For the past couple of years, Ted Kornder has left a swath of cornstalks standing along a stretch of his farm that borders Hwy. 169 near Belle Plaine — on purpose.
Unknown to thousands of motorists speeding along the busy thoroughfare every day, Kornder’s standing corn rows are a critical part of a Minnesota Department of Transportation program to combat snow blowing onto the highway.
The wall of corn acts as a natural fence of sorts, blocking snow from fanning across the road — and keeping cars from careening out of control on icy patches of the rural roadway southwest of the Twin Cities.
MnDOT depends on many farmers and private landowners to contribute to its living fence program throughout the state, and hopes to expand the effort in the future.
Sometimes efforts to create a living snow fence involve leaving corn intact; in other cases, trees, shrubs, native grasses and wildflowers are planted permanently along selected highways and ramps. If using private land, MnDOT pays owners a fee based on a formula — the minimum standing corn row fence payment is $1,000 an acre.
While money serves as an incentive to attract landowners to the program, safety concern plays a part, too.
“If we can keep one person out of the ditch in the winter, it’s worth it,” Kornder said.