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: 10/31/2022
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.

 

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

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

43 Farmers
569 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. 

 

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.