It all started with tree plantings by Don and Ron Jespersen's great-grandfather, Jesper, in the 1930s, as part of an effort to provide wind protection in harsh weather conditions of Nebraska's Panhandle. Tree planting has run deep in the Jespersen family roots across several generations. Now, Don Jespersen of Hemingford says that another generation is carrying on the tradition, with both of his children planting 12,000 trees on land they own.
The Jespersen brothers and their families have taken their role as tree planters seriously, planting more than one million trees on their farms in four western Nebraska counties over the past 20 years, among their fields of dryland corn, wheat, millet and field peas. According to Don, they have installed almost 2000 miles of weed barrier to help increase tree survivability.
Planting five-row tree and shrub belts in strips that are 100 feet wide, with 150 feet of crops planted in between, Jespersen hopes the tree belts will catch enough snow and stop enough wind to boost crop yields by one third. The plan is to take about 40% of the crop land out of production to boost yields on the rest. "We haven't had much snow the past few years," he says. "So, that part of the benefits we had hoped for hasn't happened yet."
The tree belts on the Jespersen farms were started in earnest about 13 years ago, with technical and financial assistance from Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service and Natural Resources Districts through the USDA continuous Conservation Reserve Program. NRCS technicians decide which species of trees and shrubs are planted.
NRCS requires that the tree belts are maintained meticulously, with tree survival of at least 80%. So, Jespersen says that they spend a lot of time each year replanting thousands of trees by hand.
It may be unique to see tree belts among acres of crops, but the Jespersens are convinced they will increase land productivity over time, and they are already experiencing improved diversity and quantity of wildlife. "When I was growing up, it was a big deal to even see deer," Jespersen says. "Now, along these tree belts, we see deer and pheasants everywhere."
If you'd like to learn more about field windbreak plantings, contact your local NRD or NRCS offices. Read more in an upcoming print issue of Nebraska Farmer.