Fallow Agriculture


Fallow Agriculture

The use of fallow or idle agricultural fields by waterfowl and pheasants for nesting habitat is well documented within California and other states. When vegetative cover is maintained on fallow lands, and there is reliable brood water nearby, nest success has been documented as high as 88%, which is higher than nest success within the Prairie Pothole Region. However, most farmers manage their fallow fields by tilling in the vegetation during the late spring or early summer to reduce water consumption and prevent weed species from setting seed. This practice provides little to no habitat and the timing often coincides with peak nesting for mallards and other local breeding birds.


Cover crops, which can provide an important source of nesting habitat, are not widely utilized in California. However, a study in the Northeastern United States documented that the availability of incentive programs doubled the adoption of cover cropping by farmers in that region. If cover crops and other fallow lands are managed properly, they can be beneficial for upland nesting bird species and ultimately increase the habitat value of fallow farmlands for breeding waterfowl, pheasants, pollinators and other wildlife.



This program provides an incentive for farmers that are willing to delay the termination of the vegetation in fallow agricultural fields until July 15th or later. Eligible fields must have vegetation on over 50% of the field with an average height of at least 8 inches by April 1st. Acceptable nesting cover includes planted to cover crops or volunteer vegetation. The program is compatible with water transfers and prevented planting insurance.Payment rates on Fallow Agricultural fields are $30/acre for fields with suitable volunteer vegetation and $110/acre for fields with established planted cover crops.

Upon enrollment, landowners must ensure that there will be a reliable water source within ½ mile of the field (i.e., irrigation canals, summer flooded wetlands or planted rice fields) and leave the fallow fields undisturbed until July 15th. Landowners must allow monitoring on all enrolled fields. CWA & U.S. Geological Survey staff will regularly monitor enrolled fields for nesting activity from April 1st to July 15th. Nest searching will be conducted every three weeks and all active nests will be checked once a week.




Applications will be reviewed by a selection committee that is made up of biologists from the CWA and representatives from each of the following Department Programs: Waterfowl, Upland and Small Game, Wetland Conservation Program, and the Nesting Bird Habitat Incentive Program. After the solicitation closes, all applications will be evaluated and scored based on the following ranking categories:

  1. The proximate water sources within 1/2 mile and adjacent crop types.
  2. Vegetation establishment and quality.
  3. Participation in other conservation programs.
  4. Proximity to perpetuality protected properties (e.g., conservation easements, National Wildlife Refuges, State Wildlife Areas).

The committee will conduct an additional assessment of the costs of each application and determine if they are reasonable and worth awarding given the expected habitat benefits that will be provided by each bid. All bids that are more than 1.5 times the bidding average for specific practice will be disqualified. Additionally, bids may be rejected that are determined to be unreasonably priced, even if they are within 1.5 times the average of all bids.



This program will be open from March 11 – April 10, 2024.  

If you have questions, please contact Jason Coslovich at (408)644-3525 or jcoslovich@calwaterfowl.org.