Why would I plant prairie strips on my farm?
Prairie strips are a new conservation practice that deliver enormous soil, water and nutrient benefits while increasing wildlife habitat. Prairie strips:
- Were developed as a result of scientific experiments,
- Are different from existing practices such as grassed waterways or buffers of nonnative plantings; and
- Are compatible with existing federal, state, and other cost-share programs so farmers who implement them can recoup some of their costs, estimated at about $28 to $39 per protected crop acre.
Results from more than eight years of trials showed that converting just 10 percent of a crop field to prairie strips could result in reduction of 95 percent of the sediment, 90 percent of the phosphorus and 84 percent of the nitrogen from overland flow of surface water. The experimental sites were not tile drained and all systems used no-till.
The conservation story: Soil, nutrient and water conservation are critical components of any cropping system. Existing rates of soil and nutrient loss within the U.S. Corn Belt are known to be high and are likely to affect crop yield potential in the future, if not today. Deep-rooted perennial plants, like the species found in prairies native to the Corn Belt region, help retain soil and nutrients and promote rainfall infiltration into soil.
- Recent research work conducted in Iowa at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge indicates that large soil, nutrient and water conservation benefits can be obtained by planting native prairie species in crop fields as STRIPS on the contour and buffers at the base of a slope.
- In addition to reducing water runoff and soil erosion from crop fields, prairie strips can provide habitat to support native animal populations, including birds and beneficial insects that serve as pollinators and enemies of crop pests. The conservation benefits of prairie strips tend to be much greater than the amount of cropland they occupy.
Research results: We’ve documented the following findings through research at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge between 2007 and 2014. Strategically adding about 10 percent prairie to row-cropped watersheds managed on a soy-corn rotation using no-till soil management techniques resulted in:
- 44 percent reduction in water runoff
- 95 percent reduction in soil loss
- 90 percent reduction in P runoff
- 84 percent reduction in N runoff
- No difference in per acre corn and soybean yields
- No difference in weed abundance
- Reduced emissions of heat-trapping gases, especially nitrous oxide
- Potentially improved beneficial insects and wildlife
All of these findings have been documented in peer-reviewed scientific publications. You can find the full citation for these by visiting the STRIPS team's Publications page. Our work at the refuge is on going and now we are also conducting research on commercial farms across Iowa, so stay tuned!
Testimonials from farmers and farmland owners provide some of the best advertisement for prairie strips as a conservation option. You can listen to testimonials from our collaborators in this movie or read a few here.