Nov. 1 buffer deadline likely to come and go for many Minn. farmers

Nov. 1 buffer deadline likely to come and go for many Minn. farmers

Wet conditions across much of the state are making it difficult for farmers to comply with a Thursday deadline to plant buffer strips along their fields' drainage ditches.

The November deadline is the second phase of implementing the buffer law, which requires strips of perennial vegetation to help filter fertilizer and other contaminants from water that runs from farm fields into ditches.

Buffers along public waters, rivers and lakes were set to be completed by last November, but farmers could apply for a one-year waiver. State and county officials say it's likely some of the buffers that make up the second phase of implementation, along ditches, won't be planted until next spring.

According to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, nearly 99 percent of public waters comply with the state buffer law and about 80 percent of ditches are in compliance. Since there are substantially more miles of public waters than ditches, the overall compliance rate is estimated to be just shy of 96 percent.

"I think we're making good progress. It is a really big state; 96 percent compliance sounds cool but quite frankly that means there's still a fair amount of work that needs to happen," said Tom Gile, buffers and soil loss operations supervisor for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Conservation.

The agency doesn't have specific numbers, Gile said but it's likely there are several thousand land parcels that still need to come into compliance with the buffer rule. But he said the state wants to give farmers every opportunity to comply voluntarily before it imposes any financial penalties.

Seventy-five counties across the state opted to handle buffer enforcement themselves — and many have adopted ordinances that give landowners a grace period to comply with the buffer law, as long as they have a plan in place.

A dozen of those counties have sent landowners corrective notices regarding public waters that are not in compliance with the buffer law, Gile said.

Redwood County environmental director Scott Wold expects many landowners to miss the Thursday buffer deadline because of wet conditions. The areas around much of the 1,040 miles of buffer strips that needed to be planted along ditches in the county were under water for much of the summer.