rates well-suited to irrigated and/or non-irrigated growing conditions, the potential for suppressing weeds, and building nitrogen. Some of the results of this research trial will be integrated into their on-farm long-term soil health research trials beginning in 2024. Additionally, they actively cover crop through their annual vegetable systems, using minimized tillage, irrigation, and other management inputs.

With 23 farmers in attendance, there was plentiful valuable information and experiences shared by farmers across the island. The group was welcomed with introductions and background information from Lewis. Bejay Mills, Central Island Regional Agrologist for BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food, joined the field day and provided farmers with information on how the Ministry supports farmers in their area.

The farm tour included four stops at the irrigation pond, the two plots involved in the research trial, and a final stop to conclude with hands-on learning. Farmers asked questions, engaged in discussion, and witnessed the trial first-hand while Lewis shared the details and preliminary results. At the final stop of the farm tour, Lewis demonstrated three methods of seeding and encouraged participants to use a bare test plot to try out equipment and seeding. It was an excellent opportunity to see different cover crop seeds first-hand and practice distributing seeds in different mechanisms. Many farmers were trying these tools using cover crop seeds for the first time.

The day concluded with extensive networking. There was plenty of opportunity to remain in the field and chat with other farmers on the island. Networking remains an important part of these events and gives farmers the opportunity to leave their farms and meet other producers and agricultural support organizations in their area. These connections are meaningful and crucial for learning and knowledge transfer.

Watch the highlight video to learn more about the research trial and key takeaways from the field day!

On November 27, 2023, Lewis gave us an update on the progression of the trialled cover crops as well as the cover crops sown by participants at the field day. Read below for the Green Fire Farm update!

“All of the cover crops sown on or before the second week of September this year established well and have created a fairly dense winter cover, despite the rains that were late to arrive. The multispecies cover crop trials plot was sown on August 31 and is showing a vigorous mix of cereals and legumes. The Island region sourced cover crop mix we trialled in numerous fields around the farm without supplemental irrigation is looking lush even with that later September 4 seeding date. Finally, the very basic winter wheat+clover mix we seeded together during our FFCF on farm field day September 13 is well established and outcompeting the winter chick weeds!”

The right side was taken on September 13, 2023. The left side was taken on November 27, 2023.

The right side was taken on September 13, 2023. The left side was taken on November 27, 2023.

Cover crops seeded by field day participants on September 13, 2023.

Photo taken on November 27, 2023, of the progression of the cover crops seeded by field day participants on September 13, 2023.

This event is supported by the BC Climate Agri-Solutions Fund (BCCAF). Funding for BCCAF has been provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Agricultural Climate Solutions – On-Farm Climate Action Fund. BCCAF is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation. To learn more about BCCAF, visit www.bccaf.ca.