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‘Windbreaker’ Big Sacaton – Protecting Crops and Structures from Blowing Soil

By Danny Goodson, Agronomist

Windbreaker big sacaton plant at the Los Lunas Plant Materials Center, 2011Since work began with big sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) in 1980, the Los Lunas Plant Materials Center (NMPMC​), Los Lunas, New Mexico, recognized the potential of this native grass to address several conservation issues. Plant evaluation and selection work spanning 30 years, at both the NMPMC​ as well as test plantings throughout the Southwest, confirmed that this robust forage producer was a valuable conservation tool.

‘Windbreaker’ big sacaton is noted for its exceptional, stiff stemmed, forage height sometimes reaching more than 9-feet high and 5-feet wide (or more) at its base, valuable traits for wind protection plantings. Windbreaker forage, when mature, remains upright two years and longer.

Windbreaker has been tested at over 13 locations in New Mexico and Arizona where it has shown itself to be effective in protecting cropland and urban sites from the damaging spring winds of the southwest. In 2011 Windbreaker became commercially available.

Test plantings, as well as independent farmer use, has confirmed that Windbreaker is widely adapted, requires minimal supplemental water, and most importantly reduces the amount of damage and economic loss caused by soil movement during high wind events. The NRCS Deming New Mexico field office assisted in installing approximately 8 miles of wind barrier plantings, using Windbreaker, since 2011.

Windbreaker is currently recommended by the New Mexico and Arizona Natural Resources Conservation Service for use in vegetative windstrips or barriers, however the Los Lunas Plant Materials Center is evaluating Windbreaker for other future conservation practices, including use as natural mulch for seeding and as a possible renewable energy source.

2009 Noise barrier and windstrip planting at Lovington Agrcultural Service Center Lovington, NM next to Local Highway

‘Windbreaker’ being used to reduce noise at the Lovington Agricultural Service Center Lovington, NM next to local highway

2005 Big sacaton windstrip planting in Columbus, NM protecting adjacent cropland next to road

‘Windbreaker’ Big sacaton planting in Columbus, New Mexico protecting cropland, located behind the windstrip, from blowing sand coming off the adjacent farm road

Windbreaker big sacaton mature plan

Mature 'Windbreaker' big sacaton at the Los Lunas Plant Materials Center, Los Lunas, New Mexico

2008 Big Sacaton windstrip on the Navaho Nation near, The Gap, Arizona for dryland planting protecting dryland cropland

’Windbreaker’ windstrip on the Navajo Nation near The Gap, Arizona protecting non-irrigated cropland from blowing soil