What's up with Windbreaks

July 12, 2018

Here at the Sustaining Family Forests Initiative, we’ve been thinking about windbreaks a lot recently because we’ve been working with the Great Plains Initiative. This project brings together the forestry agencies and partners from four states - North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas - to establish well-functioning windbreaks in priority regions.

Windbreaks offer farming communities a number of benefits, including protecting the soil, reducing snow drifts, and sheltering crops and cattle from drying or icy winds. Windbreaks became pretty important in the Great Plains in the years following the dust bowl, but interest in them has waxed and waned over the years, as funding to establish and maintain them has done the same. Because of years of neglect, new crop watering technology, fluctuating crop prices, and a general disinterest in having trees on the landscape, many older windbreaks have fallen into disrepair or have been torn out. The Great Plains Initiative, now in its second phase, seeks to address this issue.

In May 2018, the SFFI team facilitated a strategy meeting and workshop to support the Great Plains Initiative. On the first day, leaders from the four states met to design the overall strategy and priorities for the project. This included making sure that everyone was on the same page about the goals of the project and that these goals were realistic given the available funding and human resources. Based on these conversations, we developed four outreach project scenarios focused on desired landowner actions (e.g. planting or renovating windbreaks) in specific priority areas.

Great Plains Initiative TELE participants enjoyed a tour of the surrounding grounds.

On the second and third days, practitioners from each state joined the meeting. They split into mixed-state groups to work through the TELE process for each of the four projects. These groups identified the barriers the farmers see to planting and maintaining windbreaks, from the aesthetic (I want to see my farm from horizon to horizon), to the practical (How many rows of crops are you asking me to give up?!), to the social (Windbreaks aren’t part of what a “tidy” farm looks like around here).  They then weighed these barriers against the benefits of windbreaks for specific types of farmers to develop outreach themes such as:

  • Convincing non-traditional farmers to see windbreaks as an investment in long-term sustainability;
  • Drawing on the strong hunting culture in some parts of the region to promote windbreaks as wildlife habitat;
  • Removing the misconception that modern windbreaks need to be as wide as windbreaks from the ‘30s; and
  • Publicizing new funds for the restoration of windbreaks.

Each state is now working to develop these ideas for implementation in their own priority areas. Stay tuned to see what they do and how it goes.

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