The Green Farmstead Partner program helps farmers and the environment.

Early settlers in Iowa quickly learned two things. One, the wind whipped across the open prairie with fierce determination. And two, if they dug cedar saplings from the creek bank and replanted them in a row along the edge of their homestead, they could keep the wind at bay. 

All across Iowa, farmers continue to plant windbreaks, reaping the multiple benefits. The Green Farmstead Partner program, offered by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF), helps farmers plant trees around livestock barns and facilities. 

CSIF is a non-profit, non-lobbying organization formed in 2004 to help livestock farmers “do it right.” It helps farmers interpret rules and regulations and offers counseling for good neighbor relations and positive environmental impact. All at no cost to farmers. 

“Iowa livestock farmers are community-minded and take great pride in their work and commitment to the well-being of their animals and the environment,” says CSIF Executive Director Brian Waddingham. 

Supported by Trees Forever and the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association, the Green Farmstead Partner program focuses on plantings at livestock facilities to add aesthetics and energy savings as well as odor control. 

Iowa State University research shows windbreaks can reduce odor around livestock barns and feedlots by as much as 30%. 

Not only do trees filter the air and produce oxygen, but they can also reduce stormwater runoff, helping to reduce erosion and the effects of flooding. A windbreak can also help reduce soil erosion from strong winds.

Immediate advantages for farmers are decreased energy use and the ability to direct snow accumulation.

For landscape designer Ted Lyon, the benefits reach beyond the farm.

“It’s an opportunity to plant more trees,” says Lyon, a landscape designer with Country Landscapes Inc. of Ames, a Green Farmstead partner. “It means more and more diverse vegetation in the landscape, more biodiversity.”

Lyon grew up on a farm and knows full well the benefits of a windbreak to the farm and to the Iowa landscape.

“Everybody appreciates trees,” adds Lyon. “Even if they don’t really notice them, they notice when they’re not there.”

Helping young farmers get a start

Allison Brown, a Wayne County Farm Bureau member, also grew up on a farm, raising crops, hogs and cattle.

After earning her associate degree at Kirkwood Community College and a bachelor’s degree at Northwest Missouri State in agricultural business, she seized the opportunity to return to the family farm in 2014.

That opportunity involved raising livestock, including cattle and hogs.

“All across Iowa, young people like me are wanting to return to the farm,” says Brown. “Livestock is a way for us to do that.”

Brown has since sold her hog barn to another young neighbor, who appreciates Brown’s investment and eye on the future.

“This community is important to me; it’s my home. The hog barn gave me the opportunity to invest in my community while carrying on my family farm’s legacy that started eight generations ago,” adds Brown. She continues to raise crops and cattle.

Brown worked closely with CSIF on siting and neighbor relations throughout the entire process of constructing the facility.

The Green Farmstead Partner program connected her with Lyon, who worked to design a plan for a tree planting that would improve the eye appeal of the site. Local FFA students helped with the planting.

“I’m proud of what we did and how it looks today,” says Brown. 

Knowing what to plant

Brown’s windbreak is typical, with two rows of fast-growing Austree hybrid willows and one row of slower growing Norway Spruce evergreens.

Lyon says it is crucial to plan long-term as the relatively inexpensive willows have a limited lifespan of about 15 years. Evergreens can be a bit more costly and can take years to develop, but they will remain long after the willows are gone.

Some farmers are seizing the opportunity to enhance wildlife, bird and pollinator habitat by including flowering trees and scrubs.

“Ornamental and fruit trees around the farm further improve aesthetics,” says Waddingham. “Flowering crabapple and maple trees are two very popular trees to plant between the barn and road to beautify the farm. Many farmers are also looking to plant shrubs to enhance the look of their farm.” Popular varieties of shrubs to plant on livestock farms include red twig dogwood and lilacs.

Lyon says serviceberries and flowering crab trees attract pollinators and fruit trees serve a dual purpose, as a windbreak and potential secondary income. The same goes for aronia berry bushes and nut trees.

Lyon stresses diversity is crucial.

“Beware of planting just one species,” he says. “You don’t want to get into a Dutch Elm or emerald ash borer situation where a disease or pest can wipe everything out.”

Making things grow

The Green Farmstead Partner program provides both an opportunity to plant trees and add plant diversity to the Iowa landscape and to provide an avenue for farmers and their neighbors to reach a common goal.

“Participating in the GFP program visually demonstrates to their neighbors and community members the farmer’s commitment to enhancing the environment – both financially and in the time spent planting, mulching and watering the plantings,” says Waddingham. “It demonstrates their commitment to doing things right.”

“I like what CSIF is doing because it is showing there is a way to do production agriculture and conservation at the same time,” says Lyon. “The two can co-exist without being at odds with each other.”

CSIF, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is funded by the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation, Midwest Dairy and the North Central Poultry Association.

Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield.