Good partnerships benefit all those involved. Over the years, the Iowa Department of Transportation has developed some pretty unique solutions to improve wintertime mobility and highway safety using partnerships with dozens of farmers statewide.
Back in the 1980s, our field forces began working with farmers who held fields along state highways in open areas where the terrain is open and flat to create the standing corn program. The partnerships involved the farmer 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.
In exchange for leaving the corn in the field or moving round bales into place, the Iowa DOT paid farmers $5.60 per bushel this year for leaving six to 24 rows standing. The typical payment amount is $2 above the statewide average corn price on Aug. 1. For round bales, we pay landowners $1 per linear foot. The landowner agrees to leave the bales intact in the field throughout the winter.
Craig Bargfrede, the Iowa DOT’s winter operations administrator, said, “Research from the Strategic Highway Safety Program shows that it costs 100 times more to plow snow than to trap it with a fence, so the return on investment with these partnerships is significant.”
While the financial benefits are good, the program also provides a connection between the area Iowa DOT garage staff and local landowners. Our field forces and these local landowners know their areas well. They share ideas and collaborate on road locations where standing corn fences or round bales would be the most beneficial to help reduce the amount of blowing and drifting snow on Iowa’s roadways.
A successful stand of corn takes a bit of planning between our field staff and the farmer. Conversations with landowners should begin early in their planning for the next planting season. 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 early in their planning process helps everyone get a jump on the program for next year.
In addition to the financial benefits to farmers, leaving standing corn in the fields can
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.
Since getting a combine out in the spring for just a few rows is an expensive endeavor, some farmers in the program have banded together to combine all the snow fence rows in the area with one piece of equipment if the farmers are willing to donate the corn. Other farmers allow the remaining corn to be hand-picked and sold 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.
In addition to standing corn or round bales, we work with farmers to install permanent and temporary snow fence or living snow fence in the form of trees, bushes, or other plants in some areas.
If you live in an area that you think might benefit from the standing corn or round bale program, please contact your local maintenance garage. Locations and contact information is available online at https://iowadot.gov/districts/district-contacts.