Importance of Buffer Zones around Field Waterways

With the increase in fertilizer prices for 2022, capturing usable fertility in the soil profile is a major concern for farmers. It is imperative for farmers to use agronomic practices to help keep nutrients close to the crop for proper growth. This is where buffer zones can help mitigate soil movement. 

To begin this discussion, we need to understand what a buffer zone is and its importance for managing erosion and nutrient entrapment. A buffer zone is essentially a zone or area of permanent vegetation between a field and a creek, ditch, or river to help protect water quality.1 These zones also help protect soil from moving along with water into field-exiting channels. 

Excess nutrients in water channels can cause eutrophic conditions which kill aquatic life. It can also cause excess levels of algae and make water unsafe for human consumption. Buffer zones should be placed in areas of continuous soil movement to help mitigate and reduce any future movement and loss of nutrients.

When we think about available fertility, we need to think about where the nutrient is held. Most nutrients are available in the soil solution; however, some are held and then exchanged from soil particles. This is where soil movement becomes so important. The more we can help mitigate soil movement, the more we can limit nutrient loss. Buffer zones help capture and maintain the inputs purchased for crops, allowing farmers to get the most out of their investment and increase crop potential. 

There are a few nutrients of greater importance when discussing soil movement and its prevention. Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur are four of the nine essential macronutrients, that are needed in large quantities. Nitrogen and sulfur are mobile in the soil solution and at greatest risk for loss. On the other hand, phosphorus and potassium are held on the soil particles through Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC). These essential nutrients are moved off-site with the physical movement of soils. In either case, buffer zones can offer big benefits when it comes to nutrient management.


1Conservation Buffer Strips. Clean Lakes Alliance.

Jared Hauseman

Technical Agronomist

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ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Performance may vary, from location to location and from year to year, as local growing, soil and weather conditions may vary. Growers should evaluate data from multiple locations and years whenever possible and should consider the impacts of these conditions on the grower’s fields.

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