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Shelterbelts Provide Zenkers With Many Benefits In Logan County

Jeff and Kris Zenker, Gackle, N.D., raise crops and cattle, but it’s the farmstead shelterbelts that put a smile on Jeff’s face every day.

Luann Dart writes from Elgin, N.D.

Jeff’s father planted trees around the farmstead in the 1950s and 1960s and Jeff has added to those tree rows over the years.

“I am a strong believer in trees, not only for the benefits of the wind protection for the cattle, but when you drive by a farm, if you have a nice shelterbelt of trees on a farmstead, that really does wonders for that farmstead,” he said.

When their son and daughter-in-law, Taylor and Alecia, moved to the farmstead five years ago, Jeff utilized the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) cost-share program to plant a 12-row shelterbelt as wind protection for the new home and to block snow along the road.

NRCS selected the varieties to offer brilliant autumn colors also.


“The Zenkers like to plan ahead and when our office heard that they wanted to plant more trees around their farmstead, we were excited. Jeff views tree planting as a multipurpose asset. Not only does it reduce energy, but adds beauty,” said Tim Eide, NRCS District Conservationist in the Napoleon field office,

“We’ve had that shelterbelt for five years. Not only does it have some height, but it’s a very colorful shelterbelt. I drive by those trees and it puts a smile on my face every day,” Jeff said.

“Hats off to NRCS. I’m a big believer in trees,” he said. “When you’re out checking cattle in February and you’re looking up and you’re seeing the stars, you’re saying, ‘God you really did a good job.’ God gave us as caretakers of the land, and that’s something we can do here to take care of the land.”

Jeff raises soybeans, corn and wheat, along with forage crops. He and Taylor own 350 cow/calf pairs of commercial and registered Angus on the farm near Gackle in Logan County. Taylor farms his own land and sells yearling bulls in a private treaty sale each spring.

“Jeff also wanted a plan for drought conditions and clean water for his livestock. So, our office was able to assist him with developing a plan for his rangeland and cropland,” Eide said.

This year, Jeff planted a cover crop for the first time on 70 acres, following a crop of oats hay. A cover crop mix of turnips, radishes, peas and oats was planted following the oats hay in July.

About 350 acres of cropland had been fenced with electric fence about five years ago, but Jeff has never been able to utilize the area for grazing. But this fall, he moved his cattle into the cover crops and adjacent harvested wheat and millet fields to utilize for grazing into the winter.

Jeff also utilizes rotational grazing, using larger cells in his pastures, and moving cattle two or three times throughout the summer. Cross fencing and a submersible well were installed with cost sharing by NRCS to implement the program about 15 years ago.

“That was really beneficial,” Jeff said. “I would have never done it if it wouldn’t have been for that.”

“We felt the benefits of saving on the grass and the conservation and the ability of the pastures to get a break,” he said.

Having no-till for the past 15 years also, Jeff hopes the roots on the cover crops also help replenish his cropland.

“There were a lot of benefits to the no-till. One was the soil erosion factor; that was minimal with the no-till. I liked the idea of it costing me a lot less on the fuel side,” he said. “I feel like no-till is a big plus on the lighter soil.”

But compacted soil in soybean fields has also prompted him to start using minimal tillage on heavier soils, and prior to planting corn.

“We like some land worked for the corn. It seems when the soil’s a little bit blacker, that corn comes out of the ground a little bit faster,” he said.”

“Jeff and his wife, Kris, are true stewards of their land and natural resources. For me, it is a rewarding experience whenever I visit with Jeff, as he is proud of trying to improve the land and resources. When you visit his place, you can see conservation on the ground,” Eide shared.

“We try to take care of the land the best we can. We try to stay up on the all the modern technologies,” Jeff said. “The God-given thing to make all this work is for Mother Nature to provide the right rain at the right time.”

cattle, riverbank