Shel­ter­belts pro­vide many farm ben­e­fits

South Waikato News - - NEWS - By BALA TIKKISETTY

Win­ter is tra­di­tion­ally a good time for plant­ing trees as soil tem­per­a­tures are low and the roots can more eas­ily ac­cli­ma­tise to any new en­vi­ron­ment they’re planted in.

So it’s timely to talk about how us­ing trees to cre­ate shel­ter­belts on farms can pro­vide a range of en­vi­ron­men­tal, eco­nomic and an­i­mal wel­fare ben­e­fits.

Bad weather is a key cause of an­i­mal suf­fer­ing and pro­vid­ing shel­ter where none nat­u­rally ex­ists is some­thing farm­ers can do to help stop it.

Shel­ter­belts also help to re­duce evap­o­ra­tion of soil mois­ture and tran­spi­ra­tion from plants due to wind. Live shel­ter is par­tic­u­larly help­ful in re­tain­ing soil mois­ture in pro­longed dry spells, thereby sup­port­ing pas­ture growth for longer pe­ri­ods.

And shel­ter­belts im­prove the mi­cro­cli­mate of plants and soil by im­prov­ing plant-wa­ter re­la­tions, con­serv­ing heat and re­duc­ing wind dam­age to grass leaves, which can stunt grass growth.

Ero­sion preven­tion is an­other ben­e­fit of shel­ter­belts as they help con­trol the re­moval of top­soil by the wind, es­pe­cially when used along­side other sus­tain­able land use prac­tices such as min­i­mum tillage.

Other ben­e­fits of shel­ter trees in­clude the fact they can be a haven for na­tive birds, give shel­ter to homes, build­ings and stock­yards, be aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing, in­crease the tree species in an area, and sup­port a range of in­sect life. Us­ing na­tive plants, par­tic­u­larly those nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in the lo­cal­ity, helps pre­serve lo­cal char­ac­ter.

Shel­ter can also screen noise and re­duce odours as­so­ci­ated with livestock op­er­a­tions.

When es­tab­lish­ing a shel­ter­belt, con­sid­er­a­tion needs to be given to site se­lec­tion and the tree species to be used. Ter­rain, weather con­di­tions and livestock be­hav­iour are fac­tors to take into ac­count. Strate­gic plant­ing is likely to be more worth­while than blan­ket plant­ing.

Shel­ter is most ef­fec­tive when sited at the right an­gles to the erod­ing wind. If east-west belts are re­quired they should in­clude de­cid­u­ous species to lessen the win­ter shad­ing of pas­tures.

The den­sity of the trees in the shel­ter­belt helps de­ter­mine the wind be­hav­iour on the lee­ward side of the shel­ter­belt and also, to a some ex­tent, on the wind­ward side. Prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence shows belts of medium den­sity pro­duce a much more even wind­flow over a much wider area. The cor­rect den­sity can be achieved by care­ful species choice, rec­om­mended spac­ing be­tween the trees and on­go­ing man­age­ment. If belts are too dense, this can cre­ate tur­bu­lence ei­ther side of the pre­vail­ing wind. But if gaps in a shel­ter­belt are too big this can cause the wind to fun­nel through at ex­ces­sive speed.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the longer the wind­break, the bet­ter the pro­tec­tion for stock and pas­ture. Fi­nally, tall shel­ter gives the most eco­nomic pro­tec­tion as the area pro­tected is di­rectly re­lated to the height of the wind­break.

As al­ways, it can pay to get pro­fes­sional ad­vice on shel­ter­belts to help en­sure farms get the max­i­mum ben­e­fits from any spend on tree plant­ing.

Bala Tikkisetty is a sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture co-or­di­na­tor at Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil. For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on shel­ter­belts, contact him on 0800 800 401 or at bala.tikkisetty@waika­tore­gion

TREE PLANT­ING: Now is the best time.

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