By Harry Brook
In many parts of the prairies there is a tendency to remove existing shelterbelts to create larger fields, to improve field efficiencies, and allow the use of larger farm equipment. This is not necessarily a gain but comes at a cost.
Shelterbelts were originally planted during and after the dirty '30s to reduce wind erosion in the fields. Some may think that was the only reason for planting them and zero tillage has made them obsolete. Wrong! Shelterbelts provide a range of benefits other than preventing wind erosion. They are excellent at reducing wind velocity up to 20 times their height into the field. They collect snow moisture to the benefit of the following year’s crop. Trees also provide shelter for crops from strong winds. A producer in the county stated his peas did not lodge and yielded higher than other peas that did not have the benefit of the windbreak. Peas that stand are a lot easier to harvest.
Shelterbelts also provide an environment to increase pollinating species of insects. Canola seed growers have both leaf cutter bees and honeybees placed around their fields to increase seed production. A shelterbelt provides a refuge for pollinating insects as well as increasing insect and plant diversity. It can even play a part in providing natural predators to control crop damaging insects.
Before you plant a shelterbelt, consider the soils, location and moisture in which these trees and shrubs will become established. Not much point planting willows in a sandy, dry area. Using a mix of shrubs and trees provides more windbreak effect. A varied number and type of trees means no one disease or insect pest will wipe out the entire stand.
One tip for establishing or renovating a shelterbelt is to use a diverse number of tree and shrub species. Ones that are well adapted to the prairies will have the greatest chance of establishing. It is very important to control weeds in the first few years after planting as weeds will out-compete the trees and shrubs for nutrients and moisture. Plastic mulch when planting can give your seedling trees a fighting chance. If you want to renovate an existing shelterbelt, plant into the existing one as the larger trees will provide shelter for the seedlings. In some cases, shelterbelt trees will supply their own replacement seedlings.
The county has been coordinating the purchase of shelterbelt trees for county ratepayers for several years. This year, the county will not be able to fund 50% of the cost of the trees and full cost will be borne by the individuals. The county will continue to be a central purchaser of trees, to obtain bulk discounts and will assist in distribution and shipping. Tree planters and plastic mulch are available at cost, along with the applicator.
If you are interested in getting some trees for a shelterbelt in the field or around your yard site, please go to the order form on the Flagstaff County website HERE. As this is the New Year, we are also including the following videos for more information on planning and planting shelterbelts.