Windbreaks: A Strategy for Organic Certification
Farm Operation: Certified Organic
Ross Campbell owns a certified organic farm in Oxford County, East Zorra-Tavistock and planted his windbreaks in 2007. The goals of his windbreak project are to:
Protect his organic crops from contaminants
Prevent soil erosion
Prevent crop damage from wind
Provide long-term environmental improvements
Encourage biodiversity, and
Ross Campbell's Farm
Ross Campbell's farm has a double row of Norway spruce and European Larch, which offers additional crop protection to the present grass buffer on which the trees are planted.
Ross Campbell, Oxford County, East Zorra-Tavistock
Windbreaks and Organic Farming
To maintain the certification of "Organic", farms are required to buffer their fields to ensure there is no contamination of their crops from neighbouring fields. Windbreaks help protect valuable organic crops from being compromised by pesticide drift, genetically modified crops, and other contaminants. Having a grass buffer and a windbreak helps Ross maintain his organic certification.
"I'm certified organic and I have to have at least a 25 foot buffer put up on the side of the farm. So trees fit very well in that."
Plastic Mulch: Improving the Bottom Line
Plastic mulch allows for windbreaks to establish quickly and protect crops earlier. The benefits of plastic mulch include:
Greater water retention
Greater heat retention in the soil, and
Reduced weed growth.
Compared to trees grown by other means, those grown in plastic mulch mature quicker which makes them more valuable because they start functioning as windbreaks much sooner.
Even during a dry season, the advantages offered by using plastic mulch on Ross Campbell's windbreaks resulted in more than a 90 per cent tree survival.
Campbell also believes that "[plastic mulch] is the best idea on an organic farm to keep weeds down" since crop protection chemicals cannot be used for weed control on organic farms.
"When I put the plastic mulch in, there were definitely some strong advantages to having it... the plastic trapped the moisture. We planted these trees in a very dry year, and they still grew well that year."
Having fewer weeds also minimizes windbreak maintenance. Now all Campbell needs to do is trim the double leaders that develop on some spruce trees. Trimming the double leaders enhances the health and shape of the tree.
Pictured above is an example of a tree with a double leader. Double leaders can be removed to a single leader to control and promote tree growth.
Windbreak Maintenance Benefits and Tips
Promote a healthier windbreak by conducting routine maintenance, thinning and inspections.
Remove low hanging branches to reduce the risk of damaging farm equipment.
Trim double leaders (two shoots that grow from the stem/branch at the top of the tree), so that the tree will grow straighter with a single leader, more rapidly and offer crop protection sooner.
Thin limbs or remove stems of mature windbreaks to offer income opportunities, such as fence posts, firewood, sawlogs and other forest products.
Use techniques that emit odour and repel deer, such as soap dispensers and tree guards, to enhance tree survival for quicker growth. Quicker growth results in more productivity and protection to the surrounding crops and trees.
Remove nuisance perennial weeds, such as invasive buckthorn, which can kill windbreak trees.
The spruce tree, pictured in the foreground above, was grown in plastic mulch whereas the shorter spruce trees behind it were not.
Windbreaks are improving the sustainability of Ross Campbell's operations. Not only does the windbreak protect his valuable organic crop, it also improves the environment by providing additional trees and habitats for birds and other animals. Plastic mulch proves to be a key tool in starting a successful windbreak at the Campbell farm.
Watch our windbreak videos.
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