Wintry weather brings the risk of blowing and drifting snow to Iowa's roads.
A partnership between the Iowa Department of Transportation and farmland owners to reduce that risk is raising its public profile this year.
For about 20 years, standing corn has helped create a barrier to contain the blowing and drifting snow, preventing it from reaching the highways where it can create slippery surfaces and dangerous driving conditions. Craig Bargfrede, winter operations administrator for the DOT, says it works just as well as temporary snow fences and is a lot cheaper.
This year is the first time DOT is advertising its Standing Corn Snow Fence Program with roadside signs.
"We don't have a sign on every single area that farmers have left standing corn but we do have a fair number across the state," Bargfrede says. "If you're on a state highway and you see some standing corn like that, it's a fair bet that it's probably part of the program."
Bargfrede says the program has about 115 landowners participating this year, the third year of increased participation. He says it can benefit farmers by adding moisture to fields, and adds that some will harvest the corn by hand or wait and harvest it in the spring. Still, Bargfrede says competition from cellulosic ethanol plants that will buy baled corn stalks cuts into corn fence participation in some areas.
Bargfrede says this year's corn fence program spent close to $180,000 on contracts with farmland owners.
"You really can't put a dollar value on public safety," he says, "so anything like this that can help us keep the roadways in as near normal a driving condition as possible, and helps us reduce our time out on the system and reduce our cost, it's just a big benefit for us and the public."
The DOT program is for state highways and parts of the interstates. County roads do not fall under the department's jurisdiction.