Northwest Ohio: Windbreak program halts gales

SALEM, Ohio – As winds whip over the flat fields of northwest Ohio, grain farmer Lyle Shaffer can rest easy. Nearly five miles of windbreaks protect his fields in Wood County.

Back in 1972 when Shaffer planted his first row of trees, he was on his own. But now, Shaffer and other landowners can take advantage of the Northwest Ohio Field Windbreak Program.

And many farmers are signing up: A record 113 miles of trees were planted this spring in eight Ohio counties.

Since the land is so flat, the rows of trees slow the wind and reduce soil erosion on farm fields.

Erosion isn’t the only reason farmers are opting for windbreaks. The rows of trees also enhance wildlife habitat, protect crops, cut down on farm smells and are an aesthetic background, said Gregg Maxfield, forester with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Wind block. More than 30 years ago, sand blowing across Shaffer’s fields was hurting his crops so he planted single rows of trees to block the gusts.

Five years later the windbreak program started and Shaffer signed up the first year.

Since then, Shaffer switched to mostly no-till farming and blowing sand isn’t as big of an issue.

But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped participating in the windbreak program. He now cites the trees’ advantages as good for ecology, clean breaks between fields and good for bird nesting.

He also says he sees higher yields from the areas the trees protect.

Tree dollars. Conservation isn’t the only justification for the windbreaks. They also pay.

Enrollees receive cost share funds of up to 90 percent through the Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the Conservation Reserve Program. The reserve enhancement program is designed to improve water quality along Lake Erie’s tributary streams in northwest Ohio.

In addition, farmers receive rental payments for the ground used for windbreaks. A one-time $500-per-acre payment is also paid.

Bonuses. Bonuses like these help make the program worth it, said Van Wert County grain farmer Clarence Oberlitner.

Oberlitner entered the program this spring. Surface water from an adjoining field was running into one of his fields, so through the reserve enhancement program, he put it into wetlands. The six-row windbreaks were planted around the perimeter of the field.

Now he has 8,150 row feet of windbreaks near his wetland.

Cooperation. Agencies cooperating in the program include USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency, Pheasants Forever and ODNR’s divisions of forestry, soil and water conservation and wildlife.

Farmers can sign up at their local soil and water conservation office, Maxfield said. The office then helps landowners decide which trees to plant. Enrollees make a 30-year commitment.

The division of forestry supplies the trees from the state nursery and then either plants them or contracts the work.

Planting. The voluntary program is open to landowners in 17 Ohio counties where soil erosion from wind is a problem.

Fifty-two field windbreaks were planted this year in Allen, Defiance, Henry, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, Williams and Wood counties.

Nearly 64,000 seedlings were planted, including arborvitae, white pine, Norway spruce, Austrian pine, baldcypress, Eastern red cedar, pin oak, silky dogwood, black chokeberry, American plum and Sargent crabapple.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at

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* Gregg Maxfield

Ohio Department of Natural Resources




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