Editorial: Buffer strips would protect SD residents, waterways

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Farm Forum

There is a move afoot to assure added safety to South Dakota waterways.

Again.

And we are happy to see advocates of buffer strips between farmland and waterways living to fight another day.

Strips of land between fields and water help trap fertilizer, pesticide and sediment before they reach water.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard rejected the plan to offer tax breaks for buffers in March. Vetoed Senate Bill 136 would have offered incentives in the form of tax breaks to landowners who plant grassy buffer strips along their fields.

Daugaard cited constitutional and property tax concerns about the bill, which overwhelmingly passed the Legislature.

Supporters of the bill plan to try again in 2017. Not totally surprisingly, Daugaard is looking join the fight for buffers.

Naturally, the governor wants to protect the state’s waterways like everyone else except for those who want to put their needs first. So, while he supports the concept, he has a different vision about how to go about it.

According to his staffers, Daugaard will offer a buffer strip proposal later this year to the Legislature’s Ag Land Assessment Task Force. Additional details were not given.

We have been fortunate in South Dakota that we have not been flooded with headlines about polluted waterways. So seeking improved water quality is a seemingly easy rally point for many.

“We’re firm believers that riparian buffers are one of the best things that we can possibly do to protect our rivers and streams and lakes” in South Dakota, said Jay Gilbertson, manager of the East Dakota Water Development District, which backed the 2016 legislation.

Roslyn native, farmer and new South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Mike Jaspers told the American News that water quality is one of his main concerns.

“There have been problems in other states where soil being washed away has contaminated water for towns, and farmers are being blamed for it,” Jaspers said. “We want to be more proactive about it now, so it’ll benefit agriculture in the long run.”

Legislators didn’t have the support to override Daugaard’s veto. The bill would have allowed farmland along a lake, river or stream that was turned into a 50-foot buffer strip of vegetation to be classified as non-cropland for property tax purposes. That would have meant a lower tax burden for those landowners.

Those against the bill had questions about its impact, such as which waterways would be subject to the policy. The governor also was concerned that the bill would shift the property tax burden to other landowners.

The South Dakota Corn Growers Association opposed the measure as messing with the tax structure without effectively inducing farmers to install buffer strips. The group instead wants to see more education efforts, so farmers can learn about available programs, executive director Lisa Richardson said.

“We are 110 percent behind buffer strips,” she said. “This bill did not address the issue. It’s not going to get more farmers to participate. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

So the support is there. Now it comes down to communication.

We hope that these groups get together, along with landowners, to come up with a solution. It is especially important to involve and get opinions from as many landowners as possible.

They are the people with boots on the ground. And they might have insights to make the solution brighter, better and more attractive.

It is an improvement worth pursuing.