Prairie Strips: Small Investment, Big Benefits

March 7, 2024

Prairie Strips: Small Investment, Big Benefits

Author: Nancy North

MOWER COUNTY —  Wayne DeWall grows corn and soybeans on 640 acres in the headwaters of the Root River near Grand Meadow in Mower County, Minnesota. He's a practical land manager who has participated in the Root River Field to Stream Partnership since its inception, measuring runoff at fields' edge and in nearby streams, using field walkovers to identify sensitive areas, and implementing conservation practices where needed. But a fine line exsists between financial goals and sound conservation goals, and like most landowners he hesitate to set aside productive crop acres if not faced with a serious need. 

Starting in 2017, after years of baseline monitoring with the Field to Stream Partnership, DeWall began to make changes based on data. He reduced fall tillage to the use of a ripper (an ag implement used for breaking up soil), elimated fall nitrogen applications, and eventually put in targeted prairie filter strips. 

Kevin Kueher, who leads the Root River Field to Stream Partnership and work for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, suggested using prairie strips to address runoff after excessive rainfall on the farm. As a result, Wayne enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) at his local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office to obtain cost share for planting the prairie and to qualify for yearly rental payments.

He purchased a mix of native grasses and forbs (wildflowers) designed to reduce soil and nutrient loss, increase water infilitration and soil quality, and provide habitat for pollinators. Seed was planted with a native seed drill. Wayne mowed the strips with a Batwing-style rotary mower the first and second years to control weeds and enhance native plant growth. 

Patience and persistance, he says, are necessary. "Year one, it looked pretty ugly. Of course, after you clipped it, it looked fine. Year two looked better. You start seeing more of the flowers coming. After that, it was something else!"

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