How Uncut Cornstalks Improve YOUR Safety (& Farmers’ Bottom Line)

Written by James Griesbach

Why do farmers sometimes leave a few rows of cornstalks standing in a field? If you say it helps farmers measure their yield or for crop insurance purposes, you’re half-right.


There’s another reason for it locally that you may not know…


In 2016, Marathon County’s Highway Department began a new program of paying local farmers to leave certain rows of corn uncut in the hopes of keeping snow drifts off the roads. The program is appropriately named: The Marathon County Standing Corn Row Snow Fence Program.

The driving public gets safer roads with the help of 8-foot tall cornstalk fences that keep much of the blowing snow from reaching the road, and county crews don’t have to invest staff time and money installing and removing hundreds of feet of those bright-orange plastic snow fences. Typically, 8 to 16 rows of corn are left standing at a distance of 50 to 100 feet from the highway.

Corn Row Snow Fence explanation

The value of safer roads is priceless. What’s more, this partner program adds value to our local farmers’ fields. Farmers benefit through a payment of 50₵ more per bushel than the market price for the corn they planted.

The approximate cost of paying a farmer for a standing cornrow snow fence is between 28 and 35 per foot. The approximate cost to install—and later remove—a traditional snow fence is $1.44 to $1.75 per foot (based on a 5-year life of the fence).

In deciding where the fences should be located, plow drivers targeted farm fields next to roads where there was a history of snow drifting. Highway department staff simply knocked on farmers’ doors and asked if they would like to participate in the new program.

In 2016, three farmers participated in the program on county highways. The average participant received approximately $330 for 1,200 feet of standing corn.

Corn Row Snow Fence in Marathon County

To participate in this new partner program, farmers must have fields in locations where snow visibly drifts across a county or state highway. (Planting patterns may need to be adjusted so that the cornrows run parallel to the highway.)

Farmers are welcome to contact the Highway Department (715-261-1800) to determine if their cornfields can help make Marathon County highways even safer for their friends and neighbors. 

James Griesbach - Marathon County Highway CommissionerJames Griesbach

Highway Commissioner  |  Marathon County Highway Department

James Griesbach has served as Marathon County Highway Commissioner since 2006. Jim has been a lifelong resident of Marathon County and currently resides not far from where he was raised, on his family’s farm near Rozellville.  Email James Griesbach

The Marathon County Highway Department oversees the maintenance of over 600 miles of the county trunk highway system and annually contracts with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to maintain an additional 700 lane miles of State and Federal Highway System roads. We invite you to click the following links to learn more about the Marathon County Highway Department, possible job opportunities, the wheel tax, the Adopt-a-Highway program, road construction projects & traffic bulletins, FAQs, and more.

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County Board meetings are OPEN TO THE PUBLIC and typically take place in the Assembly Room of the Marathon County Courthouse. The Board meets twice a month—with the informational meeting on a Thursday evening, and the voting meeting on a Tuesday afternoon.

As part of our mission to build community and to be transparent and accountable to you—the taxpayer—we invite you to attend.

Meeting agendas, details, and video links can be found on the county’s website:

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