Standing corn row program helps reduce winter road closures, save state money
MnDOT, local partners, motorists benefit from effort
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Strategically placed rows of corn and a lot of teamwork are helping keep more rural roads open in central and southwestern Minnesota this winter by reducing the amount of snow blowing onto roads that are prone to drifting shut, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The standing corn rows are part of a MnDOT program started about 15 years ago that pays farmers to leave corn stalks up in the winter. The corn rows break the wind’s force, causing the snow to collect around the corn rows instead of drifting onto the roads. The rows improve driver visibility, road surface conditions and lower costs of road maintenance.
Today there are 17 sites with more than six miles of standing corn rows. This year, the program got an extra boost when MnDOT snowplow driver Gene Munsterman, St. Peter, asked some farmers along his route to participate. Sections of Highway 111 and Highway 19 are prone to closures so Munsterman knocked on some farmers’ doors last summer. But the farmers were hesitant about bringing out their combines in the spring to harvest a few rows of corn and they weren’t interested in handpicking the corn either.
That’s when Gary Wyatt, University of Minnesota extension educator in the Mankato regional office, got the Future Farmers of America and 4-H clubs in the Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop and Nicollet school districts to pick the corn. In return, the farmers would make a donation of the harvest proceeds to the clubs.
“This is a great example of the rural community coming together and making a difference during the winter driving season,” said Dan Gullickson, MnDOT living snow fence coordinator.
Under the MnDOT agreement, farmers leave a minimum of six rows of corn in the field. They get reimbursed using a formula based on yield, production, costs, inconvenience factors and price of corn.
When drifts close a road, MnDOT often brings out larger equipment such as blowers and dozers.
“If those standing corn rows are not there, we would have had to remove four- to five-foot snow banks on roads,” Gullickson said.
To date, the cost to push back drifts along one specific road without standing corn rows is more than $3,700, he added.
The program returns $14 in savings for plowing, equipment use and labor for every dollar invested.
“We get the benefit of snow control and FFA and 4-H members made a big difference in reducing our costs and ultimately helping people get safely to their destinations,” Gullickson said.
Research conducted by MnDOT, the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the Center for Transportation Studies show standing corn rows reduced the severity of injuries on curves by 40 percent.
When Munsterman knocked on those doors last August, three new farmers signed up for the program. One of those farmers donated all the proceeds from the standing corn rows to the GFW FFA Chapter. Four 4-H clubs also picked corn for farmers. Youth picked 413 bushels at three different sites last fall.
Gullickson said he hopes this example of neighbor helping neighbor will help the program expand.
“We’ve had a challenging winter with the cold, wind and accumulating snowfalls. There’s lots of corn in Minnesota and if we can work with more farmers, extension offices and FFA and 4-H groups, there could be more standing corn rows out there,” he said. “We appreciate the kids who gave of their time and the landowners who participate.”
Landowners who want more information about the standing corn row program can contact their local MnDOT district office; contact information can be found at www.mndot.gov. Additional information about the program is at www.mndot.gov/environment/livingsnowfence/.