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The Australian National Windbreaks Program: overview and summary of results

H. A. Cleugh, R. Prinsley, P. R. Bird, S. J. Brooks, P. S. Carberry, M. C. Crawford, T. T. Jackson, H. Meinke, S. J. Mylius, I. K. Nuberg, R. A. Sudmeyer and A. J. Wright

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 42(6) 649 - 664
Published: 15 October 2002


This overview paper presents a description of the National Windbreaks Program (NWP) — its objectives, the main methods used to achieve these objectives and a summary of the key results. It draws these from the individual papers appearing in this special issue, which provide detailed descriptions and discussion about the specific research sites and research methods used, in addition to interpreting and discussing the results. The key findings were the following:

(i) Two broad areas of crop and pasture response can be identified downwind of a porous windbreak: a zone of reduced yield associated with competition with the windbreak trees that extended from 1 H to 3 H, where H is the windbreak height, and a zone of unchanged or slightly increased yield stretching downwind to 10 H or 20 H.

(ii) Averaged over the paddock, yield gains due to the effect of shelter on microclimate were smaller than expected — especially for cereals. Yield simulations conducted using the APSIM model and 20 years of historical climate data confirmed this result for longer periods and for other crop growing regions in Australia. Larger yield gains were simulated at locations where the latter part of the growing season was characterised by high atmospheric demand and a depleted soil water store.

(iii) Economic analyses that account for the costs of establishing windbreaks, losses due to competition and yield gains as a result of shelter found that windbreaks will either lead to a small financial gain or be cost neutral.

(iv) Part of the reason for the relatively small changes in yield measured at the field sites was the variable wind climate which meant that the crop was only sheltered for a small proportion of the growing season. In much of southern Australia, where the day-to-day and seasonal variability in wind direction is large, additional windbreaks planted around the paddock perimeter or as closely-spaced rows within the paddock will be needed to provide more consistent levels of shelter.

(v) Protection from infrequent, high magnitude wind events that cause plant damage and soil erosion was observed to lead to the largest yield gains. The main forms of direct damage were sandblasting, which either buries or removes seedlings from the soil or damages the leaves and stems, and direct leaf tearing and stripping.

(vi) A corollary to these findings is the differing effect that porous windbreaks have on the air temperature and humidity compared to wind. While winds are reduced in strength in a zone that extends from 5 H upwind to at least 25 H downwind of the windbreak, the effects of shelter on temperature and humidity are smaller and restricted mainly to the quiet zone. This means that fewer windbreaks are required to achieve reductions in wind damage than for altering the microclimate.

(vii) The wind tunnel experiments illustrate the important aspects of windbreak structure that determine the airflow downwind, and subsequent microclimate changes, in winds oriented both perpendicular and obliquely to porous windbreaks. These results enable a series of guidelines to be forwarded for designing windbreaks for Australian agricultural systems.

Keywords: windbreaks, shelter, agricultural productivity, microclimates, water use.

© CSIRO 2002

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