Many times barriers are seen as keeping you from something. However, barriers can often be a good thing, especially when they work to keep snow off the roads. For the past several years, the Iowa Department of Transportation has worked with farmers and asked them to consider planting corn that can be left in fields during the winter to serve as snow fences that slow down or stop snow from blowing and drifting across the road. More recently, this cooperative effort has included using round bales as snow fences, as well.
The decades-old “standing corn” program has recently been updated to pay farmers $2 over market value (as set on Sept. 1) per bushel of corn for leaving eight to 16 rows standing in a field where those stalks might reduce the amount of snow on the adjacent road. For round bales, we will pay landowners $1 per linear foot. The landowner agrees to leave the bales intact in the field throughout the winter. Ideal locations would be plots of land along U.S. or state highways where the terrain is open and flat.
Tina Greenfield, with our Maintenance office, said, “Using round bales is pretty straightforward. If a farmer has bales that are not going to be used over the winter, the farmer contacts our local maintenance garage and talks to the supervisor to see if there’s an area adjacent to a state highway that could benefit from using this type of barrier.”
For standing corn, the process can take a bit more planning. When working with farmers, our staff will often discuss the possibility of planting different hybrid corn in the snow fence rows to allow for sturdier stalks. The benefit of more than 20 years of the program is that specific corn hybrids have been identified that have stalks that stand up better in these end rows. Talking with farmers this time of year helps everyone plan better for next year.
Once the corn has served its purpose all winter, the farmer can remove the corn how they see fit. While that may cause a little extra work in the spring, the farmers who participate see the benefits of a clearer, safer roadway all winter long.
Some farmers in the program have an agreement to combine other snow fence fields at no charge if the farmer donates the corn or allows it to be hand-picked by a local service organization, making the program one that benefits the whole community by creating a safer road in the winter and a fundraising opportunity in the spring.
As for the benefit to the Iowa DOT, leaving corn in the field in strategic locations greatly decreases the amount of maintenance needed by our crews during and after a storm. Shawn Havick, with our maintenace garages in Atlantic and Adair, said, “In our area, we typically look to put standing corn or round bales in areas where blowing snow can cause visibility problems for motorists. The standing corn really cuts down on the blowing snow, helping drivers see more clearly.”
If you live in an area that you think might benefit from the standing corn program next year or round bale program this year, please contact your local maintenance garage. Locations and contact information is available online at https://iowadot.gov/districts/district-contacts.