Standing corn program helps Urbana shop reduce clean-up time

IMG_4614If you drove around rural Iowa in August, you saw just how much corn we grow. Now that it’s December, can some of that corn increase motorist safety by reducing blowing and drifting snow?

In a cooperative effort with local farmers, the Iowa Department of Transportation’s maintenance forces seek out locations where leaving eight to 16 rows of corn standing in a field work to reduce the amount of blowing and drifting snow on the adjacent road.

Doug Lickteig, highway maintenance supervisor in the Urbana garage, has 25 Standing Corn Snowfence contracts with farmers on highways in his area this winter season. “This program works really well, but it does take some planning and leg work up front,” he said. “First we look for areas where the road is narrow and there is not a lot of room in the ditch to store snow. In our area, Iowa 150 is a good candidate because the land around it open and flat.”

Because our  local maintenance workers know their areas so well, it’s a pretty simple matter to identify a stretch of road that might benefit from standing corn. What takes a little work is connecting with the landowners. In Urbana, that’s where Highway Technician Associate Bruce Mehlert comes into the picture. “Since the Iowa DOT has had this program for several years, many of the area farmers know about it and are willing to hear us out. I’ve been with the DOT almost nine years, but before that I worked in the ag industry around here, so I know most of the farmers. I go out in the spring and talk to them about what they are planting and discuss the possibility of them participating in the program. Getting the first one to sign on is always the hardest. But when the others see the benefits, they often are willing to cooperate.”

Cooperation on the part of the farmer is not a small task. Mehlert says when working with the farmers, the Iowa DOT will often discuss the possibility of planting different hybrid in the snowfence rows to allow for sturdier stalks. Mehlert said, “The higher yield hybrids sometimes don’t have stalks that stand up well in the winter, so I will talk it over with the farmer and we’ll come to an agreement on a hybrid that will work for both of us for the end rows.”

Standing corn graphic The benefits to farmers include:

  • Payment for the corn that is left in the field.
  • Increased soil moisture in the end rows.
  • Soil erosion control.

Once the corn has served its purpose all winter, the farmer has to get out the combine and clean out the eight to 16 rows that were left as snowfence. “That’s a cost and an inconvenience to the farmers,” said Lickteig. “Luckily the ones who participate see the benefits of a clearer, safer roadway all winter as a bigger benefit than the inconvenience of cleaning up these end rows in the spring.”

Mehlert said, “Some farmers in the area 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. So this program really can become a program 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 cleanup time and other resources needed for that area after a storm. Lickteig said, “Some of the areas are just really tough to stay ahead of in a storm. In the areas where we have standing corn, we have to use less effort and material to get the road cleaned off.”

Getting out and talking to farmers is a key to getting a standing corn program off the ground. Lickteig said, “The people in our garages are a great resource to help get this going. Many of our employees have lived most of their lives in the areas where they work. Some of them also farm and know all of the folks in the area. It does take some work to get a good program off the ground, but in the end, it is a situation that benefits everyone by increasing safety and allowing us to use our resources more wisely.”

If you live in an area that you think might benefit from the standing corn program next year, please send and email to [email protected] and we'll get your information to the appropriate Iowa DOT contact.

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