Soil conservationists encouraging producers to plant more trees
CASSELTON, N.D. — The Cass County Soil Conservation District plans to plant 260,000 linear feet of trees this summer in field windbreaks, farmstead windbreaks and wildlife plantings.
"The windbreaks help a lot in a plain state such as North Dakota," said Jeff Miller, Cass County Soil Conservation District operations coordinator. "It cuts down on wind erosion. It helps hold moisture in the drier years. It actually increases the yield on the crop once it gets away from the height of the tree."
What the trees do is reduce the wind's velocity, Miller said.
"If you've got three or four sections of absolutely no trees, the velocity of the wind can pick up and it will actually lift the soil into the air," he said.
That's something producers saw this winter with very little snow on the ground.
"The tree rows will actually slow it down sooner so that soil may drop out sooner than later," he said. "It also helps keep some moisture in the ground because the roots go down deeper and they're able to hold some of that moisture."
Despite the benefits, Miller said he sees a lot of tree rows being removed. Some have reached their useful life. The green ash, for example, have a lifespan of 100 to 120 years and are getting old, he said.
Others, he said, are coming out to increase field acreage. Shelterbelts can amount to a few acres or more.
"When the commodity prices were high, I think farmers wanted to maximize their acreage," he said.
Tony Peterson, Cass County Soil Conservation District technician, said in the last five or six years he's seen an increase in the removal of ash belts and a fair amount of them are dying out.
"There's a lot of studies that have shown, you'll lose yields 10 or 15 feet closest to the trees, but as it expands out, you gain yield," he said.
The Soil Conservation District has a variety of programs to encourage tree planting, some offering producers 60 percent to 80 percent cost share.
"The advantage that a lot of producers don't know about is the fact that they can get this cost share," he said. "Or a planting can go into a CRP and they'll get paid on the acreage every year."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers a yearly rental payment in exchange for taking environmentally sensitive land out of agricultural production.
When planting, conservationists mix in fast-growing trees with slower growing trees that tend to have a longer lifespan. Trees are chosen based on soil samples.
"In North Dakota, you can't just plant a tree in the ground and it grows," Peterson said. "It's got to be a tree that's suitable for that area."
They use a tree-planting machine to cover a large area in a matter of minutes.
After they plant the trees, many producers will lay down weed-control fabric, Miller said.
"The hardest part of getting a tree row started is controlling the weeds," he said. "It'll still require some maintenance, but a lot less than if the fabric wasn't laid down."
Miller, who used to work in the mining industry, said it feels nicer to plant trees than rip them out.
"It's nice to be able to plant something and to know it's going to be there in the future," he said. "That's the big thing with trees, you're investing in the future."