By Harry Brook

Flagstaff County has supported and encouraged the planting of shelterbelts and windbreaks for a very long time. They have been and continue to be popular with some people in the County. In recognition of that support, Flagstaff County’s 2022 budget includes paying for 50% of the cost of trees, ordered through the County, for the purposes of shelterbelts and windbreaks. The Shelterbelt Establishment Program will be taking tree orders at the end of October until the end of January online at our website or in-person at the office.

Shelterbelts provide several benefits to the agricultural producer as well as the environment. One of the big advantages is retention of snow moisture along and beside the field shelterbelt. On a dry year, such as this one, you can reap extra bushels from this. There is also reduced soil erosion caused by wind. Prior to the majority adoption of zero or minimum tillage, wind and water erosion were serious problems on the prairies. Some limited tillage on light soils is again exposing some fields to erosion risk. A shelterbelt will reduce wind velocities for a distance of 20 times the height of the shelterbelt. The sheltering effect of the trees also reduces moisture loss from those spring winds. A further advantage for the yard site is reducing road dust from blowing into your yard.

Other, less direct benefits include providing wildlife habitat for insects as well as larger animals. Research around sloughs and other natural areas show increased yields for over 200 metres out from the field edge due to increased pollinator insects. Predation on pest insects occurred within 50 metres of the margin of the field. In canola especially, there is an improvement in both yield and quality along the edge between the shelterbelt and crop due to increased activity by pollinators. Some research trials have even seen reductions in the percentage of green seed in the oilseed.

Another factor that you might not be aware of, is the reduced incidence of lodging in the crop. Speaking recently to someone with field shelterbelts, they mentioned their peas did not lodge as those in surrounding fields and this led to not only improved yields but also higher quality due to reduced earth tag on the seed.

Planning is required to successfully establish trees. Not all shelterbelts should be considered equal. Each tree and shrub have a best use and a best place. If wind breaking is the primary goal, then a varied mix of species are required to break that wind, both in summer and winter. A mixed variety of shelterbelt species also increases species diversity of insects and small mammals. Some experts are no longer recommending rows of a particular tree but mixing the plantings, partly to avoid any disease or insect taking out an entire row of trees and improving the overall health of the shelterbelt.

Weed control is important in the first few years as the trees get established. Competition from annual and perennial weeds can out-compete seedlings for moisture and nutrients. Using a biodegradable plastic mulch can help reduce this competition. The county does sell plastic mulch and rents out a mulch applicator.

Planning and planting shelterbelts require a bit of work, but the results are well worth the effort. Benefits from shelterbelts improve the appeal of a rural residence and can give financial benefits back to farming. Start planning now for next year’s tree order and add value to the landscape and the environment.

To order your trees online, click HERE.

Harry Brook is Flagstaff County's Agricultural Fieldman. He can be reached via email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at: 780-384-4138.