By Nick Dunn
On my travels throughout the County, I have seen an abundant number of established shelterbelts. In fact, I remember driving through the countryside with Brent Hoyland before he retired last year and him pointing out the now established shelterbelts that he planted many years ago. I was touched and I thought to myself, one day I will be in his shoes and be able to look back and have watched these trees grow along with my career.
Have you ever wondered how these got there, or why they’re there? I can assure you they didn’t spread seed and grow in a straight linear position. Previous generations were aware of the benefits that came with having shelterbelts around field boundaries and yard sites. The main reason shelterbelts were planted was to provide wind breaks. We found many additional benefits thereafter.
Although we don’t utilize shelterbelts like we once did, it’s nice to see some younger shelterbelts in place, proving landowners still see the benefits. There is also a lot of restoration happening with the older shelterbelts, as some of the tree species have reached the end of their life.
So, what are the benefits? Physically, they provide shelter from wind, pests, water and wind erosion, and spray drift. This can be the difference between a crop standing in good condition, and one that is lodged. Shelterbelts act as a border shield, which is our best defense from neighbouring pesticide and fertilizer applications, stopping the spread through drift, water, and soil erosion. In the winter, a shelterbelt will increase crop yields 10 to 20 times the height of the trees from the shelterbelt due to snow trapping and reduced evaporation by providing shade. This can be very significant, especially in a drought year, or the years following. Cereal crops benefit the most from having established shelterbelts.
In terms of livestock, there are physical similarities including protection against strong winds and providing shaded areas in extreme temperatures. Shelterbelts are known for reducing noise levels, dust, and odors which will increase animal health and reduce stress, leading to improved livestock productivity. All of these contribute to having a healthier and productive livestock herd.
On the biodiversity side, they provide a site for pollinators to live, which has been shown to increase canola oil yield per acre by 3%. Increased insect and bird life can also affect the insect pest populations and may help prevent pest outbreaks by welcoming their predators. Flagstaff County has implemented a Pollinator Habitat Establishment Program that was launched in 2022, where the County will seed small plots to contribute to pollinator conservation at no cost to the landowner.
Flagstaff County is committed to supporting the establishment of shelterbelts through our Shelterbelt Establishment Program. Available to County landowners, the application can be found on our website. To order online and for more information, go to https://www.flagstaff.ab.ca/county-services/ag-service-board/shelterbelt-establishment-program. You can also fill out an application by coming into the County office. Landowners will benefit through bulk pricing and 50% of costs on non-specialty trees are covered by Flagstaff County. Specialty tree orders will be eligible for bulk pricing but not the cost-share portion. The deadline to apply for the program is January 31, 2023. Orders will be confirmed and placed in early February and the trees will be available for pickup at the county shop in May. As well, the County also has a tree planter to rent out and a mulcher with plastic mulch available for weed control. Take advantage of this program and plant some trees!
Nick Dunn is Flagstaff County’s Agricultural Fieldman. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at: 780-384-4138.