Despite increased use of cover crops and better nutrient management, farmers in the Corn Belt are struggling to significantly reduce agriculture’s impact on water quality. Greater levels of protection against farm runoff are needed, especially under more extreme weather events. Research at Iowa State University (ISU) verifies that establishing perennial vegetation on small portions of farm fields can provide disproportionally large benefits of sediment and nutrient filtration. Meanwhile, advanced information technology enables farmers to more precisely map the areas of fields that cause greater soil and nutrient losses, or earn lower rates of economic return. Farmers who convert strategically selected areas of annually cropped ground to permanent and diverse vegetative cover can potentially meet rising expectation for water quality protection with minimal—and sometimes positive—impacts on farm profitability. Sand County Foundation, in partnership with farmers, researchers at ISU’s Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) program, faculty at the University of Wisconsin (UW), and the Valley Stewardship Network, will extend and adapt the experience of Iowa STRIPS into Wisconsin and the North Central Region. We will examine results from ISU’s annual survey of two-dozen farmers applying prairie strips in Iowa, and survey farmers considering the practice in southern Wisconsin. We will install prairie strips on four Wisconsin farms according to farmers’ needs, and evaluate performance and farmer satisfaction across three years. Two private agricultural information technology companies will share precision planning tools to assist in placing prairie strips in the field. And, a partnering private agricultural lender will estimate annualized costs of applying and maintaining the practice. In addition, we will utilize data from completed ISU research to improve modeling of prairie strips in Wisconsin with the Wisconsin Phosphorus Index. We will communicate results widely to farmers, conservation professionals, and stakeholders in Wisconsin watersheds where water quality improvements efforts are underway. Our outreach will include field events at the four demonstration sites, presentations at partner events, and outreach through print and social media. Our work will help farmers, their private-sector consultants, and conservation agency staff to identify ways that permanent vegetative cover can advance both water quality objectives and efficient farm operations. Results may also encourage investment in prairie strips by municipal and industrial wastewater facilities regulated under the Clean Water Act, as they examine means to attain least-cost reductions of nutrient loading to waterways under Wisconsin’s first-in-the-nation Adaptive Management Option for regulatory compliance.
Learning Objectives: Farmers will identify least-cost options to minimize environmental impact, service providers will understand farmers’ motivations and constraints for establishing prairie strips, and the public will recognize the potential value of prairie strips to meet water quality goals.
Action Objectives: Wisconsin farmers will share experiences with prairie strips among peers and advisors. Advisors will encourage their clients to adopt the practice. Watershed stakeholders will apply models to estimate retention of sediment and phosphorus with prairie strips.
Beyond the grant period, we anticipate expanded practice adoption, potentially accelerated through phosphorus credits to regulated point sources, and applications of precision conservation data tools.
We are providing direct assistance to early adopters to plan and implement prairie strips on their farms. In turn, these early adopters are influencing their producer peers by hosting workshops and presenting at professional development events. In addition, project cooperators are creating local media content, printed handouts, and presentations to raise awareness and understanding of prairie strips among farmers and conservation service providers.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Three on-farm information technology consultations (Profit Zone Manager and SnapPlus) have been delivered to farmers who have installed or are considering installing prairie filter strips.
Article titled “Valley Stewardship Network Receives Fishers & Farmers Funding for Prairie STRIPS in Southwest Wisconsin” published by the Valley Stewardship Network Published on the Fishers & Farmers Partnership website, the La Crosse Tribune, and the County Line.
One 2-page handout titled “Protect Water Quality on Your Farm with Prairie Strips” created by Sand County Foundation, and one 4-page handout titled “Farming with Prairie Strips in Southwest Wisconsin” created by Valley Stewardship Network. Both are not yet finalized or uploading and publication by SARE but will soon be shared.
A presentation by Sand County Foundation, University of Wisconsin, and a current prairie strips demonstration host farmer is scheduled for March 15 at the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, to an anticipated audience of 50 conservation professionals.
Three farmers have seeded and are currently managing prairie strips ranging in area from 1 to 3 acres per farm with direct SARE financial assistance. Five additional farms have installed edge of field prairie strip buffers with consultation by SARE project collaborators.