Governor’s buffer proposal

Gov. Mark Dayton recently announced an initiative to protect clean water throughout the state by requiring buffer strips on Minnesota cropland. Most people I’ve talked to about this issue aren’t familiar with buffers and don’t understand their importance, as the discussion so far hasn’t reflected accurate science on buffers or their benefits for urban and rural Minnesotans alike. These benefits are critical for the health of our people and our ecosystems.

Buffers are simply thin strips of land lying between farmland and natural streams that are covered with native vegetation that filters runoff water from crops. This water is often loaded with fertilizers, pesticides and pathogens that end up in our water system, toxifying our lakes and rivers, and killing fish and other wildlife. The vegetation on the buffers filters out a huge portion of this pollution: more than 50 percent of fertilizers and pesticides and more than 60 percent of pathogens, according to the federal Department of Agriculture.

From a clean water perspective, buffers are a no-brainer, but some farmers have expressed opposition to buffers on financial grounds. But farmers benefit from buffers even more than others who need clean drinking water. Buffers help protect crop soil from erosion by wind and water.

They provide habitats for wildlife, including pollinators that are crucial for agriculture. They keep sediment out of the waterways that supply farms. And there are numerous federal and state grants that make maintaining clean water worthwhile for farmers.

The governor’s buffer proposal and other associated bills in the Legislature present a scientifically sound and flexible program to keep our water clean, and they offer a broad range of options for farmers to do so economically. Everyone in the state, from rural Minnesotans to those of us in the metro, have a stake in this program’s passage.