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Prairie strips are small areas of prairie strategically placed on the contours of a field to keep soil in place, slow down water, and reduce nutrient loss.

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Prairie Strips

Prairie Strips

Photo by Derek, Lena and Mike

Prairie Strips

Location: Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge
Featuring: Tim Smith, Farmer Liaison, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University

Integrating perennial prairie grass strips into farmland can effectively reduce soil erosion and agricultural runoff.

Iowa State University’s “Science-based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips” or STRIPS placed autosamplers on Iowa farmland to analyse water directly in the field and provide data on total suspended solids, nitrogen, nitrate, and phosphorus. Their finding proved that removing 10 percent of a row-crop field from production and planting strips of perennial prairie grasses in strategic locations reduces sediment loss by up to 95 percent and water runoff by 40 percent. In addition, prairie strips, whose roots anchor and soak up runoff water, can reduce phosphorus loss by 90 percent and nitrogen loss by 80 percent, as well as increase pollinator and wildlife habitat.

The first STRIPS experiment was seeded in 2007 at Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge. Now the focus is on expanding the practice to private farms around Iowa. Prairie strips are similar in cost to other conservation practices like cover crops, but prairie strips provide additional benefits for the environment, including increased native biodiversity to support pollinators, birds and other wildlife. Tim Younquist works on outreach, talking to interested farmers about how prairie strips can work for them.

“With prairie strips the water goes from running off the field to walking off the field.”

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