Farm Progress

What you can learn from snowdrifts

Manage snowdrifts and wind erosion with crop residue and cover crops.

Tom Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

December 5, 2016

3 Min Read

If you drive around northwestern Indiana or in prairie areas during the next several weeks, you will see picket fences set up at key locations to help catch snow and prevent drifting onto roadways. If you left corn stubble relatively tall, or if you have cover crops with sizable growth, you may be able to help do the same job with "natural" snow deflectors.

Brian Musser, a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, says you can manage snow with residue and cover crops, and also learn from what happens to the snow after it drifts and sets for a few days.


The following information was prepared by Musser, with help from the Indiana Conservation Partnership, led by a team of NRCS personnel including Don Donovan, Clint Harrison, Musser and Ruth Hackman, district conservationists; Susannah Hinds, grazing specialist; Scot Haley, resource soil scientist; Kris Vance, public affairs specialist; Victor Shelton, state agronomist/grazing specialist; Tony Bailey, state conservation agronomist; and Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist.

Manage snowdrifts

As you drive around Indiana this winter, pay attention to snowdrifts for both safety and learning reasons, Musser says. In many cases, the amount of snow that drifts on the road is based on the adjacent crop fields.

Musser has noticed that when fields have tall cornstalks or tall cover crops, the snow stays on the field and off the roads, compared to fields that are tilled have soybean stubble. Those cornstalks and cover crops greatly reduce the speed of wind across the surface of a field, and the snow is then deposited on the field. Taller cover crop species like millet, sunflower, sorghum or sudangrass are especially effective along roadways prone to drifting snow.

Keeping the snow on your fields also ensures there is adequate soil moisture, which will be critical during the crop year.

Wind erosion

Also pay attention to the color of snowdrifts, Musser says. Drifts formed near fields covered by crop residue and cover crops are normally white. But drifts near fields that are fall-plowed or have little residue from silage or soybeans may have brown horizontal stripes. 

Musser says those brown stripes are formed by valuable topsoil that blew off the field during high-wind events because the soil wasn’t protected. You may think of wind erosion as large dust clouds like the Dust Bowl images, but cold temperatures, freeze-thaw cycles and dry conditions during Indiana winters make the very top layer of these unprotected soils susceptible to blowing away. 

The combination of cover crops and not tilling in the fall is the best way to eliminate wind erosion during winter months, Musser emphasizes. Contact your local NRCS office to find out how to adopt a system that incorporates residues and cover crops to protect your valuable topsoil and keep the snow on your fields.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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