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How you can benefit from your riparian buffer

Quick facts

  • A buffer is a strip of trees, shrubs, grasses or other plants that helps protect water from runoff and stabilize shorelines.
  • The Minnesota Buffer Law requires landowners to have perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers, streams and ditches.
  • Consider planting a buffer that provides economic or environmental benefits, such as pollinator-friendly grasses and plants, fruit and nut trees, or decorative woody florals.
  • You can rent the buffer to another farmer.
Black-colored berries growing on Elderberry plant.
Elderberry plant

Making the most of your buffers

A buffer is a strip of trees, shrubs, grasses or other plants that helps protect water from runoff and stabilize shorelines.

Minnesota law requires landowners to have up to 50 feet of buffer along waterways such as rivers, lakes, streams and ditches.

Buffers can provide economic or environmental benefits. Note that some cost-share programs may not allow you to sell products from the buffer if it is still under the terms of the contract.

Beneficial plants for your buffer

Pollinator-friendly plants and grasses

  • By planting seed mixes of pollinator-friendly grasses and plants such as clover, sunflower, daylily and milkweed, buffers can offer habitat and food to native bees and wasps, including honey bees.
  • There may be specific pollinator planting grants and cost-share programs available.
  • In the fall, you could also harvest and sell seed to generate income from the buffer.
  • Learn more with these pollinator conservation resources.

Native seed

Native forage and grass seed is always a valuable commodity. You could plant buffers to native species that are in high demand. You are allowed to harvest these seeds in late summer and fall, as long as you do not disturb the planting.

Fruits and nuts

Elderberry

Elderberry is becoming more well-known as a health food, juice and wine supplement. The Midwest Elderberry Cooperative helps members sell their elderberries for value-added products.

Bushes are usually spaced in rows 10 feet apart and 4 to 6 feet within the row.

University of Missouri Extension Center for Agroforestry has partnered with Missouri elderberry growers to create a comprehensive guide on growing elderberry.

Black chokeberry or aronia berry

Cluster of dark black fruit of black chokecherry surrounding by foliage
Black chokeberry

Black chokeberry or aronia berry is becoming very popular as a health food, thanks to its high antioxidant levels. Shrubs can be grown in the backyard and as a field planting. They are usually spaced in rows 10 feet apart and 4 to 6 feet apart within the row.

Learn more about aronia berry in the Midwest.

Growing Hazelnut Trees
Hazelnut trees

Hazelnut

Hazelnuts are popular as edible nuts and may offer value-added products, such as nut butter and oil. However, most hybrid hazelnuts lack consistency and each plant has different characteristics. Research trials are underway to develop methods for selecting and propagating the best plants for growers.

Plants are usually spaced in rows 10 feet apart and 4 to 6 feet apart within the row.

Learn more about hazelnuts in the Upper Midwest.

Decorative woody florals

Woody florals are any wood plant, mainly shrubs, that can be made into decorative arrangements either by the grower or a flower business. Plants include curly willows, dogwoods, pussy willows and many more. Stems are usually harvested each year, depending on the plant.

Learn more in this grower’s guide to producing woody floral stems.

Other productive buffer options

  • Plums.

  • Blackberry.

  • Perennial intermediate wheatgrass.

Renting buffers

You can also earn money by renting your buffers to another farmer. Examples of renters may be:

  • A beef or dairy producer who rents a forage or grass buffer to bale hay for winter feed.

  • A beginning farmer who rents the buffer to plant black chokeberry (aronia berry) shrubs to process berries into products like juices and jams.

Read about farm lease arrangements.

The Minnesota Buffer Law

All public bodies of water within the state must have adjacent buffers. The law defines a buffer as an area that:

  • Consists of perennial vegetation, excluding invasive plants and noxious weeds.
  • Protects the state’s water resources from runoff pollution.
  • Stabilizes soils, shores and banks.
  • Protects or provides riparian corridors, which are plant communities that grow near natural bodies of water.
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Gary Wyatt, Extension educator; Diomy Zamora, Extension educator; Dean Current; Joe Magner; Josh Gamble and Mike Reichenbach, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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