Field Day Recap: On-Farm Demonstration to Promote Cover Cropping in Blueberry Production

Posted on Friday, 16 February 2024 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 and, when carefully chosen and managed, can be highly beneficial to producers.

In 2023, we hosted a collaborative field day with the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food and E.S. Cropconsult Ltd, in partnership with the Investment Agriculture Foundation at Virasat Ag. Inc. in Langley. The field day, On-Farm Demonstration to Promote Cover Cropping in Blueberry Production, allowed farmers to explore cover cropping in the context of blueberry production, and learn about two projects under farmer Gurprit Brar’s supervision. In addition, we were joined by the BC Living Lab project and the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust, who spoke about the various initiatives that farmers can participate in to promote cover cropping. Fourteen farmers from around Metro Vancouver had the opportunity to learn from our host farmer, regional agrologists, and guest organizations.

Gurprit Brar is the owner of Virasat Ag. Inc., a 60-acre blueberry farm in Langley, BC that grows Calypso, Liberty, and Aurora. Gurprit has been adopting regenerative agriculture practices on his farm for the last five years, including experimenting with various cover crops. Brar began cover cropping in 2018 and now has roughly 40 acres of cover crops planted.

Cover crops supported by BC Climate Agri-Solutions Fund

The first project demonstrated cover crop plantings supported by the BC Climate Agri-Solutions Fund. Brar plants a mixed-species cover crop in the alleyways of his blueberry rows using a seeding implement on his tractor. He does little intervention to this mix. Brar notes, “Right now, we sow the cover crops, then mow them down, and throw it onto the [alleyway] sides. We keep our ground covered all year.”

The second planting highlighted an on-farm demonstration research project, evaluating different cover crop mixes for supporting biological pest control, which is run by the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food and E.S.Cropconsult Ltd. This project supports producers to conduct farmer-led demonstration research to increase the adoption of regenerative practices and adapt to climate change. The trial included three different cover crop mixes and one control row.

On-Farm Demonstration Research Project Mix

On-Farm Demonstration Research Project Mix

Brar spoke about his experience setting up different cover crop mixes in the blueberry alleyways to attract ground beetles for enhanced natural predation of pests. Regional agrologist, Conley Keyes, is working on the trial with E.S. Cropconsult Ltd. He explains, “Producers were able to walk through and [see] how the different species within the mix established, we talked about termination and looked at the ground beetle traps that had been installed in the plots.”

On-Farm Demonstration Research Project Trial

Benefits from implementing cover crops are extensive and include; 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 addition, cover crops can provide a habitat for beneficial insects, such as pollinators and predators of pests that can support improved crop pollination and biological pest control.

Brar has noticed many benefits on his farm since adopting his cover cropping system in 2018 and more recently increasing his program with additional funding and trials. Brar notes the biggest impact for their farm: “The advantages that we see is that our water retention has improved and there is an increase in biological activity. We sow multi-species and the way we manage it creates organic matter in our rows and promotes nutrient recycling.”

To conclude the day, there was an opportunity to remain in the field and network with other farmers. Networking remains an important part of these events and allows farmers 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.

This event was funded in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the BC Climate Agri-Solutions Fund delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC. Additional funding was provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food as part of the OFDR project.