Field windbreak plantings increasing
Since the early 1950s, many Kansas landowners have removed their field windbreaks. They have given many reasons, but one of the most often heard was to accommodate irrigation systems and large equipment. But the pendulum is swinging back.
The rate of removal is declining and new field windbreaks are being planted faster than old ones are being removed. Another trend we are seeing is that landowners are favoring one or two row field windbreaks to multi-row windbreaks of say five rows. Research shows that a field can be protected by windbreaks occupying less than 5 percent of that field.
Windbreaks pay their way because they increase crop yields enough to offset the loss of production of the area planted to trees. In fact, field production may be increased by adding a windbreak system.
We did some work in Barton County a few years ago on the Jim and Kari Miller farm southwest of Hoisington dealing with wheat and milo. About 30 feet next to the trees, we didn't raise anything. But the yield in the area that received protection from both north and south winds far exceeded yields in the middle areas out away from the zone of protection. We did this two different years.
A University of Nebraska scientist found that protected fields yielded 25 percent more soybeans and 18 percent more wheat than unprotected fields. He also discovered that a field in continuos wheat would pay back, in 13 years, the cost of establishing the windbreak and the value of the crop that would have grown on the area occupied by the trees.
Studies have also shown that brome, alfalfa, prairie hay, and vegetable crops give higher returns when protected by trees. Work at Tribune, in western Kansas, showed that wheat vegetative growth is increased in tree-protected areas.
Windbreaks will benefit irrigated crops even more than dryland crops, so it is likely on irrigated fields that the yield increase would offset the land taken out of production.
A Nebraska survey has found that farmers see considerable value in field windbreaks. Their reasons for planting trees were, for the most part, to reduce soil erosion and provide protection to livestock grazing winter wheat. Secondary reasons included controlling snow distribution, creating wildlife habitat, and increasing crop yields.
A criticism of field windbreaks is that their shallow rooted trees such as osage orange compete with crops. Such crop loss can be prevented by cutting the trees roots at the edge of the field with a specially designed root pruning plow. K-State and Kansas Wildlife and Parks have shown this can be very effective if repeated every five years. Two of these root plows are kept at Cheyenne Bottoms by Quail Unlimited and Kansas Wildlife and Parks. These can be checked out by farmers.
Also, when planting windbreaks, it is wise not to plant them too close to intersections where traffic view is obstructed as they grow up. Try to keep them at least 200 feet from unmarked intersections so they won't be a factor in a traffic accident. Even where a stop sign is present, a minimum of 100 feet is wise. Planting trees at an angle across the corners of a field may be an alternative but more land is taken out of production.
For information on ordering trees and shrubs for conservation plantings or on windbreak designs and species, contact the Barton County Extension Office, 1800 12th Street in Great Bend or call 316-793-1910.