Riparian forest buffersEditor's note
This page currently contains only the introductory section of this guide. For the entire text, please download the PDF.

Ranjith Udawatta
Research Professor, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry

Michael Gold
Research Professor and Associate Director, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry

W.D. “Dusty” Walter
Director, Natural Resources Management, CAFNR Office of Research

Rachel McCoy
University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry

Richard C. Schultz
Professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Iowa State University

Riparian Forest Buffers: An Agroforestry Practice

Agroforestry is an integrated set of land management practices that helps land and forest owners to diversify products, markets and farm income, while simultaneously improving soil and water quality, enhancing wildlife habitat and sustaining land resources for long-term use. The five core practices of agroforestry — alley cropping, silvopasture, riparian forest buffers, forest farming and windbreaks — offer landowners opportunities for short-term income from areas that may not be currently utilized, like the alleyways between crops or stream side forests.

This Agroforestry in Action guide is intended to help you design and manage the interactive agroforestry practice of riparian forest buffers. Properly applied on a landscape, the riparian forest buffer can enhance and diversify farm income opportunities, improve the environment and create wildlife habitat. By developing an understanding of the interactions between the buffer (trees, shrubs and grasses), the stream or bank, and the adjacent upland area, its layout can effectively meet the goals for which it has been established. Riparian buffers improve the quality of the ground water by removing nutrients through uptake by deep rooted trees and microbial removal, a process called denitrification. This service is significantly important as close to 130 million people use groundwater for drinking in the US.

Riparian buffers also serve as a defense for levee breaks and reduce sand deposition on fertile crop lands. Riparian buffers wider than 300 feet can minimize damages from climate change projected large rainfall amounts and intensities. By understanding the requirements of each of the components of the buffer, it can be managed to maintain effectiveness over time, and also sustain its contributions to the farm as an integrated agroforestry practice.

What is a riparian forest buffer?

Riparian forest buffers are planned combinations of trees, shrubs, grasses, forbs and bioengineered structures adjacent to, or within, a stream designed to mitigate the impact of land use on the stream or creek. At the landscape level, riparian forest buffers link the land and aquatic environment, and perform vital ecological functions as a part of the network of watersheds that connect forest, agricultural and urban lands. By establishing, or managing, trees, shrubs and grasses in the zone adjacent to streams or creeks, water quality can be sustained or enhanced. However, to be effective, buffer management and design must include plants that are adapted to the specific riparian environment (flood regime, soils and topography), as well as management guidelines the landowner is willing to follow to keep the buffer healthy and effective.


  • Riparian forest buffer zones benefits
  • Planning and design for riparian forest buffers
  • Management and maintenance
  • Marketing value-added products from buffers
  • Financial considerations
  • Frequently asked questions
  • UMCA riparian forest buffers research


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