About Prairie Strips According to Iowa State University, "STRIPS stands for Science-based Trails of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips." The STRIPS project is composed of a team of scientists, educators, farmers, and extension specialists working on the prairie strips farmland conservation practice. Our research shows that prairie strips are an affordable option for farmers and farm landowners seeking to garner multiple benefits. By converting 10% of a crop field to diverse, native perennials farmers and farmland owners can reduce the amount of soil leaving their fields by 90% and the amount of nitrogen leaving their fields through surface runoff by up to 85%."
Prairie strips could be particularly beneficial in the rolling hills of western Iowa, which has many steep slopes and highly erodible soils. This largely agricultural region contributes disproportionately-high nutrient loads into the Missouri River, ultimately moving downstream to the Mississippi River and adding to the hypoxic "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.
Why Prairie? Iowa owes its rich agricultural heritage to the deep, fertile topsoils created by the tallgrass prairie that once covered the region, yet the state has lost 99.9% of its native prairie. Diverse native plants have wide-ranging benefits for farmers, the public, wildlife, and more.
Prairie strips include a diverse population of deep-rooted native grasses and forbs. These plants evolved in the prairie and are well adapted to the climate and soils. Unlike cool-season grasses such as brome, the native plants are much better at withstanding heavy rain events. Recent research indicates that such deluges are becoming increasingly common across the state. In addition to improving water quality, strips have the added benefits of slowing and reducing water quantity flowing into streams, which can decrease flood risks.
Prairie strips increase habitat acres for many species of birds, beneficial insects, and other wildlife. Hunting, fishing, birding, and wildlife-watching are all popular activities in rural Iowa and more habitat can improve these outdoor recreation opportunities. Beneficial insects and birds can also reduce pests that hurt crop production.
Cost The cost of prairie strips depends on several factors. Based on ISU research, "converting a tenth of every acre from annual crop to prairie costs between $28 to $39 per year." Most of the costs are incurred upfront with installation of the strips. Once established, financial costs are typically low but include some labor and maintenance. More information about costs and seed sources can be found here.
Cost-share for installation of prairie strips may be available through several federal programs. Contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District to learn more about eligibility. Additional match is available for landowners in some local watersheds in Mills and Fremont counties through Golden Hills' East and West Nishnabotna Watershed Coalition project.
Installation and Maintenance Like most other conservation practices, strips are placed strategically throughout a field. While terraces and grassed waterways are important conservation tools, prairie strips have the potential to boost the benefits of these practices and can be integrated into fields with existing conservation practices. Several software programs can help determine which areas of land are unprofitable and therefore better-suited to be taken out of production. Every farm is unique, so the location of strips will depend on different factors for each situation.
Ground that is already in crop production usually requires little preparation. Once you have identified the areas that will be converted to prairie strips, you can purchase seed mix and then broadcast or drill seed in the fall or winter. Many prairie forbs and grasses take three or more years to become fully established, and the strips may appear weedy or unkempt during that time. Mowing is required the first year, and the strips can be managed long-term with prescribed fire, mowing, haying, and/or grazing. Weed management can be an issue, and is often most easily done through spot spraying noxious weeds as needed. Fortunately, with proper management, diverse native plantings can succeed at crowding out many weeds.
Get Involved Iowa State University's STRIPS team includes a variety of experts who can answer all of your questions about prairie strips. Golden Hills project coordinator Lance Brisbois is currently working to become a certified Prairie Strips Consultant. Local soil and water conservation offices also have great information and resources. If you are interested in prairie strips, contact Project Coordinator Lance Brisbois at firstname.lastname@example.org or 712-482-3029 to get started.