SPANGLE, Wash. — Funding is available to farmers in the Spokane River watershed who install unique environmental buffers along area streams, Spokane Conservation District officials say. Farmers who install the so-called commodity buffers receive payments based on the value of their adjacent crops.
About 15 farmers attended meetings last week in Spangle and Reardan, Wash., to learn about the buffers, said the district’s commodity buffer coordinator, Seth Flanders.
The district calls the program a “game-changer” because payments to farmers are based on crop values instead of traditional soil rental values. Payments are based on USDA Risk Management Agency pricing for the crop grown next to the buffers. Farmers are guaranteed a minimum $200 per acre rental payment.
Applications are due Nov. 2.
Runoff from farms has been blamed for muddying the Spokane River. The buffers will reduce the runoff.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program manager Charlie Peterson said the district has already put in 50 miles of buffers for roughly $50,000. The district has enough funding to do four times as much, he said.
Funding for the buffers comes from the Washington State Conservation Commission, Flanders said.
Buffers can be a grass-only filter strip or a native riparian forest, consisting of grasses, trees and shrubs, according to the district.
Growers must make sure buffers are kept clear of weeds and grasses cut at least one time in the three-year contract cycle, after July 1 due to potential for habitat and bird nesting. The district encourages farmers to make a cutting each year, if possible, Flanders said.
“The whole idea of it is you have this grass that’s absorbed all the nutrients,” he said. “If you just let it die (and) decompose right into the water again, you’re putting all the nutrients back into the water and that kind of defeats the purpose.”
Marci Green, a Fairfield, Wash. farmer and president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, said her family has signed up for the commodity buffer program where it makes sense for their farm plan.
“They’ve actually made it financially feasible because they pay based on what the adjacent crop is, so it makes it more worthwhile to put the buffer strips in,” she said. “It’s always good to do the conservation things, but it has to pencil out, too. We need to have an impact to the bottom line.”
Green advises other farmers to look into the buffers.
“You don’t have anything to lose and it might be a way to be compensated for something you were wanting to do anyway,” she said.
Flanders said the district will work with growers.
“It’s something you can try,” Flanders said. “There’s no minimum or maximum you have to put in. It’s something you can experiment with.”