The role of vegetated buffers in agriculture and their regulation across Canada and the United States Academic Article uri icon

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  • A vegetated buffer, barrier, or filter strip is a parcel of land that is designated to separate land used for agriculture from valued aquatic or terrestrial habitats. It exists partly with the intent to diffuse runoff and to impeded sediment, nutrients, pesticides, and other constituents from reaching off-site surface waters. Mandatory buffer implementation is regulated at various levels of government in North America - from the federal to the state and provincial levels, and by some municipalities and counties. To better understand the degree and breadth of oversight, we undertook a comprehensive search and review of vegetative buffer regulations across North America. We determined the width of buffer required, under what habitat or field conditions, for which pesticides, and application type, amongst other attributes. For ground application, margins ranged from 1 m to upwards of greater than 4000 m depending on protection goals, with some being compound specific and others being generally applied to all registered pesticides/compounds. These buffers tended to be used most often to protect surface water, groundwater (e.g. drinking water wells), and nearby sensitive crops, but the required distances are generally not consistent between jurisdictions, regardless of the stated protection goals. We recommend that a thorough science-based review take place, with input from relevant stakeholders, to harmonize vegetated buffer size for effective surface water protection where ecological, climatic, and agricultural conditions are sufficiently similar in North America.


  • Gene, SM
  • Hoekstra, PF
  • Hannam, C
  • White, M
  • Truman, C
  • Hanson, ML
  • Prosser, Ryan

publication date

  • August 2019