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Conservation buffers are areas or strips of land in permanent vegetation, designed to intercept pollutants. They slow water runoff, trap sediment, and enhance water infiltration into the soil in the buffer. They also trap fertilizers, pesticides, bacteria, pathogens, and heavy metals, minimizing the chances of these potential pollutants reaching surface and groundwater sources. Buffers also trap snow and reduce soil erosion by wind. Some buffers protect livestock from harsh weather. Wooded buffers can also provide a source of future income. They can enhance wildlife habitat, improve water quality, and enrich aesthetics on farmlands. They help farmers protect soil and water quality, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and demonstrate a commitment to land stewardship. Properly installed and well maintained buffers help diversify the “look” of a farm, adding to its beauty, recreational opportunities, and land value.


Conservation buffers can be used along streams and around lakes or wetlands, or installed at field edges and within fields. Buffers are most effective when they are used in combination with other conservation measures as part of a planned conservation system.  Examples of conservation buffers include:


  • Grassed waterways: Strips of grass in areas of cropland where water concentrates or flows off a field. While they are primarily used to prevent gully erosion, waterways can be combined with filter strips to help trap contaminants and sediment

  • Windbreaks: A row of trees, shrubs, or other vegetation used to reduce wind erosion, protect young crops, and control blowing snow. Windbreaks are placed near the field boundary that is most nearly perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction

  • Filter strips: Strips of grass or other vegetation used to intercept or trap sediment, organics (such as manure), pesticides, and other pollutants before they reach a water body. Some pesticides are broken down to harmless materials by microbial action in the filter strip. In Indiana, filter strips protect the soil from erosion.

  • Field borders: Strips of perennial vegetation planted at the edge of a field. They can be used for a turn area or travel lanes for farm machinery.

  • Contour grass strips: Narrow bands of perennial vegetation established across the slope of a crop field, between strips of crops. They can reduce sheet erosion and reduce movement of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides.

  • Riparian buffers: Streamside vegetation consisting of trees, shrubs, and grasses that can intercept pollutants from both surface and ground waters before they reach a stream. They also help restore eroded stream banks.

  • Alley cropping: An agroforestry practice consisting of growing trees or shrubs in rows or corridors with alleys of agronomic crops or forage between them. Both the forestry and agronomic crops are harvested.



Additional Resources

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