With the new buffer rules came a set of questions for landowners who must work to become compliant.

Enter the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, which sought to address some of those concerns.

The CRWP held a Buffer Field Day Tuesday at the farm of Mike and Julie Daly in Northfield to give landowners a chance to view buffers and learn how buffers work.

According to a 2014 map from the Rice Soil and Water Conservation District, there were 472 distinct areas within the county that needed more vegetation to be in compliance with the buffer rule. Approximately 31 percent of the county’s public waters inventory that runs within 200 feet of agriculture was not in compliance with the buffer rule in 2014, according to Rice SWCD.

Travis Hirman, nutrient management specialist for Rice SWCD, spoke about the new buffer rule, and United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist Tom Coffman spoke about USDA programs for buffers. Coffman and Hirman led landowners and others on a tour of two buffer sites in the area to see what others have done.

“This is one of the great things that the Cannon River Watershed Partnership can do, to try to bring people together,” CRWP Executive Director Brad Frazier said. “Our organization has always wanted to work with farmers, not be against farmers. To work with the ag community and all of the ag professionals in the Cannon River watershed to promote conservation, which increases the environmental benefit, including water quality. There is a lot more to conservation than just water quality.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently released a map of public waters and public ditches that require permanent vegetative buffers or alternative water quality practices.

The Buffer Field Day was an educational piece in the process toward compliance. Around 40 people turned out for the event Tuesday.

“It’s kind of a three-legged stool,” said Rice SWCD District 2 Supervisor Dick Cook. “You have to create the awareness, which is pretty much out there now, then the education and then enforcement and compliance aspect of it. Hopefully, that third leg of the stool isn’t going to be problematic.”

The Rice SWCD is in the midst of sending letters to landowners who are impacted by the buffer law. It’s expected that all of the letters will be sent by the end of the month.

It’s a lot to digest for landowners at once and sessions like Tuesday’s Buffer Field Day help landowners navigate the details.

“There are a lot of moving parts to the nuances and landowners are challenged to be fully informed and position themselves to take action,” said Gary Wagenbach, Rice SWCD supervisor for District 4, which covers Bridgewater and Northfield. “As the law reads, it’s the landowners’ responsibility to implement.”

The CRWP and Rice SWCD are holding these sessions to work cooperatively with landowners.

“I think we feel most farmers in the ag community believe in a clean environment and want to have clean water,” Frazier said. “We want to provide the tools for them and the options and just let them know that there are options to conservation activities on their land. Hopefully it can benefit their bottom line, too, that they can have improved soil health, improved crop production and also improved water quality.”

The Buffer Field Day also included a stream table demonstration from Heidi Keuler, a fishery biologist and coordinator for the Fishers and Farmers Partnership.

The Rice Creek watershed runs through the land where the event took place and is unique in the area because it is one of the few streams where brook trout reproduce.

“It’s a very small watershed so even very small changes on the land can make a big difference to the health of the water,” said CRWP Program Assistant Tonya Kjerland, who helped organize the event.

The next event for the Rice SWCD is a Field Day Sept. 8 at the farm of Jeff Jirik, 11485 Canby Ave., Faribault, where farmers will discuss how to improve soil health and yields.

Nick Gerhardt is the Northfield News’ sports editor. You can reach him at 645-1111. Follow him on Twitter @NorthfieldNick.

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