Science-Based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS)

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Background

Prairie strips are a farmland conservations practice that delivers disproportionate soil, water and nutrient benefits while also increasing wildlife habitat. There are currently over 60 farms with prairie strips in six states protecting about 5,000 acres of cropland.

Prairie strips:

  • Were developed as a result of scientific experiments,
  • Help conserve farmland by strategically incorporating native prairie plants into crop fields; and
  • Are compatible with existing federal and state cost-share programs so farmers who implement them can recoup some of their costs, estimated at between $28 and $39 per protected acre per year.

Prairie strips are now eligible for the Conservation Reserve Program in the 2018 Farm Bill. Results from more than 13 years of trials have demonstrated that converting 10 percent of a crop field to strategically placed prairie strips reduce up to 95 percent of sediment, 90 percent of the phosphorus and 84 percent of the nitrogen from overland flow of surface water. The experimental sites were not tile drained and all systems used no-till.

Not Your Typical Contour Buffer Strip

Contour buffers are typically planted with fixed widths. In contrast, the width of the prairie strips vary based on the amount. Where more water is flowing down-slope, prairie strips should be wider, and where less water is flowing down-slope, the prairie strips can be narrower. Also, the types of plants used for conservation buffers and filter strips can affect how they function. Cool season exotic grasses such as smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass 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. In contrast, native tall-grass prairie communities are typically dominated by stiff-stemmed warm season grasses such as Indiangrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, and a wide range of erect forb (i.e., wildflowers) species that are less prone to collapse under heavy rain. These native plants are more effective in providing resistance to water flow and sediment movement.

How Are Prairie Strips Implemented?

Prairie strips can be planted several times throughout the year. It is preferable to seed in either the fall after harvest, or the spring, before or after planting (but before June 30 in Iowa). Midsummer is generally not a good time to plant.

Prairies include two basic types of plants, forbs (i.e. wildflowers) and grasses. Forbs benefit from the cold wet stratification an Iowa winter provides, and like a fall seeding. Prairie grasses should be seeded in greater volume for a fall seeding as their germination rates suffer from predation and exposure. Dormant, or winter seedings also can be successful. There are numerous native seed dealers and technical service providers throughout Iowa and the Midwest.

You should be aware that multiple years will be required, three at minimum, for your prairie strips to start really looking like a prairie. 

Information for this article provided by Iowa State University. Learn more at: www.prairiestrips.org


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