Winter rural landscapes changes, need for snow fences diminishes

The rural landscape on winter days has fewer of the idyllic elements than what existed in a previous generation.
It has nothing to do with the amount of snowfall.
It has everything to do with a decreased use of snow fences.
In the 1960s, ‘70s and into the ‘80s, snow fences used to pop up annually in farmer’s fields before the ground froze and they would remain implanted until early spring.
That they are now few and far between doesn’t surprise those who reside on area farmsteads.
“The (snow removal) equipment is so much more massive now, it can handle about anything,” said Dick Parnell, who farms southeast of Mahomet. “In the ‘60s and ‘70s, they couldn’t get through the big snows.”
Doug Turner, who farms north of Mahomet in Newcomb Township, believes recent winters have made it less imperative to put up snow fences.
“When you have a few back-to-back low snow years, people get out of the habit of messing with it,” Turner said.
“They work,” he added, “but I don’t know more than two or three places where people put them up.”
When snow fences are used, the wood-slatted ones from yesteryear have mostly been replaced by the mesh fences that are frequently seen around construction sites.
Tillage practices have changed as well, and farmland is seldom plowed under in the fall.
“Most people leave their bean stubble up and corn stalks up and that’s like a snow fence every 30 inches,” Turner said. “That reduces the drifting.”
Barren fields increased the likelihood of snow blowing across the acreage.
“The fields were tilled and there was nothing to stop the snow and it would come to the road,” said Seymour farmer Chris Karr. “A few years, the fields were bare and the snow in the roads and ditches would get so deep, it would close the road.”
When snow fences were in vogue, they helped reduce the amount of drifting on rural roads and along railroad tracks by forcing the snow to accumulate in desired areas.
Snow fences were often placed in the proximity of the fences farmers used to outline their fields, often to contain livestock which grazed after the harvest.
“The (perimeter) fences created a problem,” Karr said, “drifting into the roadways.”
Fewer of today’s farmers have fences along their property, thus reducing the need for snow fences.
“Those (perimeter) fences made their own snow fences,” Parnell said, “and piled it in the road, so the snow fences were put up inside.”
As country homes become a popular destination for residents looking to leave behind city living, Turner speculates those moves have an effect on snow fences.
“A lot of people living in rural areas haven’t lived in rural areas and never gave it any thought,” he said.
Though Karr erected a snow fence this year north of his home, Turner hasn’t used a snow fence for years.
“Everything we drive is four-wheel and we hardly even plow the drive anymore,” Turner said. “We drive through it.”
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