Small Town News
Area farmers await buffer information
Area farmers are playing a waiting game regarding new state requirements for vegetative buffers around waterways as they wait for additional information from the state.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law legislation that will establish new perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along rivers, streams and ditches to help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment.
Before farmers know details over what kind or size of buffers they will need, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources must produce buffer maps that show all the public waterways affected.
"We understand people have questions about the buffer initiative," said DNR Project Manager Dave Leuthe.
In response to those questions, the DNR last week provided a timeline and details about the production of the maps.
"Production of those maps is important," said Doug Busselman of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, "because they will determine where the buffers are and what size and type they are."
Everyone is anxiously waiting for the DNR," he said.
The DNR timeline is that local governments will provide information on ditches that the state agency will integrate with information on public waters to develop preliminary buffer maps. The DNR is scheduled to produce final maps by July 2016. Phase I of the mapping project, which is being done this fall, involves using existing digital data to identify public waters that require a buffer averaging 50 feet. Through the winter the DNR will be adding the local data regarding ditches that require a buffer of 16 one-half feet.
Busselman said that although the Farm Bureau initially opposed the new legislation, the group is now encouraging compliance with the law working to inform farmers about the legislation and also what alternatives are available.
The definition of ditches within a drainage system is defined in state law, he said, although what it means is "somewhat up in the air." He added he expected the DNR to make the meaning as broad as possible.
During the legislative session, Busselman said the Farm Bureau "fought tooth and nail" not because it was opposed to buffers, but because the state would be taking private property without compensation.
Land enrolled in the federal CRP, he said, is subject to a wider buffer width and additional restrictions but the landowner is compensated for keeping that land out of production.
"Buffers are a tool," he said. "There is nothing wrong with buffers."
Buffer lands must remain in perennial vegetation, he said, but that vegetation can take varying forms. The land can be used for haying or grazing, he said, and there are also alternative practices that can meet the criteria, such as no-till.
When the maps are completed, the DNR said there will be "public engagement opportunities."
The maps will help landowners identify whether they need to create a buffer and, if so, whether they need a 16 one-half foot or 50 foot average buffer width. Local soil and water conservation districts will work directly with landowners and help them use the maps to create the right size buffer or help them select an alternative water quality practice in lieu of a buffer.
The law requires that buffers on public waterways be in place by Nov. 1, 2017. Buffers for ditches must be in place by Nov. 1, 2018.
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