Designing the right filter strips can protect water quality and a farm's productivity.

Farmers, community members, elected officials, and government agency representatives all want the same thing: an agricultural sector that is profitable and productive while protecting our precious natural water and soil resources.

Too often, it has seemed that these goals are at odds with each other. But with attention and resources being devoted to the improvement and protection of agricultural water quality, new tools are being developed and shared. One of these is AgBufferBuilder 2.0, a geographic information systems (GIS) tool. It uses a satellite image and a digital elevation model (DEM) of a given field to design a grass filter strip that maximizes trapping efficiency of sediment or sediment-bound pollutants in field runoff.

Why a New Tool for Designing Filter Strips to Protect Water Quality?

A grassy filter strip on a northern Vermont farm.

Why is this new tool useful? What we have found is that an approach that incorporates a farm's topography, soil type, and proximity to waterways enables agricultural service providers and farmers to design the most effective filter strip, and one that may leave more land in production while effectively filtering runoff and sediment.

Currently, the tool is only compatible with ArcGIS versions 10.0 and 10.1. Information regarding compatibility with newer versions of ArcGIS will be posted on the AgBufferBuilder website as it becomes available. While mastery of ArcMap is not necessary to use the tool successfully, a basic understanding of the software is recommended, and access to ArcGIS 10.0 or 10.1 is required. This document should be used in addition to the valuable resources available at the AgBufferBuilder website.

Agriculture and conservation technical assistance providers in Vermont may find this a helpful tool in working with farmers to mitigate water quality impacts from field runoff. Our purpose is to provide examples of how the tool can be used to design grass filter strips and evaluate existing filter strips on agricultural fields in Vermont.

Information for Agricultural Service Providers & Farmers

Michelle Graziosi, an ECO-Americorps member who worked with the Center for Sustainable Agriculture's Farming & Climate Change program in 2015 & 2016, put together PDF iconthis short publication(PDF download) on to describe how the tool can be used in Vermont, including some specific examples of output and impact under different management practices.

Interested in knowing more about the Center's work or do you have a question we haven't answered here? Contact us via email or 802-656-5459 and we'll do our best to help.