shelterbelt column

By Harry Brook

Winter has arrived, but it is not too early to think about planting some trees next spring. Flagstaff County is again collecting applications under our Shelterbelt Establishment Program, where the county will pay for half the cost of the trees. Applications are being collected until the end of January, when the order will be sent in. As the county is buying in bulk, there is also the chance of bulk discounts from the orders. As well, the county also has a tree planter to rent out and a mulcher with plastic mulch available for weed control. Flagstaff County feels trees are a valuable contributor to the prairie landscape and provide many benefits.

What benefits are there? They are many and diverse. A shelterbelt will increase crop yields 10 to 20 times the height of the trees from the shelterbelt due to snow capture during the winter, as well as reduced evapotranspiration losses. This can be very significant, especially in a drought year. They also lower the temperature in the middle of a field as they effect the microclimate. Physically, they are windbreaks, reducing wind speeds, which can be the difference between a lodged crop and one standing tall for harvest. When spraying, wind breaks also prevent spray drift. Crops that benefit the most from shelterbelts and windbreaks are winter wheat, barley, alfalfa, rye, millet and hay.

In terms of livestock, a shelterbelt improves livestock health and provides both shelter from winds and shade from heat extremes. They reduce dust, noise, and odour, and that results in reduced respiratory problems in cattle. This improves livestock productivity and makes for healthier cattle. Of course, the reason a lot of field windbreaks were planted in the first place was to reduce wind erosion, which can still be an issue.

On the biodiversity side, they provide a site for pollinators to live, which has been shown to increase oil yield per acre by 3%. Increased insect and bird life can also affect the insect pest populations and may help prevent pest outbreaks.

With all these benefits, we still see many windbreaks being removed. On the positive side, there are still people in the county planting windbreaks and shelterbelts. What is the ideal shelterbelt? Toso Bozic, a well-known Alberta tree expert, suggests our shelterbelts should have more diversity in the tree planting. The idea is that if a disease or insect should strike a row of pines, it would just follow down the row and attack them all, eventually. By varying species within a row, you’d provide a break where it would be hard for a pest to take out the whole row.

The deadline for ordering trees from the county is January 31, 2022. This is available only to county rural residents. To order online and for more information, click HERE. You can also fill out at an order by coming into the county office. Plant some trees and reap the benefits!

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.