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Creating good neighbor buffers

By Staff | Apr 16, 2010

WHITTEMORE – Al Laubenthal strolls through his 1-year-old windbreak near this eastern Kossuth County community and assessed how his young trees fared through the winter. Three rows of lilacs, cedars and oaks were planted last spring as a shelter for the north side of his cattle hoop building against the prairie’s prevailing winds.

Laubenthal’s project will be one of a series of field days scheduled this summer by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, which created a new program – Green Farmstead Partner – in September 2009 to encourage farmers to build what it calls vegetative environmental buffers.

VEBs are for disseminating livestock odors, provide wind protection and general aesthetics around a farming operation.

Results of winter survival were mixed. Laubenthal was satisfied that the lilacs were showing no trouble weathering the heavy drifts of snow in which they were buried. In fact, their buds had popped, revealing tiny leaves.

The cedar trees, however, between 12 to 15 inches tall, showed signs of winter burn and many of the trees’ branches were broken by the receding melting snow pulling down on them.

Laubenthal fingered a bare oak branch. “These oaks aren’t very pretty at this stage,” he said. But all-in-all he concluded, his windbreak would eventually grow into its own.

“I’m not going to be around when the windbreak hits its full height,” he said, “but in about 10 years, it’ll start defeating the wind and the snows.”

Besides serving as a barrier against the wind to shelter his cattle, Laubenthal said he was also going for aesthetics, an improvement on the seven-acre parcel, under a hay-corn rotation, that he described was sometimes more of a headache to plant and harvest.

Although he has no nearby neighbors, he knows that when the winds roll up from the south, the trees will break up any cattle odors once they grow taller.

There is plenty of space for at least another row of trees and Laubenthal is considering a future expansion of his windbreak.

Brian Gibson, a forestry consultant west of Humboldt, said he’s worked with several farmers in planning buffers, especially swine operations looking to cut down on odor. “I figure that producers would be doing these things anyway, only now they can get some assistance” through programs like the GFP.

A University of Wisconsin grad, Gibson has worked as a forester for Sac City, a tree manager for a sawmill and opened his own business in 1997. He’s worked on projects funded through the state’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program and the federal Conservation Reserve Program, assisting farm manager with planning and pre-planting of farmstead windbreaks, riparian buffers, quail habitat and filling in windbreaks.

Although the GFP is up and running, Gibson doesn’t expect 2010 to be a busy spring. He said he is working with several producers, all in the early planning stages. One is in Ogden, but several others are still exploring options.

“But I think next spring will be busier. Some projects can be planted during the fall, but there is better tree stock available in the spring.”

GFP

Aaron Putze, director of CSIF, said the Green Farmstead Partner program was created as an incentive to encourage producers to landscape their farms, especially those with livestock in order to break up odors.

The program offers a $250 grant to help in starting a windbreak. The grant doesn’t come close to the overall expense of such odor buffers, but it can help cover consulting fees.

GFP dovetails with other similar state and federal cost-share/grant programs including Trees Forever and the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association, as well as the Natural Resource Conservation Service. It offers timely and cost-effective assistance to farmers wanting to plant trees and shrubs around new and existing cattle feedlots, hog barns and poultry buildings.

Planting VEBs provides numerous benefits for farmers and their neighbors, Putze added. The installation of trees and shrubs also improves neighborhood aesthetics, enhances soil and water quality, helps conserve energy use and creates a more pleasant working condition for farmers and their employees.

Currently there are about two dozen Iowa farm families who are participating in the GFP, said Megan Ritter, CSIF’s senior field coordinator. The partnership also includes a clearinghouse of nurseries, landscapers and forestry consultants in Iowa who have been trained in consulting farmers for specific odor buffer and windbreak needs.

Ritter points to Iowa State University research that determined that landscaping will reduce livestock odors leaving the farm by 10 to 15 percent. Leaves and branches will actually capture some of the odor particles, but the buffer’s presence also breaks-up the wind, forcing it upward, creating turbulence and disseminating the odor

“Farmers who put up vegetative buffers,” Ritter said, “tend to have good community relations.

“And people generally like it when farmsteads are landscaped.”

Putze said his organization will work to expand the program this summer.

“As we look to the future,” Putze said, “we have activities in place to increase the number of nurseries to assist us. (Nurseries and consultants) are the real resource people to help with planning and planting VEBs.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141 or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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