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Shelterbelts still key to ‘being green’

By Staff | Mar 27, 2009

Greg Marek, District Conservationist for Sioux County, encourages planting windbreaks to reduce erosion, protect the farmstead, control snow deposition, protect livestock and provide wildlife habitat.

ORANGE CITY – Iowa learned early that planting trees around the homestead provided protection from the Plains States’ constant winds. Windbreaks protected their homes from the worst effects of the prairie winds.

They increased energy efficiency then, and continue to be part of a green solution on 21st century farms.

In 1935, shelterbelts got a boost from Franklin Roosevelt’s government during the dust bowl era. Hugh Hammond Bennett, an advisor to FDR, was convinced that soil erosion was a national menace. He believed erosion could be controlled by conservation practices.

While Bennett was testifying before Congress concerning the need for soil conservation legislation, a dusty cloud rolled over the nation’s capital, blotting out the sun, giving Bennett the impetus he needed to get the Soil Conservation Act passed.

In 1937, President Roosevelt recommended to all governors that local landowners form soil conservation districts.

More than 70 years later, each county in Iowa continues to have a Soil and Water Conservation District. Amid other responsibilities, they administer the federal CRP and Shelterbelt programs.

Greg Marek, the Sioux County district conservationist, explains the CRP Conservation Reserve Program, as a cost share program to set-aside environmentally sensitive land from crop production. One of the eligible practices is to plant windbreaks especially on land next to farmsteads.

The benefits include:

  • Keeps homes warmer in the winter.
  • Controls snow deposits.
  • Protects livestock.
  • Provides wildlife habitat.

In order to qualify cropland for set-aside, Marek said the applicant must to be a farmer who is enrolled in the farm program with a crop history for the years 1996 to 2001.

The cost share will pay up to 90 percent of the costs. There is a limitation on how much can be spent on each tree. Annual rental payments are paid for 10 to 15 years to the farmer for land taken out of production. The rental rate is dependent on soil types. In Sioux County that rent averages around $200 per acre.

The Resource Enhancement and Protection program is available to farmers who have no cropping history. It has a pay out of 60 percent cost share.

Marek emphasized that in both programs, the farmer needs to be signed up and approved for funding before planting begins. Often this is done in the winter when the farmer has time and is feeling the effect of the cold winds.

“It isn’t too late to sign up,” said Marek. “The Soil Conservation Board meets monthly and the Farm Service Agency meets twice monthly. They assist with the CRP aspect of the programs.”

Trees can be purchased at some soil conservation offices, or purchased elsewhere. Sioux County expects its shipment of trees to arrive on April 6. Their trees come from Shumacher’s Tree nursery at Lake Heron, Minn. They are cold hardy varieties that are well-adapted to Iowa’s climate. Anyone can purchase the trees at the Soil and Water Conservation District office.

Potted evergreens are sold individually, but trees and shrubs come in bundles of 10 to 25. Prime planting is usually early to mid-April with May 15th the latest possible planting date. A windbreak on the north side of a building does the most good for stopping cold winds.

Ideally, five rows of trees are planted. Row one consists of shrubs, rows two and three are generally deciduous trees. The last two rows are evergreens. Shrubs are planted 4 to 5 feet apart, trees 15 feet apart, 20 feet between rows. They require an inch of water each week. Trees don’t like competition, mulch can be used or the land kept black.

It takes 10 to 20 years to realize the full benefit of a windbreak stopping wind; it only takes a few years for shrubs to do their duty at holding snow.

To contact Renae Vander Schaaf e-mail her at renaefarmnews@gmail.com.

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