Across Iowa, farmers are planting trees as 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. 

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 also can reduce stormwater runoff, minimizing erosion and the effects of flooding. In addition, trees can also help reduce soil erosion from strong winds.

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.”

Allison Brown, a Wayne County Farm Bureau member, worked closely with CSIF on siting and neighbor relations when she built a hog barn on her family farm. She has since sold the barn to another young neighbor, but she continues to raise crops and cattle.

“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.”

The Green Farmstead Partner program connected Brown with Lyon, who designed a plan for tree planting to 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. 

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

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 CSIF Executive Director Brian 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.

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 Green Farmstead Partner 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.” 

Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield.

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