tree planting
November 28, 2023

Windbreaks can serve many purposes in agricultural operations, such as preventing soil erosion,  providing wildlife habitat, and sequestering carbon. Another beneficial attribute of windbreaks is their ability to protect crops and improve crop production.

Wind can have detrimental effects on soil and agricultural crops. Persistent winds can decrease soil temperature, increase water loss, and lead to erosion. Wind exposure can damage crops, causing yield and quality loss through desiccation, abrasion, bruising, and breakage.

A windbreak often increases crop yields enough to compensate for the land taken out of production in the windbreak’s footprint and any yield loss occurring directly adjacent to the windbreak. For example, in dry conditions, crops struggle to maintain adequate moisture, so increased transpiration and loss of soil moisture due to heat and wind can be devasting. Typically, the positive yield benefits of windbreaks are most significant in drier years. By redirecting the wind, windbreaks create microclimates that facilitate pollinator visits, enhancing crop production.

There are tradeoffs between how much of a field is taken up by the windbreak and how much benefit is created by the windbreak. Generally, less than 5% of the field should be planted in windbreaks to maximize yield. To achieve this,  most crop protection windbreaks comprise a single row of tall trees, as this occupies the least space, protects the area downwind, and decreases the number of windbreaks needed. In general, windbreaks increase crop yields most in the area of the field that is 3 to 10 times their height downwind from the windbreak, with some benefits seen even at 15 times the windbreak’s height.

Due to climate change, growing seasons may include frequent and intense droughts, heat waves, and unusual weather patterns. Windbreaks are a key tool to help producers manage risk, maintain crop production, and enhance crop quality in the face of these challenges. Windbreaks can support other soil health and climate adaptation practices.

Agricultural producers should consider how a windbreak can best serve their farms. Important factors in planning include windbreak density, area, height, prominent wind direction, and crop species needing protection. Collaborating with natural resource professionals can help ensure a windbreak is designed and located to meet each farmer’s needs. If you are interested in planting a windbreak or shelter belt this spring, contact the LCNRD at 402-254-6758 or NRCS in Hartington, Bloomfield, or Ponca to learn more.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service

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