Windbreaks

Matt Eremie and Matthew Langford

A windbreak, also known as a shelterbelt, is a line of trees and/or shrubs that is planted to slow down the wind.

Popularity

Windbreaks are used widely in the United States by farmers, especially in prairies and other flat lands. They are very popular in the states of Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Oregon, and Colorado.

Windbreaks were installed all over the USSR in the early 1950s by order of Joseph Stalin, and they remain in use to this day.

Uses

Historical

Historically, windbreaks have generally been used to keep houses warmer by sheltering them from the wind. This is helpful not only for comfort but it decreases heating costs.

Microclimate

Net yields can be increased by 10 to 20 percent in crop fields utilizing windbreaks. This is due to the change in the microclimate within the area the windbreak protects. Within the affected area, temperature and humidity increase due to loss of wind that cools the area. Temperature difference depends on the specifications of the windbreak, but there is a considerable increase in temperature close to the ground in sheltered areas. This causes warmer soil which allows for earlier planting. In an area sheltered by an east-west running windbreak, the south side will be considerably warmer than the north side due to heat reflected by the windbreak.


Windbreaks can cause an increase in humidity by 2 to 4 percent relative to the humidity outside the area. Higher humidity lowers plants' water use, which increases productivity.

Soil Erosion

Windbreaks reduce soil erosion for a fairly obvious reason. They can slow down the wind by up to half, which decreases soil erosion by 80%.

Livestock

The lower wind speed and higher temperatures within the area sheltered by a windbreak can have several benefits to livestock farmers. In the winter, livestock use more energy to stay warm, and therefore have to consume more food. Windchill only adds to that. A windbreak will save the farmer a lot of money on feed, and the cows will be using less energy to stay warm.

Disadvantages

Microclimate

While the south side of an east-west running windbreak experiences dramatically warmer temperatures, the north side can actually experience decreased temperatures, which can cause snow to melt slower.


If a windbreak is too dense, and the humidity climbs too high, plants can be faced with an increased risk of disease.

General

Windbreaks can not only be expensive to plant, but take a lot of work. They also have to be maintained, adding to the costs and labor. Windbreaks also form barriers that make it difficult to move large machinery around a farm.