One of the few remaining soil associations in Manitoba has created a windbreak demo site in hopes of showing more landowners there’s more to be gained from renovating shelterbelts than removing them.
The Stanley Soil Management Association received a small grant from the federal Environment and Climate Change Canada program and used the money to create the demo site where an overgrown 50-foot-wide shelterbelt in the Winkler area was thinned down to about 10 feet wide.
The aim is to show landowners who consider tree rows a nuisance that there’s other options besides bulldozing them out of the way, said SSMA’s technician Richard Warkentin.
One of the most common reasons farmers say they’re removing shelterbelts is that they take up too much room on land they could be cropping, he said.
“They feel they’re too wide and they’re encroaching on valuable farmland too much,” he said.
Others say they interfere with moving farm equipment and slow down field work.
SSMA’s $13,000 grant is also being used to develop educational materials about the benefits of shelterbelts. The project’s aim is to help landowners view their shelterbelts as a long-term investment in good landscape management, by evaluating different methods of renovating to maximize the benefits of windbreaks.
There is considerable research demonstrating the ecosystems services and even crop yield benefits shelterbelts provide, said Warkentin.
A study conducted in the RM of Stanley in 2013 cited farmers’ observations related to soil conservation and erosion control provided by shelterbelts. That study also examined problems farmers had with them, including debris, weeds and snow accumulation around them plus the interference with larger farm equipment.
That study also cited the value rural residents placed on shelterbelts within the rural community as a whole.
Warkentin said as the need to mitigate climate change effects intensify, shelterbelts should be recognized for their benefits and the role they play sequestering carbon.
Renovating existing older shelterbelts rather than removing them will allow them to continue to provide those benefits, he said.
“This is an awareness project, to let people know that shelterbelts are valuable and there’s options to keep them rather than to remove them totally,” he said.
The association is planning a workshop for March 14 where there will be presentations made on tree planting and renovation techniques including pruning and interplanting plus discussions on the role of shelterbelts in the agro-landscape.
The Stanley Soil Management Association has been selling trees since the demise of the PFRA and Warkentin estimates it has sold around 45,000 in the last five years. The planting area has been extended beyond the RM and will go as far as it’s feasible to take planting equipment, he said.
The association itself was founded in 1984 during a period when local farmers were concerned about drying conditions in agro-Manitoba. The organization was incorporated in 1987. During the 1990s Farming for Tomorrow era it was planting as many as 50 miles a year of shelterbelts, Warkentin said.
“A lot of the shelterbelts you see in the countryside around here right now were probably planted 30-some years ago,” he said. If these trees stay healthy they could last another half-century, he added.
For more information contact the Stanley Soil Management Association at 204-362-0352 or email: [email protected].