Dozens of artificial Christmas trees are being used by Iowa State University researchers in their quest to study how shelter belts can improve yields and prevent problems like soil erosion and pesticide drift. ISU agronomy professor Gene Takle is using about 70 fake fir and spruce trees in the field. Professor Takle says the artificial trees are durable in the weather and they’re easier to work with than real trees since they can be individually maneuvered and, obviously, don’t take root. Takle says the artificial trees are only part of an experiment. He doesn’t recommend Iowa farmers go out and start lining their plots with fake pines. Takle says they’ll be planting real trees soon to judge the effectiveness of wind breaks in a “real world” situation. ISU is working with the University of Nebraska/Lincoln on the project. The research is being supported by a $553,000 grant from the USDA’s National Research Initiative.