Saving lives, money and time—with corn?

By Mary Ebeling

Standing corn row windbreaks, used in northern Midwest and Plains states, are part of a larger program supporting living snow fences. These windbreaks benefit DOTs and communities by reducing winter road closures and the associated costs, decreasing crashes, and reducing the use of salt and sand, which also helps budgets and the environment. Many states in the “snow belt” employ this as part of a broader living snow fence technique.

Under a MnDOT agreement, farmers leave a minimum of six rows of corn in a field adjacent to a roadway. Farmers are reimbursed using a formula based on yield, production, costs, inconvenience factors, and the price of corn. MnDOT has calculated a cost savings for plowing, equipment use, and labor of $14 for each dollar invested in the program. In Minnesota, local youth groups, through Future Farmers of America and 4 – H clubs, partner with farmers to harvest the remaining corn in the spring. Another example of a state using corn row windbreaks is Iowa. Iowa DOT attributes the success of their cooperative snow fence program to landowner participation.

DOTs consider corn row windbreaks and other living snow fences as “alternatives that are more aesthetically, environmentally and financially appealing.” In northern climates, these seemingly low tech solutions save lives, money, and time.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.