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.


Image 1. Flumes used to measure soil sediment export and surface nutrient loss (STRIPS, 2017e)


In summary, prairie plants reduce soil sediment movement and export by:

  1. Covering soil, protecting it from heavy rain
  2. Slowing the flow of water over the soil surface
  3. Holding soil with deep-rooted plants (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011)

Field Edge Diagram

Planting just 10% of a row crop watershed in native prairie, strategically located on the contours and foot slope, reduces soil sediment export by 95% compared to cropland without prairie strips (STRIPS 2017d).


Challenge #2 How can Prairie Strips Improve Water Quality?

  • Lower nitrogen and phosphorus levels are found in watersheds dominated by prairie vegetation (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011)
  • With as little as 10% of a row-cropped field in deep-rooted stiff-stemmed prairie plants overland water flow was reduced by 37% and surface nitrogen loss reduced by 70% (STRIPS, 2017d).
  • Phosphorus is primarily transported to water bodies by attachment to soil particles. Prairie vegetation reduces soil sediment export thereby reducing phosphorus loss (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011)
  • Use of prairie strips resulted in retention of 20 times more soil and 4.3 times more phosphorus (Schulte et al., 2017).
  • Perennial prairie plants begin growing early in the spring and are able to take up soil nitrogen, thus reducing nitrogen leaching to ground and surface water (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011)


Challenge #3 How can Prairie Strips Increase Biodiversity and Wildlife Habitat?

Insect and Wildlife Biodiversity:

  • Prairies provide insect pollinator habitat and food sources (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011)
  • Because prairie biomass stands year-round, it provides enhanced floral resources, and helps moderate the microclimate around the insects (Jarchow and Liebman)
  • By providing flowering plants for more of the growing season than row crops, prairie strips support a diverse community of pollinators which includes 70 species of native bees along with the European honey bee (Harris and Iyer, 2014).
  • Compared with catchments containing only crops, integrating prairie strips into cropland led to greater catchment-level insect taxa richness (2.6-fold), pollinator abundance (3.5-fold), native bird species richness (2.1-fold), and abundance of bird species of greatest conservation need (2.1-fold) (Schulte et al., 2017).
  • Watersheds incorporated with prairie strips can support upwards of 51 plant species compared to row-crop areas which support closer to 13 plant species (STRIPS. 2017c).
  • These plants provide habitat and food for a variety of wildlife animals and birds (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011)


Click the link to learn more about: Will prairie strips help pollinators?





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