Last week we had the opportunity to visit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Prairie Resource Center (PRC). The PRC provides prairie seed to public lands (state wildlife areas and parks) across Iowa.
Their operations are primarily located at Brushy Creek State Recreation Area in Webster County, with additional facilities at North Central Correctional Facility in Calhoun County. Staff and volunteers visit remnant prairies in different parts of the state to harvest local ecotype seed. They then clean and store seed, and share it with public land managers within the respective eco-zones.
From DNR's PRC website: "A plan was devised to divide the state into 3 zones, the northern 3 tiers of counties, the central 3 tiers of counties and the southern 3 tiers of counties. (This plan is in synchronization with the Iowa Ecotype Project/University of Northern Iowa which works with private seed producers.) For instance, pale purple coneflower is harvested from several prairie remnants in the north zone. Seed is cleaned, grown into 4-6 inch plants in a greenhouse, and planted into a single-species, cultivated row with other plants from northern Iowa. Seed is collected by hand or by use of a small combine and returned to public land in northern Iowa. Native grass seed is collected, planted in larger field situations and harvested with a combine equipped with a unique rice-head stripper. This allows seed to be harvested yet the valuable residue remains as winter cover for a variety of wildlife species."
Map of Iowa's eco-zones:
Photos of some of the harvested seed to be cleaned:
A variety of equipment, both large and small, is used to remove seed from hulls, chaff, and other debris, The leftovers are kept separate and returned to fields to provide nutrients to the prairies.
An example of cleaned seed:
In addition to seed harvesting and cleaning, the Prairie Resource Center has a greenhouse where they grow native plants. Most of the plants are used in their seed plots. Seed plots provide an easy way to harvest specific species, planted in rows, versus searching through prairies to find one species and harvesting by hand.
Due to the scale of operations, the DNR uses tractors and combines for some seed harvest, in addition to hand-harvesting remnant prairies.
Below is an example of a seed spreader that is used to sow prairie seed.
Golden Hills would like to thank Laura Leben with DNR for providing the tour.
We recently received a Specialty Crop Block Grant entitled Perennial native seed production for rural resilience. With this project, we will be working with public and private landowners to establish native seed production plots. Project updates will be posted at goldenhillsrcd.org/prairieseed. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about this project or the PRC visit.