February 28, 2017

Water Quality, Soil Health Solutions: Prairie Strips

Prairie STRIPS: Buffer strips of native prairie grasses are placed on the contour in crop fields, combined with filter strips of prairie grass strategically placed where runoff leaves the field. This practice results in large improvements in runoff water quality with only a small (~10%) portion of the field taken out of row crop production.

Iowa State University data has shown that returning only a small fraction of cropland to deep rooted, native prairie plants with stiff, upright stems can dramatically reduce soil erosion by 95 percent, plus losses of nitrogen by 85 percent and phosphorus by 90 percent in surface runoff. The numbers are unclear in tile drained systems. The stiff-stemmed native grasses provide greater water quality benefits than non-native grasses like smooth bromegrass because the native grasses are much less likely to lay flat when there is runoff.

In addition, these small prairie areas can provide important habitat for pollinators and at-risk species. Other than the cropland taken out of production, there are generally no negative impacts on crop yield. Prairie STRIPS, planted with a diverse mixture of plants, provide habitat and food for beneficial insects, songbirds and wildlife. These areas can potentially be enrolled in programs such as CRP to receive rental payments and to help with the cost of the seed mixes.

Additional resources:
Presentation on saturated buffers and Prairie STRIPS
STRIPS

Programs Available:
Contour buffer strips
Filter strips

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