Dan Stoffel grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa on Washington County’s rolling terrain in southeast Wisconsin. Prior to returning home to farm with his brothers Lee and Tim, he worked as a biochemist. Dan was interviewed by Casey Langan, Communications Director of the Sand County Foundation.
“I’m an experimenter by nature, so these things intrigue me a bit,” Dan said of prairie strips.
Casey: How were you introduced to prairie strips?
Dan: I had been working with Sand County Foundation’s Field Director, Greg Olson, on a different conservation project. As it was coming to an end, Greg introduced me to the idea of prairie strips. Not only was it an opportunity to establish one in the area (of Wisconsin) where he works, but it seemed like a rational decision for me because we were working in the areas of soil loss and water quality.
Casey: What were your goals?
Dan: I farm with no-till and cover crops, so the permanence of the ground cover that prairie strips offer seemed like a good idea. They also remind me of how fence rows would interrupt the flow of water.On two of the three fields where we established prairie strips we have some concentrated water flow areas that concerned us. So, the prairie strips were designed to run perpendicular to the flow. Initially, I wanted to just get a sense how they look, and how they work. Two years into this I’ve found their root structures and plant residue really make a big difference. They really hold their own against the water. Also, as a beekeeper, I was surprised at the number of (beneficial) insects these narrow strips of diversity attract amid a monoculture. I can’t go three plants without seeing a native insect. It was amazing for just being established for two years.
Casey: How did you go about establishing the prairie strips?
Dan: It turned out by chance that all three fields were going from soybeans, into oats and alfalfa. We planted around the areas that were mapped out for the strips. We did some very light tillage on the strips before the seeding. Their placement in rectangular fields were designed to allow for two passes by my sprayer on the crops. That was the beauty of them, they meshed with my planting and spraying equipment. It’s efficient.
Casey: What challenges have you experienced?
Dan: My biggest concern was controlling weeds. I did a little bit of digging by hand and shovel to keep thistles and burdocks from establishing seeds. I did this once last year just prior to the seeds being mature. I also wanted to make sure there was not any Roundup resistant seed in the variety we used for the strips.
Casey: What advice do you have for other landowners interested in prairie strips?
Dan: Design them with your machinery in mind. Seek expertise on the proper way to plant and maintain them. Depending on the seed variety you use, you can plant them too deep or too shallow for proper germination. Clip it as recommended. Have patience. The first year they aren’t going to look pretty, but by the second year they begin to show their true colors. I’m excited to see it in five years, when I’m told it will be at full stature. I doubt it will ever come out. I’m hoping it will continue to reseed itself and that it’s a permanent fixture on our farm, and not an experiment.
To learn more, watch this video about the prairie strips seeding on Dan's farm. You can contact Dan Stoffel at email@example.com or Sand County Foundation’s Greg Olson, Fields Project Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.