Nebraska Buffer Strip Program Sign Up Underway

Nebraska Buffer Strip Program Sign Up Underway

October 3, 2008

Now is an excellent time to sign up for the installation of conservation buffers, a UNL Extension agricultural engineer said.

Filter strips or riparian forest buffers placed along the edges of streams or other water bodies serve as a last line of defense for sediment and other pollutants that might enter the water, said David Shelton, extension agricultural engineer at UNL's Haskell Agricultural Laboratory near Concord.

"They are very effective at trapping sediment and enhance the infiltration of runoff water," he said.

Buffers improve safety by keeping equipment away from the edge of the stream. They also provide excellent habitat for pheasants, songbirds and other wildlife. When planted to trees, a buffer also may provide income for future generations.

In addition, landowners who install filter strips or riparian buffers may be eligible for up to $250 per acre rental for as long as 10 years through the Nebraska Buffer Strip Program, said Craig Romary, environmental programs specialist, Nebraska Department of Agriculture. The program, which started in 1999, is funded by pesticide registration fees.

"Nearly 11,000 acres are currently enrolled in the program, with annual rental payments of over half a million dollars," Romary said. "But we would like to increase the number of acres enrolled. This is a great opportunity for landowners to help the environment by creating wildlife habitat and cleaner runoff water, and get compensated for it."

The rental rates for the current program were changed to better reflect cash rents, Romary said. The sign-up period began Sept. 15 and continues through Nov 15.

"We expect to have enough funding to cover all applications if program eligibility is met, but approval will be dependent on the number of applications received and available funding," he said. "Applications received after Nov. 15 will still be considered, depending on funding available."

The Continuous Conservation Reserve Program, and in some counties, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, both administered by the Farm Service Agency, are other programs that provide annual rental payments and other incentives for the installation of conservation practices, Shelton said.

"These practices include filter strips, riparian buffers, grass waterways, contour grass strips, shelterbelts, living snow fences, upland bird habitat, and others," he said.

"We encourage landowners to combine the benefits of the Nebraska Buffer Strip Program with those of the Conservation Reserve Program and/or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program," Romary said. "That way, the landowner will generally receive a higher payment and more buffers can be funded, which increases the environmental benefits for everyone."

It is possible to enroll a buffer only in the Nebraska Buffer Strip Program which, in some cases, is less restrictive than Conservation Reserve Program requirements. For example, the Nebraska Buffer Strip Program allows some haying or grazing to take place, and certain intermittent streams will qualify, Romary said. This is not the case with the Conservation Reserve Program. Also, existing grass strips may qualify for the Nebraska program if they meet the required specifications.

Information about the Nebraska Buffer Strip Program can be found on the Nebraska Department of Agriculture's Web site at http://www.agr.ne.gov/division/bpi/pes/buff.htm.

"Regardless of which program a landowner chooses, he or she should first visit the local Natural Resources Conservation Service office to discuss the various possibilities," Shelton said. "Conservation buffers are an excellent way to protect water quality and improve wildlife habitat. Now is the time to take advantage of the various programs that are available to help with their installation."

Sandi Alswager Karstens
IANR News Service