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Frequently Asked Questions

Prairie strips at NSNWR by Meghann JarchowPrairie 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.

FAQ: Should I be concerned about Palmer amaranth?

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.

FAQ: Will prairie strips plug tile lines?

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. 

FAQ: How are prairie strips different from contour buffers and grass strips?

How are prairie strips different from contour buffers and grass strips?


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 strips can be narrower.


FAQ: Are prairie strips only for organic operations?

Are prairie strips only for organic operations?


Prairie strips are a conservation tool that can be used in both conventional and organic farming operations. In conventional farming operations, precision herbicide management is useful. Native forbs (i.e., wildflowers) in the prairie strips are broadleaf plants and can be damaged or even killed by direct contact with herbicide. Once established, native grasses and forbs have deep root systems that help create a durable, resilient plant community.


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