New tool helps farmers choose alternative practices to buffers

Alternatives to Buffers Management Tool:

  • Click here to access the Quick Start Guide.
  • Click here to access the Tool (please note, an Excel Spreadsheet will open)
  • Click here to access the AgroEcoregion Mapbook to find out which region your land is located in
  • If you have questions about the Alternatives to Buffers Management Tool, MCGA recommends you visit your local SWCD office.

For additional resources on buffer program alternative practices, visit bwsr.state.mn.us/buffers. 


To help farmers find the best strategy to comply with the Minnesota Buffer Law, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) implemented a tool that will provide farmers with alternative practices specific to their land that can be used instead of the prescribed vegetative buffer.

Funded by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) and designed by the University of Minnesota, the Decision Support Tool will be available at every Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) office at no cost to the farmer. Farmers will also have the ability to access the tool online from home.

The process starts with farmers answering basic questions about the characteristics of their land, including soil type, slope and existing management practices. From there, the tool provides farmers with their site-specific alternative practices, which would be used in addition to required minimum buffers of five feet on public ditches and 16.5 feet on public waters. Approved alternative practices like using cover crops, conservation tillage, contour stripcropping and more would take the place of the buffer law’s minimum 16.5-foot buffer on public ditches and 50-foot buffer on public waters.

“Although the buffer law allows for the use of alternative practices, farmers were in the dark on what practices made them compliant,” MCGA President Harold Wolle said. “This tool will help farmers decide the best strategy for their farm and decrease the loss of productive farmland while protecting water quality.”

University of Minnesota Researchers David Mulla, Ph.D., Chris Lenhart, Ph.D., and Jake Galzki, M.S., began developing the tool at the beginning of the year. The process started by evaluating the effectiveness of 16.5- and 50-feet buffers in preventing phosphorous and sediment runoff. The researchers used that baseline to then determine what combination of alternative practices matched that effectiveness on a variety of land and soil types.

Farmers will be asked to file the alternative practices they are implementing with their local SWCD, and will be required to perpetually use those alternative practices in order to remain compliant with the buffer law.

If you have questions about the tool, MCGA recommends you visit your local SWCD office.

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