“Windbreaks of the Great Plains,” is the latest Story Map website put together by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agroforestry Center in Lincoln, Neb., along with other federal and state agency partners.

This map tells the story of these plantings starting with the history of the Dust Bowl and the Prairie States Forestry Project. One of the map’s research tabs is titled: The Dirty Past. When you click on the link, a Woody Guthrie Quote is typed over a black and white photograph of one of the great dust storms that pummeled portions of the Midwest in the Dirty Thirties, “The storm took place at sundown. It lasted through the night, when we looked out next morning, we saw a terrible sight. We saw outside our windows where wheat fields they had grown, was now a rippling ocean of dust the wind had blown.”

Todd Kellerman, Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist at the USDA Agroforestry Center and Gary Bentrup, research landscape planner at the center, have both studied the Dust Bowl and clearly understand the implications it had on shaping agriculture’s history. In their roles, they help farmers and ranchers recognize that practices mitigating these types of conditions must not be a thing of the past but should continue to be applied to ensure there are productive lands for generations to come.

Kellerman said the USDA National Agroforestry Center and its federal and state agency partners are very excited about the development of its first-of-its kind, high-resolution tree cover map for Nebraska and Kansas, “Any type of large-scale inventory of agroforestry practices, including windbreaks, is sorely lacking. Knowing how much is out there and what the trends are is useful information . . . While the date is available in GIS format, we want other ways to not only show this data, but tell the story of these resources. The Story Map allows users to interact with geospatial data on a user-friendly web platform.”

All windbreaks, despite their purpose, need regular maintenance, Bentrup stressed, “Knowing the primary tree and shrub species in one’s windbreak is important because one can focus on the issues regarding these species. This may only be three or four species and each one may only have one or two real problems to keep an eye out for.”

“Walk or drive along the windbreak several times a year to give it a ‘checkup.’ These ‘checkups’ will help you spot problems before they become serious,” he said. He also listed the following questions to consider. Are the trees getting enough or too much water? Are trees getting enough sun? Do you see signs or symptoms of disease? Do you see damage from insects, livestock or wildlife? Are weeds choking out trees?

“Sanitation is always an important practice,” Bentrup said. “This may mean removing a diseased tree or a dying tree that can attract insects and act as a source of problem for neighboring trees. Sterilize pruning equipment between trees to prevent potential transfer of disease and complete removal and disposal of a diseased tree may be necessary in some cases.”

“In some cases, complete reestablishment of a windbreak may be a better option than renovation. Begin planning the windbreak in the fall before the anticipated spring planting,” he added.

Kellerman and Bentrup outlined two primary USDA programs that help with windbreak establishment and renovation. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) which provides financial and technical assistance to address natural resource concerns and delivers environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat. Financial assistance covers part of the cost from implementing conservation practices such as windbreaks.

The Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) is a land conservation program administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CCRP are 10 to 15 years in length. Windbreaks have historically been included in CCRP, although the current sign-up does not include them as eligible practices. Riparian Buffers are included in the current CCRP sign-up.

Contact your local county USDA Service Center to learn more about the available programs in your state. To learn more about the new maps, search online for Story Map, “Windbreaks of the Great Plains.”

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