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Windbreaks in North American agricultural systems

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Abstract

Windbreaks are a major component of successful agricultural systems throughout the world. The focus of this chapter is on temperate-zone, commercial, agricultural systems in North America, where windbreaks contribute to both producer profitability and environmental quality by increasing crop production while simultaneously reducing the level of off-farm inputs. They help control erosion and blowing snow, improve animal health and survival under winter conditions, reduce energy consumption of the farmstead unit, and enhance habitat diversity, providing refuges for predatory birds and insects. On a larger landscape scale windbreaks provide habitat for various types of wildlife and have the potential to contribute significant benefits to the carbon balance equation, easing the economic burdens associated with climate change. For a windbreak to function properly, it must be designed with the needs of the landowner in mind. The ability of a windbreak to meet a specific need is determined by its structure: both external structure, width, height, shape, and orientation as well as the internal structure; the amount and arrangement of the branches, leaves, and stems of the trees or shrubs in the windbreak. In response to windbreak structure, wind flow in the vicinity of a windbreak is altered and the microclimate in sheltered areas is changed; temperatures tend to be slightly higher and evaporation is reduced. These types of changes in microclimate can be utilized to enhance agricultural sustainability and profitability. While specific mechanisms of the shelter response remain unclear and are topics for further research, the two biggest challenges we face are: developing a better understanding of why producers are reluctant to adopt windbreak technology and defining the role of woody plants in the agricultural landscape.

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Brandle, J., Hodges, L. & Zhou, X. Windbreaks in North American agricultural systems. Agroforestry Systems 61, 65–78 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:AGFO.0000028990.31801.62

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