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Farm trees can provide a number of benefits, from aesthetics and food to erosion control and oxygen production.
Each year on Arbor Day, states across the U.S. encourage landowners to plant trees on their property. The foundations of this celebration date back to 1855 in Nebraska. Being in a grassland-dominated landscape, wood for building homes and fences was limited. Longing for their beloved forests of the East, pioneer J. Sterling Morton and his wife began planting an orchard and trees on their claim.
In 1872, the Nebraska Board of Agriculture adopted Morton’s idea of a day dedicated to planting trees. His concept quickly took root as 1 million trees were planted on that inaugural day. Over the years, state after state adopted Arbor Day holidays. Given the variation in planting times across the country, the day can range from January and February in South to May and June in the North. National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April.
Trees continue to provide a host of benefits to people and the environment, and those benefits haven’t changed. Let’s review a list of the top 10 reasons trees can be a valuable addition to the hobby farm, whether or not it’s Arbor Day.
Land devoid of trees can sometimes appear desolate, especially in the winter. Evergreen trees can add a splash of life to that drab winter scene. Deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the fall, can create beautiful arrays of fall color and refreshing spring greens. To many, a grove of trees provides serenity and a venue to slow the pace of today’s bustling world.
What could be better than a pie baked from apples grown on your own tree? Maybe a peach pie from the farm! A host of fruit trees not only adds beauty to the farm but provides food for the table, as well. Don’t ignore the value of nut trees, like hickory, walnut and pecan trees among others, for more homegrown food options.
As energy prices climb, wood can be a renewable and affordable form of heat. The fireplace, wood burner or outdoor wood-burning furnace won’t just take the bite out of the cold—it’ll take a bite out of your bills! Burning wood is also a great option for warming workshops on the farm.
Trees can be used to obstruct, deflect or filter wind from your home. Large coniferous trees, planted on the north side of a home and at a safe distance to avoid fallen limbs, can keep wind and weather at bay. Many shelter belts are designed to deflect wind upward by incrementally increasing the height of woody vegetation from shrubs to trees. Decreasing wind on your cropland minimizes soil loss, and obstructing it from your home saves on the heating bill and can limit storm damage.
Similar to wind management, shade from trees can benefit the home and the farm. Shading livestock minimizes stress during the hot summer months. Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of the home affords cooling in the summer and allows solar heating in the winter.
Trees and their mast (nuts and fruit) are essential for countless species of wildlife. They provide nesting, roosting, denning, cover, thermal protection and, of course, food. A diversity of deciduous trees and coniferous trees on the farm will provide year-round habitat for birds and mammals alike.
Wood fiber has economic value. The management of trees on the farm can serve as another cash crop, but it takes a lot longer to harvest. A well-managed forest can yield valuable timber income for generations.
8. Erosion Control
Trees have extensive root systems that help keep soil in place. They are particularly beneficial on slopes, but their value is most recognized along waterways, where their roots keep banks intact.
9. Carbon Storage
The burning of fossil fuels has raised the levels of carbon in the atmosphere. No plant stores more carbon for longer periods of time than trees. Carbon credits are well established in Europe and have been traded in the U.S. The future may bring a new market for the planting of trees to help combat climate change caused by carbon emissions.
10. Oxygen Production
What could be more important to life as we know it than producing oxygen to breathe? Like all plants, trees use the sun to convert carbon dioxide to sugars and oxygen through photosynthesis. Tree leaves can also serve as a filter for removing air pollutants like ozone, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.
If these 10 reasons aren’t enough motivation for you to plant a tree on your farm, think about using trees to minimize noise from a nearby road or to obstruct the view of that neighbor who collects of relics. (Yes, that’s a friendly way of saying junk!) With so many benefits, pick a few spots where you can incorporate trees on your farm.
About the Author: John J. Morgan is a certified wildlife biologist with degrees from Penn State and the University of Georgia. He owns a hobby farm in Kentucky with his wife, Bobbi, and daughter, Bailey.