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Windbreak and crop yield study

Gary Wyatt, Extension educator - agroforestry

Recent land values, farm innovations and management such as adoption of no-till, minimum till, use of wide farm equipment, and windbreak plantings that are just getting old, have led to many windbreaks being removed. In time, windbreaks need to be renovated to restore the multiple benefits they offer rural landscapes. There are cost share programs available to plant new windbreaks and renovate mature plantings through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In most areas where windbreaks were planted, there have been documented crop yield increases.

Researcher John Kort of Canada in 1988, compiled 50 worldwide windbreak studies conducted from 1934 to 1984. The distance is measured in units of the height of the windbreak, and results show that, as expected, yields are hampered out 1 to 1-1/2 times the height. But yields steadily increased out from the windbreak 6 to 12 times the height. This means that 40-foot tall trees, yields suffer 40 to 60 feet away from the windbreak, but they benefit an area about 500 feet out, or roughly 12 times the height of the trees. This world study found that, within the protected zone of the windbreak, spring wheat yields increased an average of 8%, corn by 12%, soybeans by 13%, and winter wheat by 23%. The percent of these benefits would likely surprise many agricultural producers.

“In 2007, a windbreak crop yield study was conducted in SW Minnesota. Nine fields were studied. Crop yields were measured with combine yield monitoring systems. The data varied from site to site. Some crop yield increases were from 2 – 3 % while other fields showed yield losses of 0 – 2 % from field averages,” says Gary Wyatt, Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension.

A team of NRCS and University Extension specialists are conducting a 2015 Great Plains Windbreak Crop Yield Study to evaluate crop yields around field windbreaks using modern crop yield monitoring systems. A more complete summary of the study is found in the January issue of the Furrow Magazine.

“We are looking for farmers to participate in this windbreak study to validate crop yields around windbreaks, taking modern farming techniques into account,” adds Ginger Kopp, Agroforester with NRCS in St. Paul, MN.

Farmers who have a field windbreak(s) and a crop yield monitoring system and are interested in being part of this Great Plains Windbreak Crop Yield Study, please contact Ginger Kopp, or Gary Wyatt,  or 888-241-3214.
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  1. I think the picture would be much more "pro-windbreak" if these studies did not take just current yields into account but the long-term effect of top soil loss minimization. Currently soil loss is a bit masked by using artificial fertilizer but in the long run planting cannot be effective without rich top soil strata. And ... this has historic precedents. There are now studies that suggest that the current contemporary layers of deposits of top soil lost in recent decades and years found in the Gulf of Mexico are totally similar to those found in historical strata preceding the collapses of Rome or Mesopotamia. We should heed these warning signs and not try to eek out yields from the last square inches but losing the big picture in the process.


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