Landowners interested in establishing native prairie alongside crop fields have a new resource to consult, a four-page color fact sheet developed by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The fact sheet offers recommendations based on research conducted by a multidisciplinary team at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.
The STRIPs project (Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairies), initiated in 2007 with a competitive grant from the Leopold Center, has found that small patches of native prairie can make a big difference in the long-term health of farmland. Strategically-placed prairie strips can reduce soil erosion, slow the formation of gullies and protect waterways from agricultural runoff. Unlike cool-season grasses, which tend to lay flat during rainstorms, the stiff stalks of warm-season prairie grasses stay upright and capture water and soil.
Additionally, prairies offer enormous gains in biodiversity, creating important habitat for pollinating insects, wildlife and songbirds. Researchers have found consistently greater numbers of birds in agricultural fields that incorporate prairie strips, including species of statewide concern like the field sparrow, dickcissel and eastern meadowlark.
How to plant and maintain strips, where to get technical and financial help
The fact sheet contains basic guidelines for planting and maintaining prairie conservation strips, with suggestions for where to find technical and financial help. It includes tips for keeping prairies healthy with mowing, fire, haying or grazing. Layout and text were developed by Melissa Lamberton, Laura Miller and Jeri Neal at the Leopold Center, with support from members of the STRIPs team and outside reviewers. Anna MacDonald, Iowa State University graduate research assistant, provided photographs.
A Landowner's Guide to Prairie Conservation Strips can be downloaded from www.leopold.iastate.edu/ecology/STRIPs, or hard copies can be requested from the Leopold Center at no charge.
The STRIPs project is supported by the Leopold Center along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, USDA, U.S. Forest Service, ISU and the National Science Foundation.