Agricultural Wetland Management

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $0.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Federal Funds: $7,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $46,000.00
ACE Funds: $65,000.00
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Diane Rickerl
South Dakota State University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, medics/alfalfa, oats, soybeans


  • Crop Production: nutrient management
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: drift/runoff buffers, wetlands


    The majority of wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region of South Dakota are owned and managed by farmers and ranchers. Studies have shown that farming through and/or adjacent to these Prairie Pothole wetlands has environmental and economic risks. The questions asked in this study are:
    1. Will buffer strips reduce negative environmental and economic effects of farming wetland landscapes?
    2. Are buffer strips socially acceptable?
    3. Are buffer strips around wetlands economically feasible?

    A farm site with 10 seasonal and temporary wetlands was chosen in Lake County, SD. This site had been environmentally and economically monitored for five years. Buffer strips were established in blocks around eight of the wetlands in 1995. In 1997 and 1998, soil/water/plants were analyzed for nutrient content in the buffered and non-buffered wetlands. Surveys were used to determine farmer attitudes about wetland problems and benefits on agricultural land in SD. Budgets were developed for four wetland management scenarios: all acres cropped, buffer blocks and wetlands not cropped (hay cut from buffers), 75' buffers and wetlands not cropped (buffers cut for hay), and buffer blocks and wetlands enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP).

    Results of nutrient analyses show that the wetland buffer vegetation is effectively removing nutrients. This means that the nutrients removed by the buffer are being utilized as hay instead of being lost from agricultural production into the wetland system.

    Farmer surveys indicated that wetland problems included the inability to plant and harvest crops and the maintenance of weedy species in the field. Wetland benefits included wildlife habitat and groundwater recharge. Opinions about the capacity of wetlands to reduce flooding were divided. Although the wetlands store water which can reduce downstream flooding, they retain water so that farmed fields are flooded. Most frequently, economic costs and profitability were cited as the major problem. Survey comments suggested that wetland policies should consider private costs to farmers and not just wildlife habitat or flood control functions of wetlands.

    Economic comparisons of several wetland management scenarios were completed. Long-term cost and return budgets for transitional no-till, conventional and organic systems were prepared for each of the following scenarios: (1) no wetland buffer strips, (2) wetland buffer strips developed by the owner, (3) 75' wetland buffers strips around wetlands (4) enrolling wetlands and buffer strip acreage in the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). Returns were greatest for the WRP scenario regardless of farming system.

    Two wetland demonstration sites were developed. One located on a farm in eastern South Dakota, and one at a university field station. Information centers were constructed at each site as part of a university class service project. The farm demonstration site was utilized for the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture, Harvest Festival and Farm Tour and numerous groups have utilized the university demonstration site.

    Project objectives:

    The overall goal of this project was to increase understanding and public awareness of the role of wetland management in the sustainability of agriculture in the Prairie Pothole Region. Following are three specific objectives.

    1. Select sites for wetland management
    2. Develop and utilize the sites for demonstration and data collection
    3. Evaluate the project from social, economic, agronomic, and environmental perspectives

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.