When it seems there is no land left for trees ...
No room for trees? You may be surprised. There are four areas where you might consider planting trees.
When discussing tree planting with farmers, stewardship staff sometimes hear the response that “I don’t have any room left for trees on my farm.” Faced with this challenging question, we are proposing four areas where trees can be planted on a property or farm with minimal if any loss of land:
1. Along rivers and municipal drains. Trees can be planted along both sides of natural watercourses where land isn’t great for crop production. With the transition from pastures to cash crops, these valleylands are better suited for trees than investing crop inputs for mediocre yields. Trees can be planted on one side of municipal drains with the other side left open for future maintenance. Trees can be selected with roots that won’t plug tiles. Trees along watercourses have a secondary benefit of wind erosion control.
2. Farmsteads. Trees around feedlots provide shade in the summer and reduce wind chill in the winter. This makes the temperatures more comfortable for livestock and people. Cattle that spend less energy keeping warm have better weight gain. Trees around houses reduce energy costs and reduce grass-cutting costs.
3. Property lines. In the past, ‘good fences made good neighbours’ but more and more often windbreaks delineate property boundaries. The trees also reduce wind erosion across fields. Studies show an increase in crop yields greater than the loss of a few rows of crops. A row of trees planted across a slope reduces water erosion as well.
4. Squaring up a field. With larger equipment, including sprayers, it’s more difficult to get into those irregular, small corners of fields. More people are squaring up fields by planting trees instead of clearing trees.
Contact your local conservation organizations about tree order programs in the spring and autumn.
Landowners plant tens of thousands of trees through the spring and autumn tree order programs but the spring program is the largest of the two.
Trees do take up some space but the benefits for crops, livestock and people can outweigh the space lost, according to stewardship staff.
The outlook for funding to help with the costs of trees is also bright for this spring. Farmers can receive grants from a number of sources, to cover the costs of tree stock and planting.
Local landowners buy trees for conservation projects such as windbreaks, watercourse buffers, reforestation of erosion-prone slopes, or tree planting on marginal agricultural lands. Trees and windbreaks provide a variety of benefits.
“Planting trees for windbreaks reduces soil erosion, wind stress on field crops, and benefits livestock as well,” said Ian Jean, Forestry and Land Stewardship Specialist with Ausable Bayfield Conservation. “Windbreaks can keep drifting snow away from homes and farms, reduce winter heating costs and summer cooling costs, keep spray application from leaving the field, reduce soil erosion, protect livestock from extremes of heat and cold, and more.” Trees along watercourses improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat and travel corridors.
Other potential benefits include marking property boundaries and yield increases. Ontario studies have shown increases in yields for field crops buffered by windbreaks. Research in Southwestern Ontario indicates corn yields at least six per cent higher in areas sheltered by windbreaks and soybean yields about 25 per cent higher in sheltered areas compared to open areas. Area farmers were quoted in an Ontario brochure speaking to the noticeable advantages they saw in windbreaks. Those advantages included earlier germination of crops, earlier warming of soils, and increased yields extending about 10 feet into the field for every foot of tree height. A stateside study in Nebraska indicated hay yields as 20 per cent higher in sheltered areas than open areas.
Planting trees is one way to protect or improve forest conditions, protect or improve water quality, and create habitat for species and build resiliency in a world of increasing weather extremes. That benefits the beaches and waters of Lake Huron and the health of the people who rely on Lake Huron for drinking water and recreational and economic reasons.