Incorporating Native Prairies into Working Farm Landscapes

2010 Annual Report for GNC09-107

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2009: $9,965.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Matt Liebman
Iowa State University

Incorporating Native Prairies into Working Farm Landscapes


Before European settlement, more than 85% of Iowa was tallgrass prairie. By 2007, 64% of Iowa was cropped in either corn or soybean, and less than 0.1% of the land was tallgrass prairie. Increasing the amount of prairie in Iowa will improve environmental quality and the natural resource base on which Iowa agriculture depends and may also improve farmer profitability if the prairies provide a market-valued product. The goal of our project is to increase farmers and landowner awareness regarding potential uses for prairies in agriculturally-dominated landscapes.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The primary objective of this project is to work with farmers, prairie conservation and farm organizations, and Iowa State University (ISU) Agronomy Extension personnel to demonstrate and assess the opportunities and challenges of incorporating native tallgrass prairies into working farm landscapes.

The project has five short-term outcomes:

  1. determine the effects of prairie functional group identity and diversity and nitrogen fertilization on productivity of prairies grown as biomass feedstocks
  2. disseminate knowledge of prairies grown as biomass feedstocks to farmers and ISU Extension field agronomists statewide through existing extension workshops
  3. inform farmers of the opportunities and challenges of applied uses for prairies on working landscapes through an extension publication
  4. provide tangible demonstration of prairies managed for multiple applied uses through field days
  5. aid farmers in establishing prairies within their farms

In the intermediate-term this research will increase awareness among farmers of the opportunities that are available to incorporate prairies into working landscapes and the compositions of prairies that are best suited to different applied uses.

In the long-term we expect that greater exposure to prairies used in working landscapes will prompt farmers to grow prairies on more of the landscape.


We have had accomplishments in all five of the short-term outcomes.

Outcome 1 accomplishments:

  • We found that both nitrogen fertilization and functional group identity and diversity affect the productivity of prairies grown as biomass feedstocks. Nitrogen fertilization increased the productivity of the prairie plants, especially warm-season grasses, cool-season grasses, and diverse mixtures containing those grasses. Diverse mixtures of prairie plants produced slightly less biomass than warm-season grasses grown alone, which were the most productive group of prairie plants.
  • We have submitted one manuscript for publication in the scientific literature and have two more manuscripts in preparation.
  • We have presented results from our experiments at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting, the Agronomy Society of America annual meeting, the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference annual meeting, and the Ecological Society of America Millennium Conference.

Outcome 2 accomplishments:

  • We presented information about using prairies for bioenergy production at the Iowa State University Agronomist In-Service training in Boone County, IA, in September 2010, which was attended by approximately 40 ISU county and state agronomy extension personnel.
  • We presented information comparing corn and prairie systems for bioenergy production at the Iowa Crop Improvement Association Annual Meeting in Ames, IA in February 2010, which was attended by approximately 60 Iowa Crop Improvement Association members, most of whom are farmers.

Outcome 3 accomplishments:

  • We published a peer-reviewed extension publication through ISU University Extension titled “Incorporating Prairies into Multifunctional Landscapes”. We had 1000 hard copies of the publication printed, and all of those copies have been distributed throughout Iowa and in neighboring states. Electronic copies of the publication can be downloaded for free from the ISU University Extension Store at or can be downloaded below.

Outcome 4 accomplishments:

  • We hosted a field day in conjunction with the Iowa State University Extension and Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station Field Day in Boone County, IA, in August 2009.

Outcome 5 accomplishments:

  • We have worked with one farmer to establish prairie as a field border around her organic vegetable production system. We worked with her to develop a seeding mix that was desirable for her prairie system, and we helped her pay for the site preparation, seed mix, and seeding costs for establishing the prairie.
  • We are currently working with two farmers to establish prairie on their farms. One farmer plans to establish prairie for his organic livestock grazing system, and the other farmer plans to establish prairie on land that he is currently using to produce row crops but has high erosion potential. Both farmers plan to plant their prairies in spring 2011.

Incorporating Prairies into Multifunctional Landscapes

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

This project has been successful in increasing awareness among farmers and landowners regarding potential profit-gaining uses for prairies. The extension publication “Incorporating Prairies into Multifunctional Landscapes” has been widely distributed and well received. Because there is more demand for the publication than we had funding for printing fees, we are currently working with the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to do a second round of printing of the publication so that more hard copies can be freely distributed. We have also worked directly with multiple farmers regarding prairie establishment on their farms, and have disseminated our research results to scientists, extension agents, and farmers.


Dr. Emily Heaton
Assistant Professor
Iowa State University
1403 Agronomy Hall
Ames, IA 50011
Office Phone: 5152941310
Dr. Matt Liebman
Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture
Iowa State University
1401 Agronomy Hall
Ames, IA 50011
Office Phone: 5152947486