Pork and trees
Field day showcases decade of conservation at hog farm
GRAND JUNCTION — When Elizabeth Daly of Cedar Rapids heard about a field day at a swine farm near Grand Junction, she was willing to drive a few hours to check out how Bruce and Jenny Wessling have incorporated two windbreaks near their finishing barns.
“I’m concerned about environmental degradation and really wanted to see this farm in person,” said Daly, a retired Bankers Trust private banking manager who serves as a foundation trustee with Trees Forever, a Marion-based nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees and encouraging environmental stewardship. “I’m pleased that the Wessling family shows a real concern for the environment.”
Trees Forever and the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) hosted a field day on June 19 show how pork producers can utilize trees in windbreaks. The Wesslings, who’ve been honored as 2014 Pork Industry Environmental Stewards by the National Pork Board, have planted hundreds of trees and shrubs at their two swine finishing sites. The first windbreak was planted at the Wessling’s farm east of Grand Junction in 2009. This spring, they planted their second windbreak, filled with Norway spruce, cedar trees and austrees (hybrid willows), on a site southwest of Grand Junction, where they have two 2,500-head finishing barns.
“We want to protect water and air quality and live in a healthy environment,” said Jenny Wessling, whose family farm provided the first site for the CSIF’s Green Farmstead Partner program a decade ago. “Our daughter Jolee and her fiance, Austin, are planning on staying on the farm, and we want this to continue to be a good place to live.”
Putting windbreaks to work
The Green Farmstead Partner program works with Trees Forever and the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association to serve livestock farmers across Iowa. With the help of 26 nursery professionals around the state, this unique initiative provides guidance to farmers who want to plant more trees and shrubs.
“Trees are good-neighbor enhancers,” said Brian Waddingham, CSIF’s executive director, who noted that all livestock farmers are eligible for the program, no matter the type or size of their operation. “The Green Farmstead Partner program can help, whether you’re building a new site, have been in the business for years or simply want to update your existing grove.”
Planting trees and shrubs serves as a natural odor filtration system, in addition to beautifying the landscape. Windbreaks have been proven to reduce odor by 10 to 15 percent around livestock barns, according to Iowa State University research. The leaves and needles of the trees capture dust and odor particles, plus trees force air currents upward, causing a tumbling and mixing effect that helps disperse odor.
Trees and shrubs can also provide habitat and food sources for birds, pollinators and wildlife. Bruce Wessling appreciates how his windbreaks improve aesthetics at the farm, control snow so it’s less likely to drift on driveways and roofs, and save him money in the long run.
“We’ve noticed a decrease in our power bills for electricity and propane since we added the trees and shrubs,” he said. “Snow removal is also easier.”
While farmers are not required by law to plant trees on their livestock farm, Iowa producers have planted nearly 70,000 trees through the Green Farmstead Partner program since it started in 2009.
“This is a great example of why a voluntary approach works better than a regulatory approach,” said Aaron Putze, director of communications and external relations for the Iowa Soybean Association, who spoke at the field day. “Farmers will embrace programs that work and make sense.”
Steps to success
There are a number of cost-share programs for planting a farm windbreak. Possible options include:
• Trees Forever Working Watersheds–Buffers and Beyond Program
• Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
• Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP)
• Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
• Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP)
The cost of the Wessling’s second windbreak was approximately $2,400, although cost-share dollars covered about 50 percent of the project, Bruce Wessling noted.
A good windbreak can last 60 to 100 years, depending on the types of trees included, said Brad Riphagen, field coordinator for Trees Forever. Even shorter-lived trees like austrees can play a role in a new windbreak.
“They create a lot of quick growth and help the other trees and shrubs get established,” said Riphagen, who spoke during the Wessling’s field day.
Once the rest of the windbreak is established, austrees can be cut back, he noted. This stimulates new growth through a process called coppicing. Basic management is a key to success with any windbreak, Riphagen added.
“The big thing is to manage competition by keeping the grass mowed. Most of a tree’s feeder roots are in the top 1.5 feet of the soil, so if you have grass growing there, too, all those roots are competing for the same water and nutrients.”
CSIF offers these steps to success:
• Assess the site and determine what benefits are desired from planting a windbreak. For assistance, contact CSIF at 800-932-2436.
• Contact one of the nurseries that participates in the Green Farmstead Partner program to schedule a consultation.
• Check with local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices to see if your windbreak plan qualifies for cost-share funds.
• Once the landscaping/windbreak project is complete, contact CSIF for a free, personalized Green Farmstead Partner program sign to display at the farm site.
Anna Gray, public policy director for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, was impressed by what she saw during the field day at the Wessling’s farm.
“I’d love to see more of this kind of collaboration between agriculture and conservation groups,” she said.
For more information, visit www.supportfarmers.com/green-farmstead-partner-program.