Recently the seasons aren’t as short as they used to be, and they tend to be wetter, leaving farmers wondering what to do with all that excess moisture. That’s just one reason why cover crops might make sense, says Yvonne Lawley, a cropping systems researcher at the University of Manitoba. Cover crops are being used as green manure for organic production, as catch crops to prevent nutrient leaching, to improve soil organic matter and nutrient cycling, break up hardpan, protect soils from erosion and to increase the productivity of grazing systems. But Lawley said the soil health benefits of cover crops go beyond those traditional objectives. “If we think about the whole chain of microbes that exist in soil, they’re really being fed by the inputs and cycling of nutrients within the agro-ecosystem. If we can have plants growing for a longer period of time, capturing more sun, we can provide more input through either organic matter or exudates from roots that feed the fungi, bacteria and nematodes that then feed the higher trophic structure like earthworms.”
Following a year impacted by wildfire, flooding and invasive species, farmers and ranchers around the province can recover some of their lost income with the Government of British Columbia’s new AgriStability Enhancement Program. The enhanced AgriStability Program was developed because of the unusual losses in 2017. Broader coverage was required in order to protect the 40-50% of B.C. farmers and ranchers not enrolled in the regular AgriStability program. Under the AgriStability Enhancement Program, B.C. farmers and ranchers can enrol in the regular program late and without penalty. AgriStability is a federal and provincial government program that protects farmers and ranchers from margin declines resulting from increased costs or decreased revenue. Payments are made if the farmer or rancher’s current-year margin falls more than 30% below the average of prior years. The AgriStability Enhancement Program is 100% funded by the B.C. government.
Northern B.C.’s Bulkley-Nechako region is well-known for producing much of Western Canada’s very best quality hay. The roughly 350-square-kilometre region, from Vanderhoof in the southeast to Germansen Landing in the north to Smithers in the west, boasts summertime daylight that stretches 17 hours. The area surrounding Vanderhoof offers the very best arable agricultural land: an ancient glacial lake-bed with rock free, silty clay loam up to 600 feet deep. Historically, the region has also provided ideal growing conditions for high-protein, high-sugar forages: heavy snowfall in winter provides great spring moisture, and the reliably warm, sunny summer days were always perfect for both growing and harvesting hay. In the last 15 years, however, the weather has changed drastically. In the eastern part of the Nechako Valley, it’s now significantly wetter than ever before while in Ray’s southwestern part of the valley, it’s now incredibly dry. There have been more than a few years recently as well when the ground freezes long before the snow flies. Without an insulating layer of snow, the barren ground freezes deep and hard, so that when spring finally comes, melting snow runs off the deep frozen ground rather than percolating in. Streams are often full to bursting, while forage fields go into the growing season dry as dust. And it gets worse. Both spring and summer tend to be cooler now than historical norms, and precipitation seems to wait to fall until the worst possible time; right in the middle of haying season.