Corn and Coreopsis: Sustainable Solutions

Reader Contribution by Laura Dell-Haro
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A new approach to conventional agriculture would unite not only row crops and prairie plants, but farmers and environmentalists.In his New York Times editorial, Mark Bittman highlights the STRIPS program and its incredible potential for commodity grain farmers throughout the Midwest. STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips. From Iowa State University researchers, this new conservation method converts 10 percent of a crop field to diverse, native perennials. This relatively small change reduces soil erosion by 90 percent and nitrogen loss by 85 percent.  

Prairie Plains Resource Institute(PPRI) of Aurora, Neb., is a non profit organization with a 34-year history of doing just this kind of work in the Great Plains. Specializing in high-diversity restoration, their program Ribbons of Prairie hopes to engage landowners in turning their streams and waterways into stable, diverse strips of nature that resist erosion and runoff. “We believe it should have a much wider application,” says Bill Whitney, Executive Director of PPRI. “Also, it seems to me that the heartland could go through a major transformation in land use in the next generation or two, due to climate change, fossil energy availability, water and societal changes. Prairie is certainly not the answer to everything, but it is a sustainable resource that is fundamental to life in a semi-arid environment.”

Similar to the STRIPS program, PPRI encourages reseeding ditches with high-diversity regional mixes. Ditches are like field strips in terms of land coverage, but carry water away from fields. If re-designed for higher plant diversity, they would store water in the soil more effectively and create a diverse insect and plant habitat that encloses a crop field, from previously unused land.

Learn more about the STRIPS Research Team at their website. Publications on prairie restoration may be found at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture website. If you are interested in connecting with a prairie restoration organization in the Great Plains, you may contact the Prairie Plains Resource Institute at or 402-694-5535.

(Top) Photo courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institute: A PPRI Restoration: Monarda in bloom.

(Second from top) Photo courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institute: Pokorny Prairie seed collecting, next to a corn field.

(Second from bottom) Photo courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institure: Mike Bullerman, Restoration Ecologist with PPRI, reseeds a ditch.

(Bottom) Photo courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institute: High Diversity Restoration.