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Training Module: Using Native Prairie Strips to Improve Soil and Water Quality

Welcome to the Prairie Strips training module. This self-guided resource is intended for consulting professionals, technical or extension staff, and those interested in learning more about the prairie strips practice. The seven chapters listed below include descriptions, visuals, and videos that will educate participants about some of the major challenges that Midwestern farmers and landowners face when it comes to meeting conservation goals, and how prairie strips can be used as a multi-benefit conservation practice. Read more about Training Module: Using Native Prairie Strips to Improve Soil and Water Quality

Chapter 1: Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Explain challenges facing Midwestern farmers.
  2. Define and explain the prairie STRIPS project.
  3. Explain the agronomic benefits of prairie strips.
  4. Recommend key features of prairie strip designs.
  5. Identify prairie plant species and the characteristics which make them useful in achieving conservation.
Read more about Chapter 1: Learning Objectives>

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. Read more about How Prairie Strips Address Midwestern Farmer Challenges

FAQ: Why did you start your experiment at a National Wildlife Refuge?

Iowa’s plentiful agriculture draws on the diminishing heritage of native prairies: rich soils, biodiversity, cleaned water and controlled erosion –  services that are impaired by today’s agricultural practices. Are there practices that mix row-crop agriculture and prairie to develop win/win systems? The 6,400-acre Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Jasper County in central Iowa provided a unique opportunity for researchers to test practices on a "whole" watershed. Read more about FAQ: Why did you start your experiment at a National Wildlife Refuge?

Challenge #1: Soil Erosion from Agricultural Fields

Challenge #1: Soil Erosion from Agricultural Fields

Land degradation due to soil erosion

Soil erosion adversely impacts agronomic productivity. Additionally, soil erosion negatively impacts the environment, food security, and quality of life. The effects of soil erosion have both on-site and off-site impacts. For example, on-site impacts may include reduced crop yield and increased nutrient loss, while off-site impacts may include water contamination and increased food prices.

 Three reasons why soil erosion is an important issue: Read more about Challenge #1: Soil Erosion from Agricultural Fields

Challenge #2: Reduced Water Quality

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: Read more about Challenge #2: Reduced Water Quality

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