Iowa State University initiated a program in 2003 which focuses on planting tallgrass native prairie strips in farm fields, benefiting soil, water and biodiversity. It is called STRIPS. The benefits determined so far can be found in their easy to read report Prairie Strips: Small Changes, Big Impacts.
The Science-based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) program studies the effects of native tallgrass prairie on soil, water, and biodiversity on farms.
Strips of native prairie of varying sizes have been planted on experimental and commercial farms. The strips are often employed in concert with other regenerative agriculture techniques such as cover crops and no-till practices. (Regenerative agriculture seeks to capture carbon in soil and above-ground biomass to reduce greenhouse gas accumulation and support soil health, water quality and native wildlife.)
After several years of data collection, the STRIPS team found including even a small amount of native prairie on a farm substantially improves water quality and nutrient retention, reduces erosion, and generates other benefits.
For example, in farmed watersheds, the addition of only “10 percent prairie reduced sediment export by 95 %, phosphorus export by 90 %, and nitrogen export by nearly 85 % in surface runoff water when compared 100 percent row crop watersheds.”
Further, after seven years, “an average of 51 native plant species were found in prairie strips, compared to 13 species found within the row crop areas.” These native plants, of course, provide habitat for birds, small mammals, bees and butterflies, and other beneficial organisms that cycle nutrients, increase soil fertility, and provide pest control and pollination services. Fields with prairie strips host “twice as many birds and bird species than those with 100 percent row crops.” (Prairie Strips: Small Changes, Big Impacts)
There is one concern, however. The Xerces Society is concerned about the results from farmers who are integrating the STRIPS program, but still using agricultural chemicals in the surrounding row crops. These chemicals could potentially harm pollinators and other organisms attracted to the prairie strips. The Xerces Society is monitoring this concern.
A really good article about the STRIPS program can be found at Civil Eats.
Wouldn’t it be grand if farmers would begin to reverse the loss of native habitat and biodiversity which has resulted because of modern-day agricultural practices, by simply adding some prairie strips to their fields? ‘Practical and beautiful as well!
The information above was reprinted in part from the Native Plant Conservation Campaign with permission from Emily B Roberson, PhD.
Thanks also to Sharon Bochner who brought a similar article to my attention.