School Study Highlights Environmental Benefits of Shelterbelts on Pig Farms

CANADA - “It helps the environment to plant trees,“ says Rosenfeld Elementary School sixth grader Mattea Nickel. Classmate Amy Penner adds, “You can get wood from the trees for building houses and more people in Manitoba.“
calendar icon 2 June 2007
clock icon 7 minute read

School Field Trip Gives Students Hand on Tree Planting Experience

Nickel and Penner were two of a group of 14 grade six students that spent a sunny Friday (May 25) helping to plant a shelterbelt which will eventually work to reduce the odors emitted by a Gretna area swine operation.

The field trip was organized by Manitoba Pork Council in cooperation with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA), Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI), the R.M. of Rhineland and Junction Farms. The field trip demonstrated the value of shelterbelts in odor abatement and gave students a hands on opportunity to learn about tree planting and the importance of trees.

Benefits of Shelterbelts Tie in With Elementary School Curriculum

“We have been studying topics like the environment because it’s part of our science curriculum in school,” says Rosenfeld grade six teacher Emmy Friesen. “When we talk about electricity, for example, we also talk about how we can conserve energy and what we’re doing to the environment when we’re burning fossil fuels. The other topic we’re covering is space. And of course when we talk about space we have to acknowledge what we’re doing to planet earth and how can we affect change on planet earth which is positive change rather than negative change. Tree planting is one of those positive changes.”

Project to Demonstrate Effectiveness of Shelterbelts in Odor Abatement

The trees were planted at Junction Farms just a few miles north of Gretna in the R.M. of Rhineland. By taking part in the field trip the students were actually helping create a demonstration site which is intended to show the value of shelterbelts in odor abatement. In return they were given the opportunity to spend the day learning the science involved in creating a shelterbelt, the value of trees to our environment and our economy and, of course, how to plant trees.

Manitoba Pork Council director of community relations and sustainable development Peter Mah explains that it’s an opportunity to showcase to the community that the shelterbelt is esthetically pleasing and also can be a measure for odor control.

“We think it’s an important area to educate the producers, to get them employed as much as possible even when they’re designing and locating sites, to utilize existing bush and, where there is not existing bush, to be able to work in a design for planting in their site development.”

He adds, “You’re seeing more and more shelterbelts around farm sites, not only the barn itself but the manure storages. It’s one of those conditions which municipalities can place on any new or expanding livestock operation and it’s been one of the most visible means of best management practices for farmers to protect the environment.”

Interest in Shelterbelts on the Rise

“I think there’s been a lot of uptake because of the realization of energy cost reductions in the presence of shelterbelts,” observes Carol Graham, with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives’ agro-woodlot program.

“Because you’re minimizing the wind exposures, you’re reducing your energy costs within the operation. When that value is perceived and noted then, I think, the benefit of the shelterbelt becomes even more attractive to producers and they’re noticing, in some cases, up to 30 percent reduction in energy costs in the presence of a shelterbelt,” Graham explains.

Although the agro-woodlot program is geared toward primarily the management of existing wooded areas, one sideline is the tree planting aspect.

Trees Provided by Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration

The trees are provided by the agriforestry division the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, part of Agriculture and Agrifood Canada (AAFC).

“We have a widespread distribution of trees throughout western Canada including the B.C. Peace [River area], Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and we distribute roughly anywhere between four and half, five and a half million trees,” notes PFRA’s Blair English.

There still seems to be quite an interest in planting trees, especially around farm sites and intensive livestock operations, and to a lesser extent field divisions, that kind of thing and also getting guys planting shelter for swath grazing for their cattle operations.”

English explains, “The species that we have listed on our applications are pretty generic for across the prairies. Anything from white spruce, green ash, caragana, lilac, scotch pine, Manitoba maple, those kinds of things. We also have some other species that are more for wildlife plantings.”

“We’ve got a lot of different species and we kind of have to tailor it to soil types in your given area but talk to your local PFRA office or Manitoba Agriculture,” he suggests.

Species Selection Varies According to Purpose

Graham adds, “A lot of it is dependent on what the operators themselves are looking for. Foremost they’re always looking for something fast growing so they get that visual impact quickly. In those cases we will introduce a hybrid poplar on site so you get that fast growing species.”

“Then ideally you’re looking at multiple row systems so you’ve got a slower growing, longer lived species that’ll then take its place on maturity. Thirdly you look at a shrub component so that you maintain structure to the shelterbelt where it’s maximizing its capabilities throughout its lifetime.”

Trees planted in this particular project included white spruce, lilac bushes and green ash.

“The varieties have been chosen by the technical specialists for their hardiness, for their ability to grow well in this climate and relatively quickly,” says Mah. “In a few years this will be an opportunity to see a very mature three or four row shelterbelt.”

Shelterbelt Design Critical to Effectiveness

As for the actual design, Graham explains, “First and foremost you always look at the direction of the prevailing winds. You want to work with them versus against them, so you orient the shelterbelt so that you’re maximizing protection from the winds. You’re also distancing the shelterbelt away from the barns and the access roads in such a manner so that you don’t create conditions where you’re accumulating snow close to those points. So you’re using the shelterbelt as a means of keeping the snow further away so there’s less work involved in the winter months maintaining access for trucks and so forth. Other things you look for is, on a site per site basis, soil conditions so that you’re planting suitable species which minimizes maintenance down the road.”

Graham stresses, “With this particular project we’re trying to demonstrate there’s a thought process behind it. That it’s not just a matter of slapping trees in the ground and then hoping that they grow.”

She adds that by considering these factors the shelterbelt becomes beneficial down the road not only to the operation but to the surrounding environment as well.

Environmental Message Hits Home with Students

It’s a message that clearly hits home with our youth.

“Whenever we discuss topics like this students are very engaged and very interested because it affects all of us. They are our future generation and to have them learning and understanding at this point in time, I think, is critical,” says Friesen.

“This is a practical hands-on activity and for students it’s something that I think is so beneficial. They will remember this day for ever.”

“I've learned there’s lots and lots of different kinds of trees and how to space them,” notes grade six student Mattea Nickel. “I just thought you could plant an evergreen anywhere you wanted to.”

“[They're] good for air, wood, shelter and paper, they look nice,” adds Bernie Dyck.

And, as for the opportunity to spend the day on the farm planting trees in the sunshine, Daniel Foot sums it up, “Its fun and helps the environment, [builds] your muscles [and it’s] better than class time.”

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