Kurt Stahle and his brothers Kyle and Kevin grew up on a farm near Iowa City. They’ve been driving Iowa 1 for decades and know every spot along the road that is prone to hang on to the worst winter can dish out. That’s why the brothers are proud participants in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Standing Corn Snow Fence program.
Kurt said, “We grew up driving that road and we’ve seen the increase in traffic since Iowa 1 has become a main north-south artery into Iowa City. With the hills, there is often black ice at the crests that people can’t see. Before we started with the standing corn program, I lost several mailboxes to people spinning out on the ice and we used to have to call the local maintenance garage to get the plows back over our way. We don’t have to do that anymore.”
Over the last 20+ years, the Standing Corn Snow Fence program has helped improve wintertime mobility and highway safety all over Iowa using partnerships with dozens of farmers like the Stahles. The program uses 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.
In exchange for leaving the corn in the field, we are contracting with farmers to pay $7.20 per bushel for leaving six to 24 rows standing. The typical payment amount is $2 above the statewide average corn price on Aug. 1. The program also may ask farmers to strategically move round bales into place to block snow from causing issues on the nearby roadway.
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.”
For the Stahles, it’s all about safety. Kurt said, “We started in the program about five years ago because we wanted everyone who drives on Iowa 1 to be safer. And now our kids are behind the wheel, so it’s even more important to us to keep the roads as clear as possible in the winter.”
The program takes cooperation between the farmer and the Iowa DOT. Kurt said, “It’s worth the extra effort to us to plant a different variety of corn in the standing rows and wait until spring to harvest that part of the crop. We can clearly see the benefit every time it snows.”
Here's a video that shows how much snow is captured in the corn rows. That's snow that doesn't have to be plowed off the road.
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.