What are Prairie Strips?


What are Prairie Strips?


Priaire Strips Photo by Tim Youngquist

“Prairie strips is a farmland conservation practice. The STRIPS team has shown that integrating small amounts of prairie into strategic locations within corn and soybean fields -- in the form of in- field contour buffer strips and edge-of-field filter strips -- can yield disproportionate benefits for soil, water, and biodiversity. Prairie is expected to provide these benefits to a greater degree than other perennial vegetation types because of the diversity of native plant species incorporated, their deep and multilayered root systems, and their stiff stems that hold up in a driving rain. STRIPS research also shows that prairie strips may be one of the most affordable and environmentally beneficial agricultural conservation practices available” (ISU, 2017a).

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” (ISU, 2017a).

Grass Contour and Buffer Strips

The types of plants used for conservation buffers and filter strips can affect how they function.


“Cool season exotic grasses such as Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis Leyss.) and Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) are widely used to provide ground cover in agricultural areas of the U.S. Corn Belt, but are relatively weak-stemmed and prone to laying flat under heavy rain. They are useful for grassed waterways that are intended to convey water while preventing erosion” (ISU, 2017a).

To learn more about traditional grass contour buffers and grass waterways used by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) click HERE.


Prairie Species

Photo of prairie strip on ISU's Armstrong Memorial Research Farm, by Farnaz Korbacheh

Different from exotic waterway species, native tall-grass prairie communities are typically dominated by a mixture of stiff-stemmed:

  • Warm season grasses such as Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans (L.) Nash), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium (Michx.) Nash), and Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendua).
  • Cool season grasses such as Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis L.) and prairie junegrass Koeleria macrantha (Ledeb.).
  • A wide range of wildflower or "forb" species that stand up during heavy rain events. See THIS POSTER for a list of common prairie wildflowers and their bloom dates.

Ideally, native sedges such as fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea Michx.) are also a part of the mix, especially in wetter areas. Slowing the flow of water allows sediment to drop out of suspension, thus keeping soil and nutrients in the field (ISU, 2017a).

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