Chapter 5: Economics


The Cost of Prairie Strips

The cost of prairie strips will vary from farm to farm depending on the field characteristics. Typically, about 10% of the cropland needs to be converted to prairie strips to gain disproportionate benefits. This means that the water runoff from 9 acres of row crop can be treated with 1 acre of perennial prairie. The average total annual costs of converting one acre of cropland to prairie ranges from $279 to $353 (Table 1). Therefore, converting one tenth of every acre from annual crop to prairie costs between $28 to $35 per treated crop acre (STRIPS, 2017e). These costs will be lower if prairie strips are cited on acres that are lower performing from a crop production standpoint (Brandes et al., 2016).

Annualized total costs of prairie strip over 15-yr Plan

Table 1. Annualized total costs of prairie strips calculated over 15-year management period at a 2% discount rate (in 2017 dollars) (STRIPS, 2017e)

Opportunity Costs

Opportunity costs associated with planting prairie strips will vary by farm. Factors which influence opportunity costs include ownership, soil quality, management practices, and crop and land value, but they scale up incrementally with the amount of land taken out of crop production. Forgone income from rent or net revenue loss associated with land converted to perennial prairie are opportunity costs associated with planting prairie strips (Table 2). The USDA FSA offers Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts which can help offset opportunity costs. Under a 15-year CRP contract, farmers could receive a total cost reduction of approximately 75%, thus costing about $8 per year per crop acre treated with prairie (STRIPS, 2017e).

Estimated range of costs for a 15 year management plan

Table 2. Estimated range of costs for a 15 year management plan of 10% prairie strip planting after soybean (in 2017 dollars) (STRIPS, 2017e)


Click the following link to view the article: Will prairie strips help increase my crop yield?


To date, the STRIPS team has seen no effects of prairie strips on yields in adjacent cropped areas. Converting cropland to prairie strips will reduce the amount of land that is cropped. Payments for prairie strips from federal conservation programs and other sources can help offset this cost.

Some research suggests the beneficial insects, including pollinators and the predators of insect pests, associated with prairie strips could help boost yield within adjacent crops, but this is still an area of ongoing research (ISU, 2017a).


Seed cost per acre:

Seed costs are highly variable and depend upon the goals of the planting. The CP-25 seed mix cost is estimated at $250 per acre. The CP-25 mix is a high diversity grass and forb seed mix for rare and declining habitat offered by seed companies for use in prairie restoration.

Refer to Chapter 4: Consideration for Prairie Plant Selection and consult with a prairie strips consultant to select the grass and forbs species which fit within your budget and your goals.

Site preparation expenses:

The mean price per acre for site preparation expenses is $38 per treated acre. This cost includes tillage, herbicide, and herbicide application (Table 2).

Establishment expenses:

The mean price per acre for establishment is estimated at $36 per treated acre when seed drilling and seed packing are performed. This cost can vary depending on the method used for seeding (Table 2).

Maintenance Expenses:

The mean price per acre for maintenance is variable depending on the method used to maintain the prairie strips. The least expensive method is mowing the prairie strips and costs $34 to $67 per acre. While burning the prairie strips is more expensive ranging from $60 to $200 per acre (Table 2).

Cost-share Options:

The USDA through the FSA and the NRCS administers a variety of cost-share options and lease contracts such as CRP which can provide financial and technical assistance with prairie strip installation. Contact your local USDA service center or visit the USDA Website for more information.


The following agencies and organizations offer cost-share programs:

Conservation Reserve Program

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) 

US Fish and Wildlife Partners Program 

Iowa Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) 

Pheasants Forever

Trees Forever


Added Income:

Grazing Cattle

Prairies can provide forage for livestock (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011). Therefore, additional income can be gained by grazing cattle or leasing the prairie for grazing purposes. When prairie forage is used as part of a larger high quality feed ration meat or dairy products can be produced. Additionally, grazing livestock on prairie can provide additional cost savings by reducing the need for mowing or burning, and preventing the growth of woody vegetation.

Haying for forage and bedding

Additional income can be provided when prairies are mowed and baled for feed or bedding. Prairie plant species and time of harvest should be selected which are best suited for these purposes. Additional management may be required to manage fertility and prairie health.

Other sources of income

Prairie strips can provide additional alternative forms of income. For example: income from lease contracts for bee keeping or hunting, harvesting prairie biomass for bioenergy production, and producing native seeds.


Cost Reduction & Income Sources Flow Chart




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