Farm buffer strips


Contributed by James G. Scott, District Conservationist
Ionia Field Office

Now is a good time to consider the potential for buffer strips as a part of your farm operation. Buffer strips are simply strips of a grass and legume mix established on cropland adjacent to any surface water, such as county drains, streams, ponds or wetlands and seasonally flooded woodlots.

Benefits of buffer strips are many. Buffer strips can filter out up to 80% of potential soil sediment that may be carried by field surface run-off. This reduces sediment and attached nutrients from reaching and polluting surface waters. Excess delivery of sediments to surface waters may cause additional need for county drain dredging or clean out. This is often a direct cost to the landowner through drain taxes. Increased algae growth from excess nutrients reduces oxygen in these waters and degrades aquatic habitats. Buffer strips also serve as those buffers required when applying some agricultural chemicals, such as triazines, which require a 33 – 66 foot set-back from surface waters. Buffer strips can be used as a turn around on headlands for planting and harvesting. These are often areas that are low yield producers due to excessive compaction. Buffer strips provide a more diverse wildlife habitat for pheasant and other upland game and non-game species alike. Adjacent to live streams the use of trees and shrubs (riparian buffers) helps to maintain the integrity of the stream banks, and provides shade that keeps waters cooler and improves fish habitat.

An additional benefit can be gained from buffers by installing them through USDA’s Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP). If the land you are considering for buffers is cropland, and meets certain eligibility requirements (usually determined on site), the program can provide for reimbursement of up to 50% of the cost of establishment, including seed, fertilizer and lime, and planting costs. The program will then pay the operator or owner an annual per acre rental, based on the soil types, for a period of 10 to 15 years. If there is also the need for structural components, such as grassed waterways (shaped and vegetated channels that safely carry concentrated flows from cropland), drop pipes or spillways, the CCRP will reimburse up to 50% of those costs. Staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical assistance for planning, as well as design and installation supervision for structures.

In some instances, there may be additional assistance to landowners from the County Drain Commissioner, or from wildlife habitat organizations such as Pheasants Forever.

If you are interested in additional information about buffer strips and the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program, you can contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service by calling the USDA Service Center in these counties:

Ionia County 616-527-2620
Kent County 616-942-9111
Montcalm County 517-831-4606
Ottawa County 616-842-5869

If your county is not listed here, you can find it in the phone book under U.S. Government, or you can call one of the offices listed, and they will be able to provide you with a local number.

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