K-State Research and Extension News
February 22, 2013
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Windbreaks Provide Permanent Protection During Drought

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The second chapter of article 20 of Kansas state statutes indicates “soil erosion caused by wind or dust storms is declared to be destructive to the natural resources of the state and a menace to the health and well-being of our citizens”.  The statutes suggest it is the duty of Kansas landowners “to conserve the natural resources of the state, and to prevent the injurious effects of dust storm by planting perennial grasses, shrubs, and trees” and introducing other emergency control measures.

Kansas continues to experience extreme drought conditions over 76 percent of the state with the remainder in exceptional drought.  These conditions have created concern among Kansas State University soil scientists, agronomists and foresters that severe dust storms and wind-blown soil erosion will occur in late winter and spring of 2013.  Annually, an estimated 2 tons/acre/year of topsoil is lost to wind erosion on the 24 million acres of cultivated cropland in Kansas.  There is little doubt that 2013 will exceed that average. 

“There are many conservation techniques that can reduce soil erosion such as the integration of crop residues or performing emergency tillage to roughen surfaces,” according to Bob Atchison, rural forestry coordinator with the Kansas Forest Service. “However, during drought years it is hard to beat the time-tested shelterbelts and windbreaks to provide the most effective and persistent control of wind erosion.”

Tree and shrub windbreaks provide excellent wind protection at a distance 10 times the height of the windbreak.  In Kansas that equates to an estimated 579,221 acres protected based on the 289,577 acres of windbreaks that stretch 43,436 miles in length, a length that would cross the state east to west almost 100 times.

“In response to drought and dust storms of the 1930’s, more than 200 million trees and shrubs were planted to windbreaks on 30,000 farms throughout the Great Plains between 1935 and 1942,” Atchison said. “Unfortunately many of these windbreaks have been removed to make way for pivot irrigation systems and are continuing to be removed to make way for more farm ground due to high prices for crops.” 

Though many of the windbreaks established following the Dust Bowl were large multi-row windbreaks, research shows effective wind control can be obtained with two- to three-row windbreaks of trees or shrubs that don’t require as much space. Some producers raise concerns over loss of crop yields to shelterbelts.  However, more than 30 years of research conducted by James Brandle, forestry professor at the University of Nebraska, shows that wheat yields actually increase by 15 percent on the average, corn by 12 percent and soybeans by 17 percent when windbreaks were present.

“Though we have made great improvements in conservation over the years, our current drought is a reminder of the important role windbreaks and shelterbelts continue to play in Kansas,” Atchison said.  

Kansas Forest Service foresters are available to help Kansas landowners with windbreak design, planning and financial assistance opportunities by calling 785-532-3300 or by checking them out on the Web at Kansas Forest Service


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Elaine Edwards
K-State Research & Extension News

Bob Atchison - Atchison@ksu.edu - 785-532-3310