DAYTON - A Chinese proverb states that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time is now.
AJ Blair and his wife, Kellie, recently took this advice to heart when they planted 70 new Austrees, or hybrid willows, for a windbreak north of the cattle barn on their Dayton-area farm.
"We want to do the right thing," said AJ Blair, 30, a fourth-generation farmer who noted that the family's monoslope barn for dairy calves offered one of the most economically feasible ways for them to expand their operation.
-Messenger photo by Darcy?Dougherty Maulsby
AJ Blair waters one of 70 newly planted Austrees that will form a windbreak for his cattle barn. The Blair family already has an established windbreak for their hog barn.
On May 24, the Blairs hosted a "Growing Livestock, Growing Iowa" field day on their farm to showcase the Green Farmstead Partner program offered through the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers.
During the event, the Blair family, which has an established windbreak at its hog barn, demonstrated how to plant Austrees on the farm. Not only will this windbreak help protect the environment, but it can help maintain positive relationships with the Blairs' non-farm neighbors, which is important to the family.
"Working through the Coalition's Green Farmstead Partner program has helped us identify cost-share programs and nurseries that have worked with other livestock facilities," said Kellie Blair, 28, who noted that the couple appreciates the opportunity to rear their two young children on the farm.
"This has been a great resource."
Clearing the air
The Green Farmstead Partner program, a collaborative effort between CSIF, Trees Forever and the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association, provides technical information and resources to help families install shelterbelts on livestock and poultry farms.
"This program offers a great way to unite the ag community and the environmental community in one effort," said Rita Cook, a CSIF assistant field specialist.
When properly planted and managed, trees and shrubs around livestock barns and feedlots can help reduce odor emissions by 10 to 15 percent, according to Iowa State University research.
That's important, Cook said, because CSIF research shows that 84 percent of Iowans say the implementation of best-management practices on farms (including the planting of trees and shrubs) gives them a more favorable opinion of livestock farmers.
In addition, strategically-placed vegetative environmental buffers (the technical term for shelterbelts and windbreaks comprised of rows of trees and shrubs purposely planted around livestock facilities) can help:
Protect soil and water quality.
Control snow deposition.
Conserve energy and provide shade.
Reduce objectionable odors.
Improve farm aesthetics.
Enhance neighbor and community relations.
The cost of establishing a new vegetative environmental buffer varies, based on the goals of the farm family, the size of the site and the extent of the project, according to CSIF. Austrees offer a cost-effective solution, since new trees can easily be started from existing ones, said Mark Pingenot, a Trees Forever field coordinator and certified arborist.
Simply cut stems from established Austrees and soak the stems in a bucket of water until roots begin to form, which usually takes a couple of weeks.
"Austrees are very forgiving and are easy to grow," said Pingenot, who noted that it's a good idea to plant a windbreak at least 70 to 80 feet back from a livestock barn to allow enough space for adequate airflow and snow drop.
It's tough to overwater Austrees, Pingenot said, who noted that newly-planted trees generally require about 1 inch of water during their first year and should be watered until the ground freezes.
While Austrees are a relatively short-lived species compared to trees like oaks, there are ways to get around this challenge. "Although an Austree windbreak might only last 40 to 50 years, tops, if you just let it go, you could easily double or quadruple this by coppicing," Pingenot said.
Coppicing is the art of cutting of trees and shrubs to ground level to allow vigorous regrowth. With Austrees, which can be planted six feet apart, coppicing should begin approximately eight to 10 years after planting. Cut every other tree off at the bottom, around ground level, and allow the trees to regrow. When coppicing is done correctly, it can dramatically lengthen the lifespan of a windbreak, Pingenot said.
Although the Green Farmstead Partner program and its partners do not provide any cost-share dollars for the establishment of vegetative environmental buffers, there are numerous federal and state environmental enhancement programs that can help.
These may include the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Resource Enhancement and Protection, and Trees Forever Working Watersheds-Buffers and Beyond Program.
In addition, CSIF encourages landowners to work with a nursery and landscape professional to discuss options for a vegetative environmental buffer. CSIF has a network of 19 nursery and landscaping partners around Iowa who understand the unique requirements of planting trees on farms.