Cornstalks may not be the first thing that comes to mind for keeping rural roads clear in the winter. But when stalks near roadsides are left standing after fall harvest, they become a living snow fence, reducing the amount of snow blowing onto roads.
To help determine reimbursement costs for farmers and choose which roads are good candidates, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) uses a snow control cost/benefit tool developed by University of Minnesota researchers. In a new MnDOT-funded project, CTS and U of M Extension are developing a website—expected to launch by the end of the year—to host the tool and related snow-control resources.
Farmers are compensated on a per-acre basis that factors in crop yield, production costs, inconvenience factors for the farmer and traveling public, price of corn, and anticipated snow removal cost savings.
CTS and Extension will work with MnDOT and the U’s Department of Applied Economics to update the annual cost and input data. CTS will also convene stakeholders to evaluate the tools’ usage and functionality and discuss potential development needs.
The standing corn rows are part of an innovative MnDOT program started about 15 years ago that pays farmers to leave up roadside corn stalks after harvest. Last winter there were seven miles of standing corn rows (out of approximately 70 miles of living snow fence along MnDOT-maintained highways).
For the coming winter, MnDOT is seeking farmers with fields to the north and west sides of state highways and interstates where there is a known snow-drifting problem. MnDOT will also pay farmers to position large hay bales and silage bags at the proper distance from the roadway to offer snow and blowing snow protection. And if farmers want to plant a perennial shrub row receiving conservation payments, MnDOT will complement these incentives as well.
Read the full article in the November issue of Catalyst.