Linking Agricultural Production and Conservation Through In-field Prairie Plantings

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2018: $10,781.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2021
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Matt Liebman
Iowa State University

Information Products


  • Additional Plants: native plants


  • Crop Production: nutrient management, water management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, drift/runoff buffers, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems

    Proposal abstract:

    Farmers are tasked with increasing commodity production and mitigating the environmental damage associated with this production in the coming century. Traditionally, agricultural production land and conservation land are managed on different acres, but the STRIPS (Scientific Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips) project at Iowa State University is a collaboration between researchers and farmers to increase native habitat on working agricultural lands. Strategically integrating native, perennial vegetation can serve many needs by taking land out of production that is already low yielding, reducing soil and nutrient export through the integration of continuous, deep-rooted cover, and providing suitable habitat for pollinators, beneficial insects, and wildlife. Native, perennial plantings may better confer the aforementioned ecosystem services if they are more diverse. This project aims to assess reconstructed prairie communities through vegetation surveys on 21 farms that adopted STRIPS in 2012- 2016. Farmer collaborators will gain an increased knowledge of prairie plant identification through in-person tutorials and customized reports detailing the number and abundance of native species in their crop fields. Farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing will be enhanced through a field day, and results will be shared with the greater sustainable agricultural community through a poster presentation and a peer-reviewed journal article. The extent to which farmers increased their knowledge of prairie plant identification will be evaluated with a follow-up survey. This project will provide foundational data to farmers and landowners, as well as inform future partners and collaborators of the ways in which certain factors, like management practices or habitat size, may impact the species diversity of prairie strips. This project will help bring together farmers and conservation biologists in reconciling the tension that often exists between large-scale agriculture and habitat diversity and will help sustain the natural resources upon which agriculture depends.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Learning outcomes:

    Farmers and landowners will learn native prairie species identification. I will facilitate this learning by a) walking their strips with them during my farm visits, b) sending them an update about the species I identify after my first year of sampling, and c) sending them an individualized report after my second year of sampling with a more complete description of species found. By compiling data from many farms, I also anticipate my research will assist past and future practitioners increase native species diversity through various management tools.

    Action outcomes:

    Farmers will use this increased knowledge of native plant identification in farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing. Every year there are field days at farms with prairie strips, hosted by Iowa State University or other organizations (e.g., Practical Farmers of Iowa). While Iowa State University can reach out to the general population to increase STRIPS adoption, STRIPS has already become a successful, ubiquitous practice because of farmer-to-farmer communication. Showing farmers the diverse native species that are populating their STRIPs (as outlined in learning outcomes) will help increase the adoption of the prairies strips. STRIPS' barriers to implementation are not only that it takes land out of production, but also that it puts non-crop "weedy" vegetation in the middle of the crop field. Helping farmers be able to sort out the weeds from the native prairie plants and share that knowledge with others will aid in even greater understanding and implementation, which will further conserve soil and benefit natural resource management.

    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.