Soil and water

A new prairie skinning tool for farmers – Austin Daily Herald

Mower SWCD and USDA-NRCS Seek Partners to Enlist Cropland Parts

After a heavy rain, Wayne DeWall would see the soil of his cultivated land in Mower County blow away into the springs of the South Branch of the Root River.

In recent years, however, that has changed where DeWall has established sections of native vegetation called “prairie strips” in strategic locations on his cropland south of Grand Meadow. With those in place, he saw a difference.

“Sometimes when you get a bigger rain event, you’ll have trapped soil right at the edges of the meadow strip over there,” DeWall said, “but that’s as far as it goes, basically, that is. is exactly what we wanted and it’s nice to see it actually work.

Grassland strips are a way to conserve soil, improve water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Ranging from 30 to 120 feet in width, the prairie strips are very effective in reducing the loss of sediment, nutrients and pesticides when stormwater drains from cropland.

Farmers and landowners can register to establish grassland strips through the Federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) under a 10- or 15-year conservation contract that prevents those acres from being used. for cultivated land. The CRP provides landowners with $ 258 to $ 300 per acre per year under the prairie band program, with most of the costs covered by cost-shared assistance for site preparation, purchase of seeds , the seeding of the ground and the establishment of the practice.

“This is the most flexible set-aside program in over 30 years,” said James Fett, watershed technician for the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District.

With this specific CRP program, farmers can operate equipment on the strips, which is not allowed in most other CRP programs.

Farmers who sign up for the program have used crop yield records as a planning tool to place strips of grassland in areas that make CRP more profitable than operating those acres, Fett said. Grassland strips are advantageous for landowners who enlist acres on their headlands, where machines roll the most over the ground.

“Many landowners are registering strips of grassland in areas susceptible to erosion,” Fett said. “These are often the headlands and fences of a field and along dense tree canopy where trees compete with corn and soybeans for sunlight, water and nutrients. “

Over 10 years of research has shown that grassland strips can provide great benefits in reducing excessive amounts of sediment, nutrients and pesticides in stormwater runoff when incorporated in small amounts in strategic locations of corn and soybean fields. Research from Iowa State University shows that planting dense, diverse, and deep-rooted strips of grassland next to corn and soybean fields has environmental benefits.

These small expanses of meadow come in the form of contour buffer strips and filter strips at the edge of the field. Grassland strips offer more advantages over other types of perennial vegetation, as they incorporate a wide range of native plant species with deep, multi-layered root systems and rigid stems that resist runoff from heavy rain. .

Grassland mixes have a high density of flowers that promote pollinators and look colorful throughout spring, summer, and fall.

DeWall is pleased with what he has seen growing in his meadow strips.

“I’m very happy – we have a lot of native herbs, a lot of flowers,” DeWall said. “This is exactly what we were looking for when we started this. It took a few years to get to this, so you just have to be patient with that. “

The DeWall Prairie Strip was implemented as part of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Root River Field to Stream Partnership Program, with partners closely monitoring and measuring every stormwater runoff event at the site. . Prior to the prairie strip, the partnership collected six years of data at the site.

Early results show immediate improvements in water quality from the meadow strip at DeWall Farm. Fett collects stormwater runoff samples from a monitoring site adjacent to the DeWall meadow strip as part of Field to Stream.

The Iowa State STRIPS team has researched grassland strips for over a decade and found that integrating small amounts of grassland in strategic locations in corn and soybean fields – strips Contour buffers in the fields and filter strips at the edge of the field – can give significant benefits to soil, water and biodiversity.

Better advantages than perennial vegetation due to the diversity of native plant species incorporated into the meadow strips, their deep, multi-layered root systems and rigid stems that withstand heavy rain.

STRIPS also discovered that grassland strips are one of the most affordable and environmentally beneficial agricultural conservation practices available to farmers and landowners. Low-yielding acres are a great opportunity to incorporate perennial vegetation, reducing input costs otherwise spent on low-yielding acres.

In September, Mower SWCD hosted a public prairie strip field day at DeWall Farm with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Sand County Foundation, Iowa State University, and Northern Iowa University.

According to the Sand County Foundation, native prairie plants can act as a sponge and slow soil runoff caused by rain.