Sometimes all that stands between motorists and blowing snow is eight rows of corn.
But that corn can help, said Craig Bargfrede, winter operations administrator for the Iowa Department of Transportation.
“If we can reduce the amount of blowing and drifting, it increases visibility for the traveling public, and it’s easier for us to get the road back to traveling conditions.”
The Iowa DOT spent $225,000 last year to pay farmers to keep corn standing along Iowa highways, grow grasses and shrubs as natural snow fences, and position bales of hay to stop drifting snow.
The DOT has encouraged these natural snow barriers for more than 20 years, but last year started advertising the corn snow fence program and actively is recruiting more farmers to participate. The 12 miles of corn snow fences bordering Iowa highways last winter was an increase from previous years.
“We’re trying to target areas that are beneficial to us,” said Tim Zeimet, Johnson County highway maintenance supervisor.
Iowa’s settlers used corn windbreaks to protect their homes and cattle from wind and blowing snow, the DOT reported. But modern combines can shear off the stalks with the corn, leaving harvested fields with only a stalk stubble.
This year, the DOT is paying farmers $5.10 per bushel to not harvest corn running parallel to roads often buried in blowing snow. That’s $2 per bushel more than the average statewide price for corn — a pretty good deal when grain prices are low, Zeimet said.
Farmers who want to harvest by hand still can get the corn, but leave the stalks.
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The program saves the DOT money by reducing the time needed to clear blowing snow from roadways and reducing salt and sand costs, Bargfrede said.
The challenge for some farmers is to remember to leave eight to 16 rows of corn standing while they are hustling to harvest, Zeimet said. Farmers must wait to harvest those rows in the spring before planting.
As farmers rotate their fields between corn, soybeans and other crops, the stretches of corn snow fence can shift from year to year.
Leaving stalks in the field is beneficial because it reduces erosion, preserves soil moisture and create wildlife habitat. The DOT is working with some farmers to grow corn hybrids with stronger stalks near roadways to make even sturdier corn snow fences.
For more information about the corn snow fence program, contact farmers can contact the local DOT maintenance garage. The Linn County garage is at (319) 364-8189 and Johnson County garage is (319) 626-2386.
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