Grass buffers proving to be a good alternative to terraces

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Good soil conservation doesn’t come without a financial investment on the part of those who own land. Over time, most farmers agree, those investments pay for themselves.

But when you’re a part-time farmer managing a relatively small operation, that investment can be a practical, dollars-and-cents challenge to one’s desire to be a good steward of the soil.

That was the case for Gary Steiner, whose 400-acre operation is based a couple of miles north of Pilsen. A quarter-section of ground he had purchased needed some terrace work if his operation was to meet government requirements.

The price tag for the project would have exceeded $20,000, said Steiner, whose other job is to drive a school bus for the Centre School District.

“I wasn’t sure I could afford that, but I wanted to be in compliance,” Steiner said.

That’s when he found out about the grass-buffer alternative, a relatively recent option offered by the government.

Grass buffers are strips of grass, usually 10 to 25 feet wide, that are developed along the contours of a field-situated essentially were terraces would otherwise be developed.

“When I priced out the grass seed and the other expenses, I found I could do it myself for around $1,000,” Steiner said. “In my situation, that seemed to be the way to go.”

Steiner has 25 acres of buffer strips and eight acres of brome seeding. He also tries to leave residue in the crop-strip area to help control erosion.

For his efforts, Steiner has been named the winner of the Marion County Soil Conservation District’s first “Grass Buffer Award.”

Representatives from the Soil Conservation office originally marked out the buffer strips, and Steiner seeded them. He said it was easy to get lost trying to follow the marking flags in the field, but now that the grass is established, it’s simple to farm the ground.

“I can lift up my implement when I come to a buffer, drive across it, and put the implement right back down again,” he said.

Steiner feels his buffer strips have been as effective as terraces in managing water run-off-an observation supported by the experts, he added.

Steiner said his neighbors have been watching, too, and seem favorably impressed with what they’ve seen.

“Everybody’s situation is a little different and so are their needs,” Steiner said. “But this was a good route for me.”

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