Field Boundary Habitat

Field Boundary Habitat (FBH) refers to areas of agricultural fields that are not farmed for a variety of reasons, including poorly drained soils, sodic soils, thin or rocky soils, steep slopes, or the presence of heavy tree cover. Small areas devoted to windbreaks, fencelines, terraces, waterways, stream buffers, or permanently retired headlands can also be categorized as FBH. FBH may contain native plant communities, non-native plant communities or mixes of native and non-native plants.

FBH provides no clear economic advantages from a farm business perspective. At the same time, FBH has been shown to have no negative impact on farm profitability in certain contexts. The main benefits of FBH is that it provides soil, water, and biodiversity conservation benefits at the field and landscape scales. FBH serves as insect, bird, and small mammal habitat and can improve the abundance and diversity of these types of fauna. FBH can also help to provide erosion control, improved water infiltration, and reduced runoff. In most cases, FBH is not intentionally created nor is it actively managed. There are two FBH programs in North America that seek to promote the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of FBH:

  • Prairie Strips:
    In 2019, the USDA introduced a new practice called “prairie strips” under its long-running Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Prairie strips can be established through a cost share agreement. There are few restrictions on where Prairie Strips can be placed within a field, but they should be designed in a manner that does not significantly impede agricultural production. Prairie strips cannot exceed 25% of the cropland area within a field and must range between 30-120 feet in width.
  • Species At Risk on Agricultural Lands Partnership (SARPAL):
    SARPAL is an Environment and Climate Change Canada-funded program in a number of Canadian provinces. The Ontario SARPAL project has been running in its current form since 2016. SARPAL is a cost share program that focuses on enhancing field boundary and pasture habitat for insect and animal species designated as Species at Risk (SAR) by the Canadian federal government. As with the prairie strips program, SARPAL facilitates the management of SAR habitat without comprising profitable crop and livestock production on participating farms.

If a farm business is considering the establishment of FBH, it should be designed in manner that does not interfere with existing or future farm production and be seeded in a cost-effective manner using locale-appropriate species. In principle native perennial species are preferable to non-native perennial. However, native perennial species germplasm may not be cost-effective and can be slow to establish.

To maximize the benefits of FBH, newly established FBH or existing FBH should have a realistic and cost-effective management plan, such as its incorporation into managed grazing practices, timber or forestry management, prescribed burning, and spot-spraying for invasive weeds.

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