Study of prairie strips integrated with row crops is growing momentum
MINNESOTA—For more than two decades, the Northern Research Station has been a leader in research that has the potential to change the Midwest’s agricultural landscape. Research Soil Scientist Randy Kolka is a longtime partner in “Strategic Trials of Row crops Integrated with Prairie Strips,” or STRIPS, a project that is changing the way agriculture is done in the Midwest and across the nation.
Lisa Schulte Moore of Iowa State University and several colleagues began STRIPS research in 2004 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in Iowa. Since then, a steady stream of research publications have demonstrated that replacing 10 percent of cropland with strategically placed prairie strips increases biodiversity and ecosystem services with minimal impacts on crop production.
The use of STRIPS has grown to include agricultural land in 15 states and its implementation has protected over 150,000 acres, with the demand continuing to increase dramatically across the nation.
Intensively managed row crop agriculture dominates the landscape of the Corn Belt Region of the Midwest. Runoff from these lands has contributed to the aquatic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico because of nutrients and sediment transported in the Mississippi River. Reducing sediment and nutrient export from agricultural landscapes is critical to decreasing nonpoint-source pollution in water systems throughout the region.
“This research has the potential to change the way we do agriculture in the Midwest,” said Kolka, who in addition to being a research partner, is a member of the STRIPS leadership team. “Prairie plants are very effective in keeping soil in place, which helps keep nitrogen and phosphorus from getting into waterways and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.”
This research contributed to the inclusion of prairie strips as a recommended conservation practice in the 2018 Farm Bill, and prairie strips have garnered support from the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Iowa and Missouri. In 2021, Schulte Moore was named as a 2021 MacArthur Fellow; she is using MacArthur grant funding to establish the Perennial Partnerships Fund to promote transdisciplinary research at Iowa State on agricultural systems that foster continuous living cover on the landscape.
“The Northern Research Station has been a crucial partner for STRIPS from the very first days, seeing possibility in what we were working to achieve long before most others,” Schulte Moore said.