Prairie Strips Lead to Better Environmental Health and Greater Socioeconomic Vitality
The Forest Service and its partners are helping Midwestern farming communities understand how to transform strategic portions of the agricultural landscape into perennial plant communities and, thereby enhance environmental quality and socioeconomic vitality. The goal of the study is to develop a new paradigm for farming to develop landscapes that reduce nonpoint-source pollution, increase plant and animal diversity, and decrease fertilizer inputs into crop production, while still maintaining economic viability.
Researchers are establishing baseline conditions, quantifying the potential benefits of perennial vegetation in watersheds dominated by row crops, and developing decision support tools that can help evaluate tradeoffs. They are already seeing some compelling results related to the benefits of strategically located prairie strips in reducing sediment and nutrient transport to streams (and thus ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico).
Other research is indicating that bird diversity is greater where perennial strips exist. Predatory insect populations are also greater where land has prairie strips, leading to lower insecticide inputs that are necessary to protect the corn and soybean crops. The partners have developed a handbook for growers and agency personnel describing the potential benefits of perennials in agricultural landscapes and techniques that achieve those benefits. The results are now being incorporated into field days and training session for Iowa farmers.
Forest Service Partners