Crop-bearing Windbreak/Shelterbelt Project

Final Report for FNC99-289

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1999: $8,970.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
FS Funds: $4,875.00
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Expand All

Project Information


This was a group project, and the group Farms Forever is very diverse. It consists of tree farmers (at least 4), conventional grain and livestock farmers, local businessmen, and natural resource conservation professionals.

Our farm consists of 55 acres of mostly rugged forestland with about 7-8 acres devoted to production of high value tree crops and other forest related products. We also raise dairy goats, broiler chickens, and occasionally sheep.

We have been striving for sustainability since we acquired the farm in 1986. in all our farming activities we keep the soil covered with vegetation or mulch to reduce soil erosion. Whenever possible, vegetation is controlled by mowing, grazing, or mulch and we are working toward eliminating chemical usage altogether. Our crops are grown in polycultures to maintain biodiversity, including wild plants and animals. Because our crops are perennials and don’t need replanting every year, and we do all our planting by hand, we are able to minimize fossil fuel consumption.

Project goal: to promote and cost share crop bearing windbreaks, shelterbelts, and riparian buffer strips as a more profitable and environmentally sustainable alternative to conventional agriculture.

The Farms Forever group met in August 1999 to discuss how the project would be administered. In order to distribute funds more evenly, a maximum limit of $1250 in cost sharing per project from Farms Forever was imposed. Suitable projects were selected on a first come basis until all funds were obligated. A written plan was developed, and a maintenance agreement was signed by the landowner for each project, and these remain on file with Farms Forever. Project participants were recruited from a three county area, including Louisa, Washington, and Johnson. Four participants came from the ranks of Farms Forever. Five projects were planned, and then canceled either because the participant backed out, or because he just never got around to doing the work. When a project was canceled, another was selected from a waiting list. Eventually 16 separate projects were planned, completed and cost shared.

Project Cooperators
- Stan Tate, Iowa DNR District Forester – workshop speaker, also filled in for another speaker who backed out at the last minute
- Connie Ramirez, NRCS District Conservationist – landowner contacts and processing applications for CRP cost sharing
- Wendell Jones, NRCS District Conservationist – landowner contacts and processing applications for CRP cost sharing
- Bill Ohde, Iowa DNR Wildlife Biologist – assisted with planting designs and with additional cost sharing through the DNR’s Shelterbelt Program
- Tim Thompson, Iowa DNR Wildlife Biologist – assisted with planting designs and additional cost sharing through the DNR’s Shelterbelt Program
- Jim Rudisill, Director, Langwood Institute of Forest Economics – provided facilities for and assisted with March 2000 workshop.
- Tom Wahl – applicant, workshop and field day speaker, and project participant. Assisted with planning design and layout for almost all of the projects. Provided participants with information on species selection, nursery sources, planting and maintenance techniques.

Project Participants
- Keith Lawrence
- Larry Cuddeback
- Ken Speilbauer
- Jack Reif
- Delbert Krotz
- Virgil Miller
- David Pierce
- Jeff Zackarakis
- Patricia Woepking
- Shawn Dettman
- Roger Hunt
- Wendell Jones
- Joe Wisnousky
- Richard Reihman
- Janet Utter
- Tom Wahl

Results and Discussion:
Farms Forever assisted with the planning, planting and cost sharing of 16 different tree planting projects in three counties during the 2000 growing season. 2401 crop producing trees, shrubs, and vines were planted in those projects, including chestnuts, heartnuts, black walnuts, hazels, pecans, persimmons, pawpaws, and bittersweet vines. One workshop and one field day were held with a total of 25 attendees. Few if any of these projects would have been completed, or even planned, without the assistance of the SARE grant.

It was assumed at the start of this project that the loss of income from the land occupied by a tree planting was the biggest barrier, and the prospect of a good income from high value crop bearing trees would make tree planting attractive to many rural landowners. I believed many additional tree plantings would be inspired by publicity about this project, even without cost sharing. I was wrong. Based on the number of people who showed interest, but ultimately decided not to plant trees without cost sharing, I now conclude the promise of income in the future is not enough incentive for most people to plant trees. Cost sharing for the tree planting seems to be an essential ingredient for most people. For many, an income from CRP rental in the interim, before the trees begin bearing crops, is needed in addition to cost sharing before they would be willing to make such a long term investment.

I believe a government program specifically to cost share the long term investment in sustainable agriculture systems such as this is needed.

One workshop was held in March 2000. It was advertised in 8 newspapers and 4 radio stations. The workshop was aimed mainly at project participants in provide them with information on planting and maintaining trees. The public was invited and background information on the project and the SARE program was provided. An eight page paper on the selection of species for crop bearing windbreaks was distributed (and continues to be distributed by website and mailings several hundred so far).

Eighteen people attended the workshop, and most were not project participants.

A field day was held on the property of Keith Lawrence in October 2000, to highlight the achievements of the project. His tree planting, plus another on an adjacent farm were examined and discussed in detail, including species selection, planting and maintenance, and economic prospects. In spite of good publicity (press releases to 14 newspapers and 9 radio stations) only 7 people attended. Several people who said they wanted to attend but couldn’t, called for information either before or after the field day.

By far the most important results will be observed and the greatest outreach achieved several years from now when these plantings start producing crops – and income for the landowners. It is then that people will see with their own eyes a good income from a small parcel of land is possible without soil erosion, chemicals, or expensive machinery. Until then it is only theory and expectation. We are getting a hint of what is possible now. About a dozen Chestnut plantings made between 1992 and 1995 in this area have begun producing marketable quantities – nearly one ton this year. Prices received have been as high as $3 per pound, and people are beginning to notice.

To stay updated on what's happening at the farm today visit


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.