Interweaving native, diverse prairie plants with traditional food crops may increase crop yield and soil health.
Staple crop production techniques are always evolving, but few strategies promise to change the game as much as Prairie STRIPS (Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips). For years, scientists from Iowa State University (ISU) have experimented with interweaving diverse patches of native, perennial prairie plants with traditional food crops. This ecologically sound farming strategy works to improve soil health without compromising farm productivity or profitability. Converting just 10 percent of a field into prairie strips reduces nitrogen loss by 80 percent, phosphorus loss by 90 percent, and sediment loss by over 95 percent. Estimates show that the STRIPS method costs about $30 per acre to implement, but farmers can apply for a Conservation Reserve Program contract that can cut this price by 85 percent.
For farmers interested in implementing the Prairie STRIPS strategy, a series of new publications from ISU provides relevant resources to get started. These public-access documents include “A Landowner’s Guide to Prairie Strips,” “Prairie Strips: Small Changes, Big Impacts,” “The Cost of Prairie Strips,” “Farming with Prairie Strips,” and “Installing Prairie Strips: Frequently Asked Questions.” These papers report on the years of practical experience the research team gained while working with regional farmers and ISU to implement prairie strips throughout the region. They also highlight proven environmental benefits of the strategy, even when only a small percentage of a field is integrated with prairie strips.
You can access the publications for free online at the Iowa State University Extension Store.
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