What do prairie strips cost? Is there cost-share available?
We estimate that the average annual cost of converting one acre of crop land to prairie ranges from $280 to $390 per year, depending on the prairie seed mix and cost of land. Protecting a field with prairie strips using a "10% solution," where one acre of perennial prairie protects 9 acres of cropland costs between $28-39 per acre per year. The range of costs is calculated based on average 2017 land rent across a range of cropland quality, as measured by Corn Suitability Rating (CSR). These estimates are based on a 2017 field-level financial analysis conducted by John Tyndall, Associate Professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management.
Most costs associated with prairie strips occur upfront with establishment, both the cost of the prairie seed as well site prep, planting and mowing that go along with establishment. The basic seeding mix for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contains only two forb species that comprise less than 5% of the seed mix, and these mixes often cost about $100/acre. Alternatively, forb-rich seed mixes that include rare species can cost over $1,500 per acre. There are a large number of moderate-diversity prairie seed mixes that cost less than $250 per acre. The source and harvest method also affect seed-mix prices. Planning your seed mix well in advance of planting can help with keeping seed costs low.
Various organizations provide cost-share dollars that can reduce these costs, including but not limited to:
- USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offers annual, cost-share, and in some cases incentive, payments through Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) 10 or 15 year contracts. Under a 15-year CRP contract for a CP 15A contour buffer strip, a farmer could receive a cost reduction of at least 70% percent reducing the cost to about $9 per treated acre.
- USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) may assist with prairies to be harvested or grazed, depending on the county.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partners Program works with landowners to restore wildlife habitat.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) awards small grants for soil and water protection.
- Pheasants Forever funds habitat projects including its Native Seed Program.
- Trees Forever funds Pollinator Habitat Conservation projects in Iowa and Illinois.
This Iowa State University website hosts a decision support tool that can help estimate the specific costs of placing prairie strips or other conservation practices on your farm.