Prairie Wetlands

Project Overview

FNC98-246
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1998: $2,836.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Additional Plants: native plants

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: continuous cropping
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Reese Homestead contains 90 acres of crop land and 10 acres of pasture below (west of) the road. There are an additional 150 acres of Loess Hills above the road (east of) used as pasture land. In the past 26 years it ahs been farmed by a tenant on share crop basis.

    Sixty five of the ninety acres of Reese Homestead’s cropland is eligible for a permanent easement with the Federal Government as Wetlands. The soil type of this land is Luton Clay. The land is farmed with a corn, soybeans, alfalfa crop rotation. The Farm Service Administration (FSA) yield on record for corn is 78 bushel/acre. The yield record is a good barometer of the difficulty in consistently raising row crops on the land. “The bottomland will produce a crop 3 out of 5 years”, states Reese Homestead’s recently retired tenant of 26 years. In the early 1900’s Turin was a rail center for shipping wild hay (known as ripgut). The hay was Prairie Cordgrass can still be found volunteering along the edges of 65 acres of Reese Homestead’s Wetlands.

    The hills have been used as pasture providing continuous grazing for a 30 head cow/calf operation. As a result the hills are 75% tree covered, primarily providing cool season grasses in the valleys. The possibility of growing warm season grasses on the bottom would extend the grazing season and reduce the amount of supplemental feed required.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    The goal is was to take 15 acres of cropland (Luton Clay) which have been used for row crops, and convert them to Prairie Wetlands with perennial prairie grasses. This will work with Mother Nature to do what she does best, reduce the need to cultivate and apply inputs, protect the soil from possible erosion, and provide cover for wildlife.

    My original proposal in 1998 was to establish a perennial crop in a field that is consistently too wet to work in a timely manner for row crops. 1999 proved to be one of those years! I could not plant the entire set of grasses in the spring. I waited until the last minute, June 21 and finally planted soybeans in the parts of that field that could be planted.

    I did transplant some cordgrass rhizome in what I would call a pothole at the south end of the 15 acre strip. It has grown and thrived, and is now producing seed!

    I warehoused the seed I has purchased big bluestem, switch grass, and eastern gamma, and waited for fall. In fall of 1999 I:
    1) Disked or burned the parts of that were too wet to plant or manage.
    2) Broadcast three 5 acre dormant seedings of the grasses: eastern gamma, switch, and big bluestem, using a fertilizer spreader.
    3) 3)Gave it a light disking and cultipacked it

    In spring of 2000 I:
    1) Sprayed Atrazine in the spring of 2000 to give the perennial grasses a head start
    2) Mowed the field 3 times the summer of 2000
    3) Observed only a sprinkling of switch grass and big bluestem in the fall

    In spring of 2001 I:
    1) Burned the field
    2) Mowed the field three times

    My latest observation reveals a solid stand of foxtail and sticky foxtail. There is an occasional clump of switch grass. Certainly not a competitive stand, or one that would promise to be so in the coming two to three years. A sprinkling of eastern gamma came up in only one spot. I find no evidence of big bluestem.

    Conclusion:
    1) Waiting the summer may have compromised the viability of the seed
    2) I need to put the whole 15 acres into cordgrass

    OUTREACH
    3 field days will be scheduled:
    – 1999 note tillage, seeding, fertilizer and weed control practices, plant populations and soil tilth
    – 2000 note weed control practices, fertilizer requirements, plant populations, quantify seed and forage production, soil tilth, and project profitability or perennial cropping
    – 2001 note weed control practices, fertilizer requirements, plant populations, quantify seed and forage production, competitiveness in establishing natural succession, soil tilth, and report profitability of perennial cropping. Propose investigation into using animals to manage grass.

    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.