Another dust bowl?

There were some windy days across the plains in April. In some places, the wind blown soil became a dust cloud and created extremely limited visitility. That led to accidents in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. Low visibility on Interstate 80 between Grand Island and Lincoln on two days, lead to two chain reaction accidents with the April 30 event  including one death.

On May 7, 2018 there was an article in the Omaha World Herald, “After Nebraska dust storms, debate continues on how to slow wind and limit erosion“. 

Points gleaned from the article:

  • After 1930s Dust Bowl 18,000 miles of shelterbelts were planted on the Great Plains
    • Shelterbelts (windbreaks) are trees at the edge of farm fields that slow wind and help protect fields from soil erosion
    • Many of those shelterbelts are deteriorating due to age, storms & disease
    • Others have been ripped out for more crop space, larger equipment and pivots
  • Some farmers engage in better practices than the 1930s such as no-till or limited till and cover crops which aid in reducing wind erosion
    • Tillage has increased again to combat weeds that have become herbicide resistant
  • Some farmers think shelterbelts wouldn’t have helped with I-80 closure/accidents since the benefits from them only extends so far into the field depending on the height of trees
  • More trees could have tempered the dust storms


We should be doing everything we can to maintain or improve our resources. Be good stewards of the land. Take care of the soil and it will take care of us. We practice no-till on our farm. We are getting into cover crops. And we are renovating out windbreaks that Gerald’s father had the forsight to plant.

Speed bumps

While one windbreak might not have prevented the accidents on I-80 in April, I believe several would have. It’s a cummulative effect. Each row slows the wind and catches a percentage of the soil in the air (dust). Think of them as speed bumps for the wind. Given 10 miles of straight road most cars could get going pretty fast. Add some speed bumps and in order not to bottom out the vehicle, damage shocks, and possible not have an accident, the car must slow to go over the bumps, therefore in shorter ‘runs’ they can’t get back up to that top speed. That’s what windbreaks/shelterbelts do with the wind.

That sort of speed bump we need more of. Think about it. They are also multifuntional – speed bump to slow soil erosion and drying winds; wildlife habitat; they could be another crop depending on the trees planted. They host beneficial insects that can do good things for your crops. They can harvest snow to increase the soil moisture in your field. And when the trees die, they can be made into other things. 

Trees are good.


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