Concerned to Confident: A Turkey Farmer’s Story
Henry County, located in rural southeast Iowa, has an economy largely powered by agriculture. Just over twenty percent of the jobs in the county are related to agriculture, and over half of those are in the livestock industry.
The area is well-known for its turkey production. Ben Leichty is one of the area’s turkey farmers. In 2008, Leichty joined his uncle Kevin on the 3rd generation family farm and put up two of his own turkey barns.
The site is located on the top of a small ridge and had nothing blocking the wind. When he learned about the Green Farmstead Partner program at an Iowa Turkey Federation area meeting, his interest in planting trees was piqued.
While the idea of planting trees to improve the aesthetics of the farm and serve as a windbreak and natural snow fence interested him, Leichty had concerns. Namely, he didn’t want to attract birds that could potentially carry diseases to the site, nor he did want trees that would require a lot of long-term maintenance. Other concerns included making sure trucks could get in and out of the site easily and avoiding impacts on surrounding farm ground.
After researching and reading studies about poultry farms in other states that have successfully planted trees and learning about the suggested separation distances from the barns, he decided if a tree planting was done properly, his worries could be laid to rest. At that point, he decided to move forward.
In the spring of 2011, over 120 Techny Arborvitae and Black Hills Spruce wereplanted on the north and west sides of the turkey barns to serve as a windbreak. The site is located on a county highway, so Leichty decided to include ornamental trees by the driveway for extra visual appeal. Egli Landscapes, headquartered out of Waylandand located only a few miles from Leichty’s farm, designed the plan and planted the trees. The trees were purchased from Kelly Tree Farm of Clarence. Both Egli Landscapes and Kelly Tree Farm are involved in the Green Farmstead Partner program and have extensive experience in windbreaks and landscaping.
“I’m glad I put them (the trees) in when I did and didn’t wait,” Leichty said, reflecting on the last four growing seasons. He added that if he were to start over from scratch, he would do many things exactly the same – he is especially happy with the decision to mulch the entire row (instead of just around each tree) because it made mowing simple.
The only thing he says he might do differently is to add an irrigation system. The first two summers after the trees were planted were exceptionally dry, so Leichty watered the trees by hand on a weekly basis. By the third growing season, he felt comfortable lessening the frequency of watering.
The attention to detail – from quality trees, to exceptional installation, to maintenance – has paid off. Of the 120 trees planted, only one has died. Another tree had bagworms briefly, but after removing them from the tree and a cold winter that killed the bagworms, they have not caused any more issues.
After only four years, the trees are starting to accomplish what Leichty set out to do. “Several people have said the trees and farm look nice,” he said, adding that the trees are starting to drop snow and serve as an effective windbreak. He added that despite his initial concerns, he hasn’t seen an increasein rodents or birds due to the presence of the trees.
He says the advantage of using the GFP program was “being able to get information on trees, make sure they would work with a livestock building, and ensure they would be a wise investment. (The program) connected me with other people who knew about trees.”
Leichty encourages other farmers considering a tree planting on a livestock or poultry farm to “make sure you follow the recommended set-back distances and work with someone knowledgeable about trees so you do it right the first time and don’t take away from your investment in the future.”
To learn more about the Green Farmstead Partner program, or to get started on a tree planting for your farm, visit www.supportfarmers.com/greenfarms or call 800-932-2436.
(Thanks to the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers for the article and photos.)