Paul Mugge farms 300 acres of organic corn, soybeans, small grains, and alfalfa in O’Brien County, Iowa. He has been all farming since 1976 and all organic since 2002. He’s a prairie strips pioneer, having established his first prairie strip in 2002. He shared his story with J. Arbuckle from the STRIPS team on July 16, 2018.
J.: What were your goals in establishing prairie strips?
Paul: Well, I had a lot of goals. My farm is organic, so I was looking for a barrier from my neighbor’s GMO pollen. I was looking for more diversity on my farm. I also liked the idea of the strips being effective in preventing nutrient and erosion loss. They also make great pollinator and beneficial insect habitat. Since I’m an organic farmer, I can’t spray, so I’m interested in seeing how far out the seed predators will go out from the strips and eat weed seeds.
J.: How did you go about establishing the prairie strips on your farm?
Paul: With my first prairie strip in 2002, I did it with a hand-crank seeder. No one knew how to establish them, so I tried all different species with different germination requirements. I put different species in the dryer and wetter areas. I didn't really have anything to go by, but it still kind of worked. For the strips I put in three years ago, I had the O'Brien County Conservation Board take care of it. For my most recent strip that I put in just this last spring, I used a small seeder that goes on the three point of a tractor. I did that all myself.
J.: Do you think other land owners would be interested in implementing prairie strips on their land?
Paul: Some people will, simply because it is the right thing to do. Some of the bigger farmers in my county don’t even have waterways, though, so I’m guessing it would be a challenge for them. As soon as there are some economic benefits—say, if prairie strips can help improve soybean yields through insect pollination—more people will get on board. If that pans out, then there is a lot of hope for the future.
J.: What recommendations do you have for other land owners interested in prairie strips?
Paul: Do your homework. Talk to people and get your information ahead of time. It does take some management, so you have to know what you’re getting into. You want to do it right. You have to mow the first few years and expect to see nothing but weeds the first year, so don’t give up. It is probably easier on an organic farm because you don’t have to worry about damage to the prairie plants from herbicide drift.
J.: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Paul: I think it’s really therapeutic to go out and walk in a prairie. Most people probably would laugh at that, but I think it is. There’s something cool about prairie. Most people don’t understand it, including me, and that’s part of what’s cool. My whole family loves it and it's become an intergenerational thing. My granddaughter wanted to have some senior pictures taken in a strip, but the photographer didn't want to come way out to my farm.
If you would like to learn more about Paul and his prairie strips, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.