Tree buffers are very helpful for farmers and have multiple benefits. For many, it can provide an aesthetically pleasing barrier to livestock and reduce animal odors and noise. Buffers also can protect livestock and crops from snow and high wind, and can give environmental benefits by reducing soil erosion.
Whether it’s for a first-time buffer or replacing or renovating a damaged windbreak, there’s plenty to consider during the purchasing process. Buffers can take a long time to establish, and picking the right tree for each specific farm is crucial.
Buffers often come as part of a cost-share or grant program. One example: the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) land buffer grant allows farmers to receive up to $2,500 toward a tree buffer for their operation. One of the main designers for this project is Ted Funk, who has been involved since 2016 and spent 33 years as an Extension agricultural engineer for the University of Illinois. He has assisted on 50 different projects.
Surroundings are key
Funk works directly with farmers to determine the best design for the buffer and what tree will be most effective. In-person visits to farms provide the best chance to see the land and understand what specific needs are required in the collaborative design process. He said communication and being aware of the potential tree buffer’s surrounding area are crucial in the success of its implementation.
“If it’s in row crops, sometimes we see chemical drift and things like this killing the trees because the hog facility owner and the crop owner next door don’t coordinate spray applications,” Funk added. “If there’s substantial drift, you can sometimes have a lot of injury or completely wipe out a tree species.”
Lean on the experts
Funk depends on nurseries and USDA guidance for expert recommendations on tree and shrub species. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), part of USDA, has a list of general criteria and suggestions for windbreaks and tree buffers. Some trees provide fast growth but are not suitable for the long term, he said. Funk recommends going through the NRCS list of native trees and shrubs. He said, particularly in Illinois where there are very different soil types in the northern and southern parts of the state, soil can make or break a tree buffer.
Tunnel ventilation is a commonly used part of modern swine buildings, and Funk said maintaining a 50-foot distance between tunnel fans and your tree buffer is a necessity.
“If you put it any closer, the trees will die. The fans will desiccate the trees and they cannot survive, so you’ve got to be careful,” he added.
Finally, Funk said patience is important. With most windbreaks and tree buffers, it can take a while to see the fruits of your work as the trees and shrubs grow.
Replacing damaged windbreaks
When existing buffers are damaged by storms and need to be refurbished or replaced as a whole, it can often take years before buffers get repaired.
Alex Frazier, of Frazier Nursery in Benton County, Iowa, said it took two years for most of the requests for replacement and buffer repairs following the August 2020 derecho that caused massive damage across the Midwest. Frazier said because many farmers focus on fixing damage done to houses, barns, crops, and more before their windbreaks, it can be a long time before the process begins.
Frazier Nursery is a part of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) Green Farmstead Partner Program, which provides a database of more than 20 tree nurseries in the state that can help farmers set up a windbreak or repair a windbreak.
More than 80,000 shrubs and trees have been planted on livestock farms since its inception.
Much like when establishing a windbreak, Alex said the process to repair buffers can take six to eight months and starts with a visit to the farm.
Much of his work is referenced in or has to be approved by the NRCS cost-sharing program. That impacts which types of trees can be used and how much the cost of the project is shared by the farmer.
“No two windbreaks are the same or should be the same, because they’re designed very specific for the user,” he added.