The benefits of windbreaks

Published: Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 3:13 p.m. CDT

Windbreaks are plantings of rows of trees, shrubs and grasses that can help protect people, livestock, crops, soil and wildlife from winds harmful effects. Depending on your resource concerns, there are different wind-break types that can be installed. Some on these include: Farmstead shelterbelts, feedlot shelterbelts, screens for noise, vision, and odor, field boundaries, wildlife travel corridors, screens to reduce chemical drift and living snow fences.

What are the benefits of having a windbreak? Depending on the problem that a windbreak is addressing, it can provide many benefits. Windbreaks can increase income, provide protection, create a living snow fence, store carbon, reduce odor and enhance aesthetics. Some of the major benefits of installing a windbreak are:

• Windbreaks can prevent soil erosion that encompasses an area of 10 to 20 times their height.

• Windbreaks can increase crop production by reducing water use, increasing soil and air temperature, and reducing chemical drift.

• Windbreaks decrease heating and cooling costs. In the winter, windbreaks reduce cold air infiltration into buildings. In the summer, evaporation from leaves cools the air.

As living snow fences, they reduce snow drifting near roads, buildings, livestock and aid in distributing snowfall evenly over large areas.

• Windbreaks can create sheltered areas for feeding, calving and other livestock activities.

• In areas where habitat is limited, windbreaks can provide food, cover and travel corridors for wildlife.

• Windbreaks provide permanent visual screens in the landscape.

• An additional benefit to any windbreak is the establishment of a carbon storage area. As trees convert CO2 to biomass, they create a long-term storage for atmospheric carbon.

• Windbreaks may be placed as a buffer around livestock operations to reduce the movement of odor and dust created by the operation.

Each windbreak is unique to the site and the resource concern that is it addressing. The orientation for the windbreak should be at right angles with the prevailing wind. They are often planted in an L-shape or arc to create a larger area of protection. The height of trees in your windbreak determines the protected area, while the length helps determine the total area protected. To get the best coverage from your windbreak, the optimum ratio is 10:1 for length and height. For example, if your height is 25 feet, then your optimum length would be 250 feet.

Whether you are interested in lowering your heating bills or providing wildlife habitat, a windbreak might be something for you to consider. For more information or for assistance planning your own windbreak, call the Bureau County Soil and Water Conservation District at 815-875-8732, ext 3. You may also come see us at the Princeton USDA Service Center located at 312 E. Backbone Road, Princeton.

Emily Gann is an administrative resource conservationist for the Bureau County Soil and Water Conservation District.

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