Windbreaks offer shelter

When Phil Shaffer’s dad and grandfather began planting field windbreaks on their Wood County farm back in the 1970s, they were looking for a way to keep the tilled soil from blowing away. Shaffer was a teenager when the first trees went in, and he remembers the need. “We’d get times in the spring you couldn’t see across the road because of the dust blowing,

Windbreaks offer shelter

When Phil Shaffer’s dad and grandfather began planting field windbreaks on their Wood County farm back in the 1970s, they were looking for a way to keep the tilled soil from blowing away. Shaffer was a teenager when the first trees went in, and he remembers the need. “We’d get times in the spring you couldn’t see across the road because of the dust blowing,” he recalls.

Farming practices have changed since then, and these days, Shaffer holds his soil in place using no-till and cover crops. But he still appreciates the long rows of arborvitae that run north and south along his field borders. On a gusty winter day with single-digit temperatures, the shelter offered by the trees is obvious.

“Dad planted them, and I get the benefit,” Shaffer notes.

Besides helping control soil erosion, tree windbreaks can provide wildlife habitat, beautify the landscape and reduce stress on crops, explains Gregg Maxfield, Findlay District forest manager with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry.

Although the trees take some land out of crop production, that yield loss is offset by increased yields on cropland downwind, Maxfield notes. Yields may be lower in the first few rows next to a windbreak, but the reduction in wind stress improves yields in a protected zone equal to about 20 times the height of the windbreak. For instance, Maxfield explains, if a windbreak is 20 feet tall, the protected zone will be about 400 feet (20 feet multiplied by 20).

Windbreaks can also make barns and other buildings more comfortable for both people and animals, Maxfield points out. During severe windstorms, they may prevent building damage, as well.

Key Points

• Tree windbreaks planted for erosion control offer other advantages, as well.

• Reduced stress from wind can improve crop yields.

• Windbreak establishment requires long-term planning.

Gary Wilson, who planted a windbreak of arborvitae and Norway spruce in the early 1990s, says he has been impressed by the wind reduction on his Hancock County farm. In June 2012, when a derecho caused widespread damage across the state, he had some damage to a chicken coop, but he’s convinced the impact on his farm buildings would have been much worse without the windbreak.

“It’s been amazing how much it has protected them,” Wilson says.

Site-specific

The best tree species and placement for a windbreak will depend on site characteristics and the landowner’s conservation goals, says Maxfield, who coordinates the Northwest Ohio Windbreak Program, an interagency effort administered through the ODNR Division of Forestry.

The Shaffer family, for instance, planted single-row windbreaks using arborvitae, which has a relatively narrow profile. This gives them wind protection while maintaining as much cropland as possible. However, using multiple rows and various tree species offers more habitat for wildlife and protects the windbreak against diseases and pests. If one tree species is attacked, others will remain to provide wind protection.

For example, Frank Gibbs surrounded his farm in Hancock County with windbreaks starting with single rows of arborvitae in 1980. Since then he’s added plantings of white pine, Norway spruce and silky dogwood. Even though he has lost a few individual trees, the farm is surrounded by a continuous band of trees that provides wind protection, a privacy screen and wildlife habitat.

“That’s the beauty of having multiple rows,” Gibbs points out.

Ideally, a windbreak should be situated perpendicular to prevailing winds, Maxfield says. Since winds in Ohio come from both the south and the west, a two-legged windbreak on the western and southern edges of a field would provide the most protection. Another consideration is the placement of trees in multiple rows. Offsetting the trees in staggered rows blocks wind more effectively than lining them up side by side.

Although trees are often planted in the spring, site preparation is usually necessary during the fall or winter before planting to give the trees a good start. After planting, grass and weed control is critical, especially the first few years. “They’re not maintenance-free,” Maxfield stresses.

Your local soil and water conservation district can refer you to forestry specialists and other resources. In some areas, cost-share assistance is available, he adds.

Keck writes from Raymond.

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TWIGS TO TREES: Frank Gibbs (right) began planting multiple rows of windbreaks on his farm in 1982. He worked with the Northwest Ohio Windbreak Program, coordinated by Gregg Maxfield (left).

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MULTIPLE BENEFITS: The oldest windbreak on Phil Shaffer’s Wood County farm was planted in 1972. Although no-till and cover crops now help him control soil erosion, he still enjoys other benefits of the trees.

This article published in the March, 2015 edition of OHIO FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.

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