Why Prairie Strips? Farmland Owner Maggie McQuown Shares Her Thoughts and Experiences

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Steve Turman and Maggie McQuown on Resilient FarmsMaggie McQuown and her husband Steve Turman live on the farm Maggie grew up on outside of Red Oak, Iowa. Her 170-acre “Resilient Farms” includes a market garden, 130 acres of corn and soybeans, and a variety of conservation features including a riparian buffer and prairie strips. She chatted with J. Arbuckle from the STRIPS team on July 16, 2018 about why she sees prairie strips as a good option for her cropland.

J.: How were you first introduced to prairie strips?

Maggie: I believe I first heard about it from an Iowa State University news release. The minute I read it, I said, “I like this!” I contacted my brother, who is also an Iowa State alum. Our farms are adjacent to each other, so I said, “Would you be interested in this?” He said, “That sounds interesting!” So we joined right away and put in two little strips in 2014.

Maggie McQuown's prairie strip in her corn field; the Nishnabotna River valley is in the backgroundJ.: How did you go about establishing prairie strips on your farm?

Maggie: Our first year, we put two little strips in. We consulted the STRIPS team to help with developing a plan to put at least ten percent of the land into prairie strips. We had several fence lines, as well as some small contour areas of brome grass that were too rocky to farm, so we decided that these would be good areas to convert to prairie. It worked out well considering we couldn't farm these areas anyway. Since these areas were not accessible to mow when the crop was in, we used oats as a nurse crop. This was an alternative to mowing that worked quite well for us. Now we’re looking at establishing additional strips.

J.: What were your goals in establishing prairie strips?

Maggie: I wanted more biodiversity on the farm. I have been trying to eliminate all the brome grass around the farm. I was also particularly concerned with erosion since my farm is so hilly. Half of my farm is on a rather steep hill with the east half fairly flat as it becomes part of the East Nishnabotna River valley, so this hilly area is prone to significant erosion. Permeability was also important to me since the typical monocrop corn/soybean rotation tends to increase compaction of the soil. I wanted to make sure the water infiltrated rather than having it move across the soil surface as runoff.

J.: Do you think other landowners would be interested in implementing prairie strips on their land?Burning the prairie strips on Resilient Farms in December 2016

Maggie: I hope they would be. I see farms with a lot of grass strips, which could be renovated to prairie. I know farmers are reluctant to give up farmland, but I think prairie strips are an easily implemented practice in areas that are marginal.

J.: What recommendations do you have for other landowners interested in prairie strips?

Maggie: Have an open mind. I know a lot of farmers are hesitant to move from traditional practices, but there are new practices that are showing real potential. Iowa State has done a lot of research on these strips and the preliminary data is promising.

J.: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Maggie: I’d love to put the whole farm into prairie, but that is just not feasible. Prairie strips provides me with the option of meeting both my income and environmental goals at the same time.

Watch a video about Maggie McQuown and her approach to managing her farm here. If you would like to learn more about her prairie strips, contact her at mmcquown@visibleEDGE.com.

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