Towards widespread adoption of prairie conservation strips: case studies increase expertise of professional farm managers, landowners and farmers

Progress report for LNC19-425

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $199,547.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Tallgrass Prairie Center
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Laura Jackson
Tallgrass Prairie Center, University of Northern Iowa
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Project Information

Summary:

Professional Farm Managers (PFMs) manage millions of acres on behalf of landowners in the Upper Midwest, but are primarily accredited based on their knowledge of farm business, crop production and real estate appraisal. They face unique challenges in addressing conservation issues while pursuing the priorities of client landowners and negotiating annual lease agreements with farm operators. Surveys indicate there is strong interest in conservation among both non-operating landowners and farmers. Our project, “Towards widespread adoption of prairie conservation strips: case studies increase expertise of professional farm managers, landowners and farmers” addresses barriers faced by farmers, landowners, PFMs and conservation planners to improve soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat and thus rural quality of life in the Upper Midwest. Planting 10% of fields to prairie contour buffer strips can be as effective and more economical than cover crops; converting marginal land to prairie can improve overall farm profitability.

We will assemble an advisory committee consisting of farmers, non-farming landowners, conservation professionals, and PFMs. Building on the work of Iowa State University (ISU), the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others involved in implementing prairie strips across the Midwest, we will develop 6-10 case studies from existing projects representing a range of farmer-landowner arrangements. We will also develop case studies for 1-2 new sites, covering financial analysis of alternatives, planning, and implementation. PFMs and conservation planners will gain greater knowledge, skills and confidence in their ability to provide prairie consultation for their clients. Farmers and landowners will better understand the critical information needed for planning and implementing these projects.

We will share case studies through Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) field days and winter meetings, a webinar, and partner networks: the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA), two farm management companies, and ISU Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS). Our strategy of case-based and peer-to-peer learning promotes more engaged learning and greater consideration of environmentally sustainable practices. We will attempt to quantify the use of the finished case studies by PFMs and conservation planners, and assess changes in knowledge, skills and confidence at multiple points throughout the project using post-event surveys and interviews, with assistance from an extension rural sociologist.

On a systems level, this project aims to improve the profitability of farmer and associated agricultural businesses, environmental sustainability and rural quality of life by increasing biodiversity and native perennial vegetation in corn-soybean systems.

 

Project Objectives:

Professional farm managers and conservation planners will gain greater knowledge, skills and confidence in advising their landowner clients on strategic use of prairie for soil and water conservation.

Landowners and farmers will become aware of critical information from a trusted source (PFMs and peers) to effectively address profitability and environmental sustainability concerns.

PFMs and conservation planners will use case studies and hands-on experiences to support client landowner decision making and effective communication with farmer operators.

With greater adoption of prairie strips, corn-soybean cropping systems and local communities will benefit from increased biodiversity provided by diverse, native vegetation.

Introduction:

Professional Farm Managers (PFMs) manage millions of acres on behalf of landowners in the Upper Midwest, but are primarily accredited based on their knowledge of farm business, crop production and real estate appraisal. They face unique challenges in addressing conservation issues while pursuing the priorities of client landowners and negotiating annual lease agreements with farm operators. Surveys indicate there is strong interest in conservation among both non-operating landowners and farmers. Our project, “Towards widespread adoption of prairie conservation strips: case studies increase expertise of professional farm managers, landowners and farmers” addresses barriers faced by farmers, landowners, PFMs and conservation planners to improve soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat and thus rural quality of life in the Upper Midwest. Planting 10% of fields to prairie contour buffer strips can be as effective and more economical than cover crops; converting marginal land to prairie can improve overall farm profitability.

We will assemble an advisory committee consisting of farmers, non-farming landowners, conservation professionals, and PFMs. Building on the work of Iowa State University (ISU), the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others involved in implementing prairie strips across the Midwest, we will develop 6-10 case studies from existing projects representing a range of farmer-landowner arrangements. We will also develop case studies for 1-2 new sites, covering financial analysis of alternatives, planning, and implementation. PFMs and conservation planners will gain greater knowledge, skills and confidence in their ability to provide prairie consultation for their clients. Farmers and landowners will better understand the critical information needed for planning and implementing these projects.

We will share case studies through Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) field days and winter meetings, a webinar, and partner networks: the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA), two farm management companies, and ISU Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS). Our strategy of case-based and peer-to-peer learning promotes more engaged learning and greater consideration of environmentally sustainable practices. We will attempt to quantify the use of the finished case studies by PFMs and conservation planners, and assess changes in knowledge, skills and confidence at multiple points throughout the project using post-event surveys and interviews, with assistance from an extension rural sociologist.

On a systems level, this project aims to improve the profitability of farmer and associated agricultural businesses, environmental sustainability and rural quality of life by increasing biodiversity and native perennial vegetation in corn-soybean systems.

 

Cooperators

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Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

We will share case studies through Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) field days and winter meetings, a webinar, and partner networks: the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA), two farm management companies, and ISU Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS). Our strategy of case-based and peer-to-peer learning promotes more engaged learning and greater consideration of environmentally sustainable practices. We will attempt to quantify the use of the finished case studies by PFMs and conservation planners, and assess changes in knowledge, skills and confidence at multiple points throughout the project using post-event surveys and interviews, with assistance from an extension rural sociologist.

Project Activities

Multiple conversations with potential cooperators for 2 demonstration sites
Two Advisory committee meetings
Installation of Prairie Strips Demonstration Site on Roadman Farm
Completion of Roadman Prairie Strip Installation
Roadman Case Study Interviews
Luze Farm Case Study Interview
DeWall Case Study Interview
Advisory Committee Meeting 3
Sloan Farm Case Study Interview
Drafting and Designing Case Studies
Financials Research and Investigating the True Cost of Prairie Strip Implementation

Educational & Outreach Activities

53 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
6 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

146 Farmers
691 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We routinely field questions (phone, email) from farmers and landowners about installation of prairie on their farms, including prairie strip installations. These questions help to inform our education and outreach events so we include them here. 

In response to the most common question asked by farm operators about prairie strips, we purchased a tile camera and began doing tile line investigations. We recorded tile line video from 18 tiles on 9 farms, involving 10 farmers and 7 conservation professionals. We are seeking funding to edit the camera footage and produce an educational video.

We held a Virtual field day on dormant seeding of prairie strips at our first of two new demonstration sites on November 19 2020. We used a combination of recorded video to demonstrate seeding techniques in late fall,  and live streaming showing seeding equipment, followed by Q&A. The live session had 60 (3 farmer/30 ag professional)  attendees, and the YouTube video has had 442 views (composition unknown).

For our regular winter meeting of the Agricultural Conservation Working Group on March 9, 2021, we responded to member interest and need for prescribed fire services. It is difficult to find a contractor who will come out and burn a CRP field or prairie strip, and there are structural reasons for this involving insurance availability.  The invited panelists represented private contractors, County Conservation Boards, Pheasants Forever, and representatives of State Fire Councils; we heard from practitioners in Nebraska and Missouri as well as Iowa. The session attracted 3 farmers and 70 professionals; we have not posted it on YouTube. 

We have continued our tile camera investigations and have secured funding to continue investigations and to create a video presentation. Additional footage has been taken, which has given us opportunities to further work with farmers in the field to answer their questions about prairie and tile. Additionally, the Sloan Farm case study will feature information and images about the tile camera as Richard Sloan has partnered with us to conduct investigations on his farm since 2019. We have also used the tile camera at DeWall Farm and will likely use it at future case study participants’ farms.

We participated in a prairie strip field day in Mower County, Minnesota on September 15th, 2021 to offer up our best implementation and management practices for prairie strip implementation. In addition to sharing this information we identified a case study participant in Wayne DeWall and potential ag educators at both Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to assist in sharing information in the future. The field day attracted 30 farmers 12 professionals.

The ISU STRIPS team hosted a symposium on prairie strips related research on January 10th, 2022. We shared some of our insights garnered from the Luze Farm case study conducted thus far, one being how many of the participants have stressed the importance of strong relationships amongst farmers, landowners, government employees, and technical service providers. The event had approximately 40 participants, with 20 presenting research topics.

We participated in Learning Circles for Women in Agriculture, organized by American Farmland Trust, for farmers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Kansas (November 10, 2021 and March 3, 2022. We also contributed to multiple planning meetings leading up to each webinar. One of our roles has been to link ag educators and other conservation professionals to local/regional expertise on prairie restoration. Our primary role has been to share case studies of prairie strip implementation. (We specifically highlighted the Luze Case Study because it involves a female landowner and professional farm manager.) An additional benefit of these Learning Circles for us has been to interact with professionals and landowners beyond Iowa. Between both learning circles, approximately 30 farmers and 20 professionals have been reached. We will be participating in at least one more Learning Circle for Missouri and Illinois.

As in-person tabling opportunities have opened up, we have used the case studies as the focal point of our interactions at two events: the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference (January 21 and 22, 2022) and the Niman Ranch Trade Show (March 16, 2022). We currently have two case studies with eye-catching designs and have handed them out at these events. We are also using the events as an opportunity to find new potential case studies.

We missed a key outreach event, the Iowa chapter of ASFMRA’s annual meeting, in 2021. Just as the project was getting off the ground (February 2020), our Prairie on Farms program manager moved to a new position. The position was filled in June, 2020 but vacated again in April 2021. Staff turnover plus pandemic conditions delayed the development of case studies. We also did not anticipate the need to commit additional time to investigating the financial aspects of the case studies. However, we have now produced two case studies with two more in progress. We are now well positioned to attend upcoming outreach events and disseminate the case studies widely amongst farmers, landowners, and professional farm managers.

Information Products

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.