Management Overview


diversified farm 2


Prairie strips are a farmland conservation practice that deliver disproportionate benefits to soil and water while providing wildlife habitat and retaining nutrients.

Prairie strips:

  • Were developed as a result of scientific experiments,
  • Help conserve farmland by strategically incorporating native prairie plants into crop fields; and
  • Are compatible with existing federal and state cost-share programs so farmers who implement them can recoup some of their costs, estimated at between $28 and $39 per protected acre per year. Prairie strips are now eligible for the Conservation Reserve Program in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Results from more than 13 years of trials have demonstrated that converting 10 percent of a crop field to strategically placed prairie strips could result in the reduction of 95 percent of 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.

Not Your Typical Contour Buffer Strip

Contour buffers are typically planted with fixed widths. In contrast, we vary the width of the prairie strips based on the amount of water they intercept, with the goal of treating all of the runoff leaving the crop field. Where more water is flowing down-slope, prairie strips should be wider, and where less water is flowing down-slope, the prairie strips can be narrower. Also, the types of plants used for conservation buffers and filter strips can affect how they function. Cool season exotic grasses such as smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass are widely used to provide ground cover in agricultural areas of the U.S. Corn Belt, but are relatively weak-stemmed and prone to laying flat under heavy rain. They are useful for grassed waterways that are intended to convey water while preventing erosion. In contrast, native tall-grass prairie communities are typically dominated by stiff-stemmed warm season grasses such as Indiangrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, and a wide range of erect forb (i.e., wildflowers) species that are less prone to collapse under heavy rain. These native plants are more effective in providing resistance to water flow and sediment movement.

How Are Prairie Strips Implemented?

Prairie can be planted several times throughout the year. It is preferable to seed in either the fall after harvest, or the spring, before or after planting (but before June 30 in Iowa). Midsummer is generally not a good time to plant. Prairies include two basic types of plants, forbs (i.e. wildflowers) and grasses. Forbs benefit from the cold wet stratification an Iowa winter provides, and like a fall seeding. Prairie grasses should be seeded in greater volume for a fall seeding as their germination rates suffer from predation and exposure. Dormant, or winter seedings also can be successful. There are numerous native seed dealers and technical service providers throughout Iowa and the Midwest. The Plant Iowa Native website has a comprehensive list and contact information for seed sales and technical service providers. This Iowa State University decision support tool can help with estimating costs. We've also developed a Prairie Strips Designer Tool along with a tutorial on how to use the designer tool.

You should be aware that multiple years will be required, three at minimum, for your prairie strips to start really looking like a prairie. 

  • During the first year, mowing is required. The strips will look like a short, vegetated buffer. It will not look like a prairie. Native species put most of their first-year energy in their roots and will not produce significant above-ground biomass.
  • During the second year, early species (i.e., Canada wild rye, partridge pea, and black-eyed Susan) will be recognizable and may bloom. Unless there is considerable weed pressure, mowing is not necessary. Spot spraying can be used in year two if there are weedy areas.
  • By the third year, most prairie restorations will begin to resemble a diverse native tallgrass plant community.
  • Thereafter, maintenance will consist of spot application of herbicide as needed and baling or prescribed burning of the strips if desired. If prairie strips become dominated by weeds or invasive species, maintenance mowing and application of herbicide can be used to control them. Weeds and invasive species can be held in check by planting a diverse mix of native species in the initial planting and mowing the strips in the first year.

Interested in learning more?  

Check out our FAQ page and our How do I Get Started? page. You can also find webinars by the STRIPS team and farmer collaborators by searching this website. You can read about testimonials from our farmer and farmland owner collaborators here. Contact the STRIPS team at with questions and technical assistance with field layout.  

You can also check out this quick six part series that covers the basics of prairie management: Prairie Strips in One Minute: A Six-Part Series



STRIPS Team Assesses Tile Systems Under Prairies

This news release and video summarizes the team's evaluation of corn and prairie root penetration into tile lines.

Prairie Strips Consultants

The Become a Prairie Strips Consultant program for Technical Service Providers (TSPs), Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), and other farm advisors offers education for supporting installation and maintenance of prairie strips. See our list of participants who completed the program at the Bluestem, Coneflower, and Prairie Clover levels as of October 18, 2

Training Module: Using Native Prairie Strips to Improve Soil and Water Quality

Welcome to the Prairie Strips training module. This self-guided resource is intended for consulting professionals, technical or extension staff, and those interested in learning more about the prairie strips practice. The seven chapters listed below include descriptions, visuals, and videos that will educate participants about some of the major challenges that Midwestern farmers and landowners face when it comes to meeting conservation goals, and how prairie strips can be used as a multi-benefit conservation practice.

Chapter 1: Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Explain challenges facing Midwestern farmers.
  2. Define and explain the prairie STRIPS project.
  3. Explain the agronomic benefits of prairie strips.
  4. Recommend key features of prairie strip designs.
  5. Identify prairie plant species and the characteristics which make them useful in achieving conservation.

Chapter 2: Introduction


Access to a variety of inexpensive, safe, and high quality foods can be credited to the productivity and efficiency of grain crop production techniques used today. However, the agronomic techniques used to manage the majority of grain acres are associated with some negative effects, including soil erosion, impaired water quality, and declining biodiversity in the Midwestern United States.

Chapter 3: Soil Erosion, Water Quality, and Biodiversity Are Three Challenges Midwest Farmers Face

Soil Erosion, Water Quality, and Biodiversity Are Three Challenges Midwest Farmers Face

Chapter 4: Prairie Strips - One Possible Solution

Prairie Strips - One Possible Solution

The integration of prairie strips into row crops is one possible solution to address the challenges facing Midwest farmers.

What is the STRIPS Project?

What is the STRIPS Project?


Chapter 5: Economics

The Cost of Prairie Strips

Chapter 6: Take Home Points

Take Home Points

  • Incorporation of prairie strips into row crop land is one possible solution to the challenges facing Midwest farmers.

  • Converting just 10% of row crop land into prairie provides disproportionate benefits.

  • Prairie strips slow water runoff and encourage water infiltration, reducing soil erosion and nutrient export, thereby improving water quality.

  • Prairie strips increase the habitat available for biodiversity, including pollinators and some grassland birds.

Chapter 7: References

Al-Kaisi, M. (2000). Soil erosion: An agricultural production challenge. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. (Accessed 27 August 2017).

Brady, N. C. & Weil, R. R. (2008). The nature and properties of soils. (14th ed.). United States: Pearson. 

Crop Data Management Systems (CDMS). (2017). Label database. (Accessed 27 August 2017).

Challenge #1: Soil Erosion from Agricultural Fields

Challenge #1: Soil Erosion from Agricultural Fields

Land degradation due to soil erosion

Soil erosion adversely impacts agronomic productivity. Additionally, soil erosion negatively impacts the environment, food security, and quality of life. The effects of soil erosion have both on-site and off-site impacts. For example, on-site impacts may include reduced crop yield and increased nutrient loss, while off-site impacts may include water contamination and increased food prices.

 Three reasons why soil erosion is an important issue:

Challenge #2: Reduced Water Quality

Challenge #2: Reduced Water Quality

Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and suspended soil sediments have greatly diminished water quality (USEPA, 2017a). Polluted water with unusually high concentrations of dissolved or suspended materials, or small amounts of highly toxic materials can be detrimental and sometimes even deadly to living things. Civilization has many uses for and is dependent on high-quality water (Troeh et al., 2004).

Major agricultural contributions to reduced water quality include:

What are Prairie Strips?

What are Prairie Strips?


Priaire Strips Photo by Tim Youngquist

Challenge #3: Poor Biodiversity and Wildlife Habitat

Challenge #3: Poor Biodiversity and Wildlife Habitat

A decline in biodiversity, or the variety of life in an area or ecosystem, is the third challenge identified by scientist Lisa Schulte Moore.

Video: A Difference You Can See with Lisa Schulte Moore

A Difference You Can See with Lisa Schulte Moore


Click the image to watch the video:

Cybox Link



How Prairie Strips Address Midwestern Farmer Challenges

Challenge #1 How can Prairie Strips reduce Soil Erosion?

The flumes pictured below are used to measure runoff from the STRIPS watersheds. Note the difference in the amount of sediment displaced between pictures 1, 2 and 3. Picture 1 represents a 100% no-till crop field with corn and soybean rotation compared to just 10% prairie treatment in picture 2 and 100% prairie in picture 3.

Prairie Strip Design and Placement

Prairie Strip Design Considerations

The following are some general guidelines to consider when strategically incorporating prairie on the land.

Photo by Anna McDonald

Considerations for Prairie Plant Species Selection

Considerations for Prairie Plant Species Selection

Dominant Prairie Plant Species

Dominant Prairie Plant Species

Click the link to access the Iowa Prairie Plants guide. The guide enables you to search or browse by classification, scientific name, and common name.

Prairie Strip Installation and Establishment

Installation and Establishment

Prairie strips are most easily established in fields which have previously been used for tilled annual row crop production (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011). Seeding following soybeans is especially favored for prairie strip establishment because the tilled field will have a reduced seed bank of annual weed seed and the soybean stubble will decompose readily (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011).

Nonetheless, if the correct procedures are followed prairie can be easily established following any crop or land cover.

Maintenance - Ongoing Management

Maintenance - Ongoing Management


Maintenance Year 1:

During the first year of establishment prairie plant species will use their energy mainly for root growth. It is important to allow sunlight to reach the soil surface and the prairie plants (STRIPS, 2017b). Annual weed pressure will be the greatest during the first year and will decrease in subsequent years.

Social Engagement

Social Engagement

To spread the word and adoption of this new conservation practice, the STRIPS team relies on the influence of multiple entities to work with Midwestern farming communities. These include partner organizations, cooperating landowners, scientists, educators, and extension specialists to visually display signage, conduct research, host educational field days and provide extension workshops.

A Nutrient Reduction Strategy with Matt Helmers

Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy

“The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner” (ISU, 2017b).

Meet the Author

Willard Mott, Professor of Agriculture at Illinois Valley Community College


Why Prairie Strips? Our Farmer & Farm Landowner Cooperators Explain

Our cooperators are best at explaining why prairie strips are a practical farmland conservation tool. We've collected a few of their testimonials on this new web page. Check back in the future for more.

Summer 2018 Field Days

Prairie strips will be part of several field days this summer. Click here for more information.

Prairie Strips Taking Root in Wisconsin

Wisconsin farmers and farmland owners are establishing prairie strips! Click here to learn more.

2018 STRIPS Landowner Report

2018 Research summary for prairie strips cooperators and landowners: landowner_summary_2018_-_public.pdf

Prairie strips are improving wildlife habitat on Lanz Heritage Farm

STRIPS Cooperator Survey 2018 results

ISU researchers pave the way to make prairie strips eligible option for federal conservation program

How women in Iowa are leading farmland conservation efforts

Earth Day Special Panel Webinar: Keeping Our Water Healthy: Native Plants and Watersheds April 22

The Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Grow Native! program will host a Zoom webinar on native plants and watersheds with four native plant and water quality experts.

Prairie Strips for Improved Soil Retention, Water Quality and Habitat Creation

From Missouri Prairie Foundation: 

Prairie strips are a new conservation practice that use native grasses and flowers to control erosion, filter water, create habitat, and much more. Iowa State University Agricultural Specialist Tim Youngquist will discuss details about the design, installation, and maintenance of prairie strips on corn and soybean ground.

Iowa Honey Producers Association Summer Field Day

This is a full day of knowledge exchange for beekeepers of all levels. A delicious lunch is included in the registration cost.

Location is at Ebert Mt. Vernon Honey:

Adam Ebert

1090 Highway One North

Mount Vernon, Iowa

Tallgrass Prairie Center Native Seed Panel Discussion

The state of Iowa is roughly 97% privately owned. Landowners implementing conservation practices, like native prairie habitat, are a major driver of the market for native seed in Iowa.  Landowners and conservation planners will join us to discuss their experiences in planning and planting for conservation. We will look for ways to improve the process and increase the success of native seedings by connecting landowners with resources they need.
Date: Friday, July 16, 2021

Time: 1:00-2:30 CDT

Prairie Strips Field Day

This field day is free, open to the public and includes talks, opportunities for networking, and snacks! Kickoff event for the new MiSTRIPS program. Featuring Melissa Shaw of SKS Farms, Doug Landis and Corinn Rutkoski of Michigan State University and Marc Hasenick of Hasenick Brothers Farm. 

Hands-On Soil Health Clinic

Please REGISTER so we can plan accordingly. Register here; or call 608-590-5758. (Registration closes Oct 13, at 12 am (midnight)).


• 10 am – Event Start


• 10:15 am - Welcome from Fond du Lac County Land & Water Conservation Dept.


Prairie Strips Technical Note for Conservation Planners

Lisa Schulte Moore joins Mitchell Hora and Tara Vander Dussen on the Field Work Podcast