Farmers in the North Raccoon Watershed are Working to Scale Up Installation of Saturated Buffers

August 9th - Lee Gravel, Headwaters North Raccoon Water Quality Intiative Coordinator

The installation of edge-of-field practices like saturated buffers has become an emerging trend in the Headwaters of the North Raccoon Watershed, located in Northeast Buena Vista County and Northwest Pocahontas County. Five saturated buffers were installed this spring by Iowa farmers and landowners to help the State achieve its goal of a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous loads entering Iowa waterways. Art Dahl is an area native and has been actively working towards the achievement of that reduction over the last 2 years.

At 94 years of age, Dahl is still blazing trails and was the first to install a saturated buffer on his land in Buena Vista County. “I’m one-hundred percent for protecting the land,” Dahl states. With his strong commitment to conservation, Dahl is working with his tenants to install more practices on his 2,600 acres of farmland, including a wetland and two bioreactors.

Last Fall, Art Dahl worked in partnership with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Iowa Soybean Association to install a saturated buffer. The practice is designed to divert tile water from a sub-surface drainage system on one of his farms near Albert City and remove a high percentage of the nitrate from the water before it enters the bordering stream. “It’s the right thing to do,” says Dahl. Monitoring of the Dahl Saturated Buffer by Iowa State University will confirm the practice’s effectiveness at reducing nitrates over the next 3 years, but other sites around the state have been consistently showing reductions between 60-90%, or greater.

Edge-of-field practices like saturated buffers are a terrific compliment to practices like cover crops that may not work every year in systems that require the fall application of turkey and chicken litter. The increasing availability of cost-share funds for saturated buffers means that more producers and landowners will have opportunities to install these types of practices. Contact your local NRCS office for more information about whether a saturated buffer will work on your farm.

Will Myers