Native Perennial Grasses in Multifunctional Riparian Buffers for Improving Water Quality and Farm Profitability

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2018: $14,991.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2020
Grant Recipient: The Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Thomas Richard
Penn State University


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial)


  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension
  • Natural Resources/Environment: riparian buffers

    Proposal abstract:

    In 2010 the EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to restore clean water to the Bay watershed by 2025, after decades of water pollution that harmed aquatic life, commercial fisheries, and recreation. Much of that pollution is associated with agriculture. Pennsylvania aims to meet the TMDL goals largely through the adoption of riparian buffers, which are a proven practice for reducing nutrient and sediment pollution to surface waters in the watershed. But the state is off-track in meeting its goal of 110,000 acres of buffers by 2025, and many farmers are reluctant to give up cropland on rich floodplain soils. Multifunctional buffers can help address this concern by allowing farmers to harvest and profit from portions of buffers. However, there is a need to reach consensus on where to plant new buffers, what multifunctional vegetation is appropriate to the region, and how to balance farm profitability with pollution reduction. There is also a need for decision-relevant information for farmers and policymakers that documents the return on investment for the environment, agriculture, social communities and rural economies. This research aims to fill these gaps through farmer engagement, scenario modeling, field study and demonstration of native perennial grasses in multifunctional riparian buffers. It is anticipated that perennials can simultaneously improve water quality, soil fertility and farm profitability. The results of this study will have relevance across and beyond the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and will be disseminated to farmers and other stakeholders in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Specific objectives of this study are to:

    1. Develop a strategic plan for planting perennials in riparian buffers on economically marginal cropland for three Pennsylvania farms.

    2. Determine the water quality benefits of converting conventional annual cropland to multifunctional buffers on economically marginal land.

    3. Evaluate the economic benefit of planting multifunctional buffers.

    4. Understand whether and how perennials can be used to improve agricultural sustainability through multifunctionality and commodity diversity.

    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.