CBF and partners work with farmers to install conservation projects, like this cattle crossing, throughout the region. Photo by Matt Kofroth.Through the Buffer Bonus program, CBF and partners work with farmers to install conservation projects, like this cattle crossing. Photo by Matt Kofroth.

Buffer Bonus Program Helps Farmers Improve Local Water Quality—and Their Bottom Line

CBF and partners work with farmers and landowners throughout the region to implement conservation projects that will improve water quality and enhance farm profitability. Much of the work focuses on farm best management practices (BMPs). Currently available in a limited number of Pennsylvania counties, CBF's Buffer Bonus program encourages farmers to couple the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) forest buffers with these kinds of on-farm improvements. For each acre of forest buffer planted, CBF offers participating farmers a "best management practice voucher" to fund conservation work.

Improvements that qualify under the Buffer Bonus program include rotational grazing practices, streambank fencing, alternative watering systems, and laneways. Other options include the installation of waste transfer lines for milk-house waste and silage leachate, stabilization of access roads, and the installation of roof gutters, to name a few.

Another goal of this program is to provide, at no cost to the farmer, a new or updated Conservation and Nutrient Management Plan. By combining this plan with an engineer's evaluation of the farm (also provided) the plans are then considered a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan or a CNMP. Having a CNMP gives farmers the opportunity to apply for federal funding to assist with larger on-farm improvements such as manure storage facilities and concrete barnyards.

Buffer Bonus Results

In Bradford County, 36 farmers have already participated in the program. In just two years, through the Buffer Bonus program, $1.6 million has been invested in best management practices that have resulted in nearly 200 completed projects. These projects also brought those farms into full compliance with state required conservation and manure management plans.

In Lancaster County, Amish and Mennonite farmers are also reducing pollution by installing conservation projects and planting streamside forested buffers. In just two years another $1.6 million investment has resulted in nearly 300 completed projects, bringing 41 farms into full compliance with state required conservation and manure management plans.

"These conservation improvements are a win-win for both the farmer and local water quality," said Jennifer Johns, CBF Buffer Specialist in Bradford County. "While each project ultimately produces different results, we find that creating healthier living conditions for the livestock through the installation of conservation practices improves herd health and the farmer's bottom line."

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