Between 2010 and 2013 Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) conducted a special project to engage Plain Sect farmers in Lancaster County in farm conservation projects.
The initiative was focused on improving water quality through the installation of riparian forested buffers, assisting farmers in obtaining the conservation and nutrient planning documents required under state law, and increasing farm profitability through the installation of necessary best management practices (BMPs). CBF encouraged landowner enrollment in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) for riparian forested buffer practices, and also offered “Buffer Bonus” vouchers as an additional incentive. Under Buffer Bonus, participating landowners received vouchers that could be used as cost-share on other farm BMPs, such as barnyard improvements and manure storage facilities. The value of each voucher was based on the acreage of associated forested buffer.
This initiative resulted in 130 acres of new buffer planted in Lancaster County. The project leveraged $1.6 million from several funding partners, including USDA, Pennsylvania DEP, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Richard K. Mellon Foundation, the 1675 Foundation, the Armstrong Foundation, and the Claniel Foundation. Vouchers provided to participating landowners supported the installation of over 300 BMPs and also supported plan development for 41 Amish and Mennonite farms, bringing them into full compliance with state regulations. Recently, CBF has offered Buffer Bonus vouchers in additional locations within Pennsylvania, including Bradford, Tioga, Centre, Mifflin, and Juniata Counties, with similar levels of success. CBF has found that Buffer Bonus, as a non-traditional and non-governmental conservation funding mechanism, can help forge connections with Plain Sect farm communities, who are often underserved by more traditional conservation programs.