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Paynesville Press - October 8, 2003

Living snowfences benefit state and drivers

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is asking some farmers to leave rows of corn standing in certain fields to act as living snowfences in areas where blowing snow is a problem.

MnDOT is willing to pay $1.50 per bushel more than the going rate for corn that farmers leave standing.

Through the living snowfence program, MnDOT began offering farmers money for leaving some crops standing two years ago when officials realized how much money the state stood to save by not having to repeatedly plow roads and shoulders that frequently get clogged by blown snow in the winter, said Ken Graber, MnDOT's integrated vegetative roadside manager.

According to MnDOT, one cornstalk snowfence can keep over 11,880 tons of snow from blowing onto a roadway saving the state the cost of plowing as well as keeping a road open for commuters and emergency vehicles.

Graber estimates that living snowfences in some areas can save the state thousands in snow removal cost.

One of Graber's jobs is to identify cornfields where it would be beneficial to leave corn standing and approach the landowners. To be effective, corn rows should be about a quarter-mile long, 40 feet wide, and sit between120 and 240 feet from the highway.

Leaving corn in fields causes more work for farmers in the spring, since the crop needs to be harvested before a new one is planted.

Dragging out harvest equipment during spring planting is a hassle, said Graber, so more often than not, farmers refuse when asked to leave corn in their fields. Graber thinks this will change once more farmers know that they will be reimbursed - not only for their corn, but for the added expense of harvesting the corn after the snow is gone - and how much benefit a few rows of corn can be during a snowstorm.

The MnDOT living snowfence program extends beyond leaving rows of corn in fields. According to Graber, MnDOT is also seeking property owners in problem areas to sell or lease property to the state for planting rows of shrubs or trees to act as snow blocks.

When MnDOT plants living snowfences, it tries to use plants that are attractive, and in many cases, fruit-bearing plants are used and landowners get to keep the fruit. Shrubby plum and cherry trees are very popular, said Graber.

When living snowfences are planted in fields, not only do landowners lose income from that part of their field but they also have to work around the plantings, which can be difficult said Graber. Still, for every $6 the state spends on living snowfences, it saves $17 in plowing cost, estimated Graber.

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