Linda Poole

NCAT Regenerative Grazing Specialist
Isabelle Jenniches of the New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group shared this wonderful video with the Soil for Water team today. Check out the many benefits of planting circular buffer strips of perennial plants in row crop systems. It's easy to imagine many versions of this practice, employed in many parts of the world.

What do you all think -- is this a practice worth trying? Maybe you have already been doing something similar? Maybe you can see potential difficulties with the system? How might you employ this or a similar practice? Chime in with your input!

I am impressed with the concept. It is something like this that we really need this year with the dry, windy conditions we have been experiencing. The dirt and dust have been blowing so bad that the DOT has had to close highways due the poor conditions.
A few years ago, some conservationists were suggesting planting buffer strips composed of sterile sorghum perpendicular to the prevailing winds on dry land wheat fields. The strips were narrow enough that farmers could drill through them when planting wheat. The sorghum of course winter killed, so it wasn't a factor when it came time to harvest the following summer. The strips served to break the wind and stop blowing snow as well as dirt.
With the advent of no-till and the use of cover crops, it may not be as necessary now. But there are many farmers still using the conventional fallow tillage. Those are fields that are blowing so badly this spring.
I'm sorry to hear that the Dust Bowl conditions are occurring in the high plains of Colorado as well as in Montana. That's a clever idea of using sterile sorghum that will winter kill.

How difficult, and how useful, do you think the idea of circular buffers might be, compared to linear buffers? Not only are we getting more wind, it now seems to come strongly from every direction. My dad used to wryly comment that the wind was wearing out the snow by blowing it around, but it seems more like reality than a joke now. The wind keeps pushing snow and rain so that it either doesn't hit the ground (I've never seen so much virga "rains") or if it does make landfall, it sublimates/evaporates before melting to soak in.

If this is truly happening -- and I think it is -- it seems like taking practical, low-tech action (like planting circular buffers or shelterbelts) to quiet ever-shifting wind patterns would be well worth the investment in arid parts of the Great Plains. Even better than linear shelterbelts, I think this could also work for shade, for wildlife habitat, and for catching snow in winter. But I wonder about planting and maintenance of circles. Running drip line for a shelterbelt/hedgerow in a circle vs. in a straight line might be a complication, but it seems doable. With the huge equipment used in corn, wheat and other row crops, is this feasible? What do you think?
I agree that with shifting wind directions, circular planting would give protection regardless of the wind direction. And on varying direction of slope, it would help to control water runoff better than just one directional buffer strips.

The biggest obstacle to creating circular buffer strips is the mind set of farmers. We love long straight crop rows. But with precision guidance systems and precision planting equipment, it would be doable. I see the most benefit of the circular pattern for pivot irrigated fields and the rolling hill corn fields like what is found in western Iowa. For those fields whose water source wells are of limited output, this would be a way to decrease the water requirement and gain erosion control. Once the grass buffer strips are well established, it would much more convenient to service plugged nozzles or gear boxes. It would also help maintain tower wheel tracks if located under them. It may be difficult to follow the rows on the inner most crop circle if the corn head was very wide. (And I am sure the combine operator would cuss the inconvenience of it and the slower speed they would have to go)

The cost of installing drip lines for shrubs or bushes may be too much to justify in the circular strips. From what I have seen, few producers have used them for anything other than high value vegetables or orchards. With the right cover mix, it would also be a great habitat for beneficial insects and birds. If I were going to try to utilize shrubs or bushes, I would select drought hardy species, and plant them on the outside of the field, and leave the end gun on the pivot so the shrubs could receive an occasional extra drink.

With some adaptions, I think the concept could be applied to many situations to make it work feasibly.

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