Research and Assess the Farmer and Mn/DOT Economic and Environmental Costs and Benefits of Living Snow Fences Including Carbon Impacts

Principal Investigator(s):

Gary Wyatt, Extension Educator, UM Extension

Project summary:

Blowing and drifting snow on Minnesota's roadways can adversely affect the efficiency and safety of transportation. Standing corn rows and living snow fences improve driver visibility and road surface conditions and may potentially lower the costs of road maintenance as well as the number of crashes attributed to blowing and drifting snow. These corn rows also have the potential to sequester carbon and to avoid the carbon emissions associated with snow removal operations. However, with the increasing demand for corn to fuel the ethanol industry, paying $1.50 per bushel above market rate may not be a sufficient incentive for landowners to leave standing corn rows. With the new farm bill, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has a memorandum of understanding with the USDA and the Soil and Water Conservation District to plant living snow fences through the Conservation Reserve Program, which makes now an opportune time to review MnDOT's annual payment structure to farmers. As a result, this project has 1) developed a calculator to estimate payments for farmers that considers safety and snow removal cost savings; 2) estimated potential income from carbon payments; 3) worked closely with MnDOT engineers and plow operators to estimate the safety and snow removal costs and carbon emissions avoided by MnDOT through establishing living snow fences; and 4) evaluated farmers/landowners? willingness to establish living snow fences and identified constraints to their adoption. Data are provided to MnDOT to assist staff in making decisions related to the agency?s Living Snow Fence Program.

Project details: