The Central Sands can get pretty windy, and wind is one of many natural forces farmers have to contend with every day. Wind presents two main problems for farmland: it displaces irrigation water and can cause wind erosion to fields. As a result, farms must adjust their practices to address these issues.
When it comes to irrigation, wind can blow water away from the field and crops. Using new technology is the easiest way to avoid applying excess water that will only be blown off the fields and wasted. Some of this recent technology includes having wind meters in the fields, as well as irrigation systems that can be turned on and off remotely. The wind meters can shut off the irrigation systems when the wind reaches a speed where irrigation is no longer efficient.
Wind erosion can also be a serious problem. By blowing away the lighter soil particles, wind erosion changes the balance in the soil, which diminishes the ability of soil to hold on to water and nutrients. The easiest way to tackle this problem is with cover crops on the edges of fields. Cover crops do what their name suggests; they protect the plants and soil near them by blocking the wind. Their placement on the edges of a field keeps soil in place that would normally be loose and open to wind.
Figuring out what the correct cover crops are and when to plant is a year-round process. A good time to plant is every fall after harvest when the fields are empty, but for certain fields, cover crops may need to be planted again in spring. The strategy for planting these crops has to be closely monitored because it changes each season. Depending on the field, it may be necessary to plant wind breaks in the middle of the field. For these fields, there are wind breaks on both ends and the middle of the field for extra protection from wind erosion.
At Wysocki Produce Farm, sister company to RPE Produce and Paragon Potato Farms, we work with Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Department of Natural Resources to make sure that we are not just thinking about our farm when we are selecting and placing these crops. The effect upon the natural areas and ecosystems surrounding our farm also need to be considered while we develop our plans for each season.
Planting these cover crops and wind breaks is also about being responsible community members; it’s respectful of our neighbors and community, as well as the environment. When the fields are wide open, wind often blows soil particles into the air, which decreases visibility on nearby roads and can create trouble for the surrounding homes and farms.
Although there isn’t much that can be done to change the weather, with a combination of technology and the right cover crops, farms can keep their soil intact with all of its nutrients and water. These conservational measures lead to fewer passes through each field with a tractor and less need for fuel, fertilizer and irrigation water, letting farmers counteract nature without damaging it.