The STRIPS project began in 2003, when Iowa State University scientists began discussing the opportunity to test the effects of integrating restored prairie in crop fields with managers at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Together, the scientists and refuge managers established four different treatments on 12 small watersheds at Neal Smith in 2007. As of 2012, we're now also working on a growing number of commercial farm fields across Iowa and northern Missouri. Read more about the research background, farmer collaborators, and research topics here.
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.
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.
Can I plant a less diverse mix? Can I plant only grasses?
The number of types of prairie plants sown (“species richness”) and the amount of each type that is present in seed mixes is a management decision. How the plants will function and the seed mix costs are two primary considerations.