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South Dakota's buffer strip initiative faces challenges

South Dakota's buffer strip initiative faces challenges

By Scout Nelson

In South Dakota, a state where agriculture plays a pivotal role, a significant environmental initiative is struggling to gain momentum. The Riparian Buffer Strip Initiative, designed to improve water quality in the Big Sioux Watershed, is facing challenges despite its noble intentions.

Governor Kristi Noem, with her deep connections to agriculture, advocates for the integration of conservation into farming practices. The Riparian Buffer Strip Initiative, under her administration, remains voluntary.

This program offers a 50% property tax reduction to landowners who establish buffer strips, either by removing livestock or providing vegetated areas near croplands. Despite this incentive, and an earlier attempt in 2016 offering a 40% tax break, the initiative has seen limited success.

The low participation rate can be attributed to several factors. These include a lack of sufficient education about the benefits of riparian buffers, the reluctance of farmers to sacrifice productive land, and insufficient funding. The initiative requires a minimum buffer width of 50 feet, which can be a significant ask for landowners.

The consequences of this lackluster participation are evident in the deteriorating health of the Big Sioux River. High levels of E. coli, primarily from agricultural runoff, have been reported, posing risks to recreation and municipal water use. Riparian buffer strips, which act as natural filters, could dramatically improve this situation.

Minnesota’s approach to riparian buffer strips, which involves a government mandate rather than voluntary participation, has shown more promising results. Since the implementation of their buffer law in 2015, about 98% of Minnesota's water-bordering parcels comply with the mandate, leading to notable improvements in water quality.

South Dakota is considering whether to continue with voluntary initiatives or adopt a mandatory approach, potentially limiting landowners' autonomy but potentially improving water body health. The ongoing Riparian Buffer Strip Initiative, despite increased funding and incentives, suggests a new strategy for environmental improvement.


Photo Credit - minnesota-corn-growers-association

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Categories: South Dakota, Crops, Corn, Equipment & Machinery

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