HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Jan. 16, 2006

Living snowfences help slow drifting snow

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

With winter winds and blowing snow across Minnesota’s open fields and land, snow removal can become common and expensive.

Two local highway employees have separate opinions on what is the best way to cure drifting snow along county roads.

“Any time there is a prolonged wind period in the winter, anything is helpful in reducing snow and increasing visibility,” according to Steve Meyer from the Wright County Highway Department.

Mike Halterman of the Meeker County Highway Department disagreed by stating, “It would be of better benefit if more effort and energy would be spent on designing better roads instead of living snow fences to deter the problem.”

“Not many farmers are willing to give up land for living snow fences,” Halterman said.

Natural wind breaks or living snow fences can be a good alternative to prevent drifting snow from collecting in unwanted areas such as roads and driveways.

There are many different types of living snow fences including shrubs, trees and rows of corn.

According to the Minnesota Extension Service, the Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates 4,000 problem areas throughout the state totalling 1,000 miles that needs “snowdrift protection.” The majority of these areas are in western and south western Minnesota.

There are compensurate programs for participants with living snow fences. For example, Mn/DOT will pay an extra $1.50 per bushel than the current corn prices to farmer who are willing to leave eight rows of corn stalk standing over the winter snow drift areas.

MnDot has done cost benefit analysis and for every dollar spent on living snow fences, they recieve a $17 return. This includes reduced crashes, increased travel time, and less maintenance on roads, according to Jim Stoutland of MnDot.

MnDOT recommends in order for the fences to be most effective, rows of corn need to be approximately 150 feet from the highway.

Living snow fences are more efficient in “capturing snow,” according to the Wright County Extension Service. “When mature, a living snow fence may capture up to 12 times more snow than a slated fence.”

Corn stalks have the ability of trapping 12,000 tons of snow over a normal quarter-mile of snowdrift areas.

This will improve driver visibility, improve road’s surface conditions and help eliminate snow drifts and ice in turn, keeping roads safer for traveling and saving money especially with the high fuel cost for MnDOT.

Snow fences also provide habitat for animals and “can be designed to conserve energy for farmsteads, feedlots, and community facilities,” according to the Extension Service.

The Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a program “available to agricultural producers to help them safeguard environmentally sensitive land.”

Those enrolled in this program help to improve water quality, control erosion, and enhance wildlife along with this, FSA will compensate with rental payments and cost share assistance, according to FSA.

This is a long term agreement with contracts from 10 to 15 years. For those interested, contact the local Farm Services Office or visit the web site, http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crp.htm.

For more information on living snow fences, and standing corn rows, contact District 8 regional supervisors in the Hutchinson area, (320) 234-2590 or (877) 682-8249 or the web site, www.livingsnowfence.dot.state.mn.us.

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