Designing Multifunctional Buffers to Improve Farm Viability in the Berkshire-Taconic Region of MA, NY, and CT

Project Overview

ENE22-177
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $71,474.00
Projected End Date: 03/01/2025
Grant Recipient: Berkshire Agricultural Ventures
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Ben Crockett
Berkshire Agricultural Ventures

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: agroforestry, pollinator habitat, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: decision support system, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, wildlife
  • Sustainable Communities: public policy, social capital, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem or Opportunity & Justification: 

    The agricultural sector in the Housatonic Valley (MA, CT, and NY) and Hudson River Valley (NY) must reduce its nutrient loading to improve water quality at the watershed level and meet EPA Clean Water Act standards for phosphorus. Many farmers believe there is a trade-off between farm income and ecologically beneficial agricultural practices (e.g. Kooistra et al. 2017, Liu et al. 2018). These perceptions can limit progress toward achieving environmental and conservation goals. Anecdotal evidence collected by the project leads from technical services providers in the Berkshires-Taconic region suggests that it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify farmers and landowners who are interested in reforesting their land. Increasing the awareness and technical skills of technical service providers to design multifunctional riparian buffers, like for-profit agroforestry or for pollinator habitat conservation, provides an opportunity to generate both water quality benefits, profits for farmers, and conservation outcomes for area land conservation organizations. Speaking to a farmer’s bottom line or the co-benefits of adding pollinator habitat can increase the probability that they want to plant riparian buffers on their land and the support for these services. However, there is a gap in technical service providers having the technical expertise to assist a farmer in how to design, install, and maintain these systems through maturity and beyond (20+ years).  

    Solution & Approach: 

    There is an opportunity to craft a regionally-adapted training program that also fosters inter-agency networking amongst technical service providers to accelerate the adoption by farmers of multi-functional riparian plantings. This project will bring together industry experts to train local technical service providers on how to design and implement multifunctional buffers for pollinator habitat and commercial agroforestry as a strategy for overcoming barriers to riparian buffer adoption. Commercial agroforestry is the strategic integration of fruit, nut, and timber trees and shrubs into an existing farming operation. We have crafted our educational programming to include a ‘cohort design’ that will encourage networking and future collaborations amongst the attendees. Together, these efforts will inspire agricultural producers to add more trees to their farms both for water quality, pollinator support, and financial returns. We will train 30 service providers through a 2-year educational program, and the service providers will be grouped into 10 groups of three people. Over the course of the 2 year program, each group will craft a shovel-ready design, complete with landowner outreach strategies, planting plan, economic insights, maintenance plan, and funding strategy, ultimately leading to a high likelihood of implemented projects after the completion of this professional develop grant.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Service Provider Performance Target: 30 agricultural service providers will prepare a total of 50 multi-functional riparian buffer plans with recommendations for clients in their service area. Plans will average 0.5 acres of buffer land or potential buffer land, and at least 25 acres of multi-functional riparian buffers will be designed, developed, or managed in the proposal target area.

    Farmer Performance Target: Of 50 service provider plans created for clients, at least 20 clients will adapt management strategies to create or improve riparian buffers on their land, and at least 5 clients will fully implement SP plans (including design, installation, etc.) during the project time frame.

    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.