Download a ISU Extension report on how targeting key portions of row-crop fields to perennial vegetation can lead to dramatic improvements in environmental benefits on farmland:
Prairie strips is a farmland conservation practice that uses strategically placed native prairie plantings in crop fields. The practice has been tested by the STRIPS team since 2007 on experimental plots at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and increasingly on commercial farms across Iowa. Here we present our responses to the Frequently Asked Questions we receive on prairie strips at conferences and field days, and through email. The information was prepared by team members, and will be updated over time as needed, as we continue to learn. The answers below are general in nature, and may not apply in specific situations. Resources are provided with each answer.
Should I be concerned about Palmer amaranth in my prairie strips?
Yes. Palmer amaranth is a noxious and aggressive weed that is now widely distributed in Iowa. It is difficult to control and can strongly affect crop production. It was unintentionally brought into the state on agricultural equipment and within seed mixes for native plantings as well as in cotton seed and gin trash used in dairy rations. Additionally, some seeds of this species could have come in via hay and/or livestock bedding.
Will prairie strips plug tile lines?
Perforated tile are buried under cropland to remove excess water detrimental to crop production. Farmers and landowners considering installing strips of prairie plants in their fields have asked about the possibility of roots growing into tile lines. To address this potential, Tim Younquist and Matt Helmers used video cameras to evaluate root penetration into the tile lines under prairie and continuous corn.
Students will be able to:
- Explain challenges facing Midwestern farmers.
- Define and explain the prairie STRIPS project.
- Explain the agronomic benefits of prairie strips.
- Recommend key features of prairie strip designs.
- Identify characteristics of prairie plant species which makes them useful conservation devices.
- Describe appropriate prairie strip installation and establishment procedures.
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:
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).
Al-Kaisi, M. 2000. Soil erosion: An agricultural production challenge. Iowa State University. https://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/icm/2000/7-24-2000/erosion.html (accessed 27 Aug. 2017).
Brady, N.C., and R.R. Weil. 2008. The nature and properties of soils. 14th ed. Prentice Hall, Ohio. Crop Data Management Systems (CDMS). 2017. Label database. Crop Data Management Systems. http://www.cdms.net/Label-Database (accessed 27 Aug. 2017).