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Conservation Opportunities - Buffer Strips, Windbreaks, Waterways
by LuAnn Rolling, Allamakee District Conservationist

This week I would like to discuss several opportunities that are currently available to advance soil health on your farms. The first would be installing contour buffer strips and there are two ways the NRCS and the Allamakee Soil & Water Conservation District, SWCD, can assist with these financially.

Buffer strips are narrower than the cropped strips above and below them. They are strategically placed in a field to intercept and slow the flow of water down, reducing erosion, preventing gullies, preserving grassed waterways and grabbing soil and any attached nutrients and preventing them from leaving the field. Buffer strips can also provide habitat and food for wildlife and pollinators.

There is an incentive program offered through the Allamakee SWCD where a producer can install contour buffer strips and receive $300/ac., one-time at establishment. The strips must remain for 5 years and can be hayed or grazed. The $300 incentive is also paid on grassed headlands that physically connect to a buffer strip. If the hay plays out during the 5 years the strips may be moved up or down the hill as long as the original amount of acres is maintained.

There is also a new continuous CRP option where a producer can install native grass contour buffer strips and the associated grassed headlands. The strips must be maintained for 10 years and cannot be hayed or grazed. There is a 50% cost sharing to establish the prairie strips and an annual cropland payment for 10 years.

Another practice that is available is farmstead windbreaks. The Allamakee SWCD can assist producers with design assistance and can cost share up to $1,500 towards the cost of establishment. This is only available for agricultural properties. The minimum design would be two rows of arborvitae trees or two rows of evergreen trees and a row of shrubs. The windbreak design will ensure adequate space for snow drop and air movement and that all requirements for roads and powerlines are met. Windbreaks can also be installed around livestock production areas.

The final practice I would like to highlight today would be grassed waterways. There are again two possible funding sources. The first is state cost share through the SWCD. The waterways must be completely redone to meet the NRCS standard. A mulch blanket is also required to be installed. The cost share is 50% of the cost of the earthwork, the mulch blanket and drainage tile within the waterway if needed.

The continuous CRP also offers grassed waterways. The cost share is 50% with the same requirements as the SWCD waterways. The CRP waterways offer an annual cropland payment for 10 years.

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