It’s no secret that farmers, who make their living off the land, know the importance of being environmentally conscious. Now, they have found yet another way to make their farms more eco-friendly: by planting vegetative environmental buffers (VEBs).
VEBs are rows of trees and shrubs planted around livestock and poultry facilities that primarily help mitigate odors but could also improve water quality. The idea is catching on.
Through Iowa’s Green Farmstead Partner program, livestock producers work with nursery professionals to address the issues most important to their farm. Since 2009, the program has fielded inquiries from about 50 producers on 75 different sites.
"A buffer can be anything from two rows of trees or bushes to five or six. This program isn’t restrictive because we recognize that each site is different and we work with landowners to plan the best possible space for their facility," says Megan Ritter, senior field coordinator for the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, which partnered with Trees Forever and the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association to create the Green Farmstead Partner program.
An attractive view. Southeast Iowa hog producer Ryan Reed worked diligently with nursery professionals to select the right type of vegetation to surround his hog buildings. Reed planted two rows of Austrees, a row of Norway spruce trees, a row of white spruce trees and a row of bushes, including highbush cranberry, ninebark, hazelnut and arrowwood.
"The best benefit is hearing some of the neighbors who weren’t appreciative of the original plan say how nice our place looks," Reed says. "But we’ve also seen some snow benefit. As the drifts get high, we placed trees where snow would drift to the trees and away from the driveway. We’re also benefiting from shade, odor mitigation and energy efficiency, with the extra shade saving on running fans and less mowing once we get native grasses and wildflowers planted."
Reed says he worked with the county Extension office to identify cost-share programs through the Conservation Reserve Program and the Resource Enhancement and Protection program.
"Money from a cost-share program is typically based on where vegetation is planted, type of plant, if the plant is bare root or potted and how many trees are planted per acre," Reed says. "Rules and regulations tend to differ from county to county and state to state, but some sites could be fully funded if a producer works closely enough to plant the right vegetation."
The Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., Vegetative Environmental Buffers program has planned and planted VEBs in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia for more than 10 years. Program coordinator Jim Passwaters says producers might be surprised at the amount of help available from cost-share programs.
"Most think it will cost them thousands of dollars, but the average farmer here probably spends $200 to $300 out of pocket," Passwaters says.
Water benefits. The focus for VEBs has shifted in the Eastern Shore region during the past 10 years. Passwaters says at first it was mostly air quality control; now the Environmental Protection Agency has his organization more interested in water quality.
"They are looking at water runoff and working on getting grants to collect data on what runoff is occurring and which vegetation is best," Pass-waters notes. "We started with high trees to block the view, but now we want to make sure we’re getting the best bang for the buck and we need to make sure our research and techniques continue to evolve."
By strategically placing VEBs around the farm, producers can see benefits immediately and each year, as the benefits grow—literally.