Mixing Reconstructed Prairie with Cropland to Balance Food and Biofuel Production with Environmental Quality

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $174,722.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Matthew Helmers
Iowa State University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans
  • Additional Plants: native plants


  • Crop Production: no-till, contour farming
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, hedges - grass
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems


    Research goals of the last 4 years of SARE funding have been to; 1) Quantify the impacts that integrating areas of native perennial vegetation into agricultural fields have on hydrologic flows as well as sediment and nutrient export. 2) Promote outreach to our stakeholders of these impacts our research discovers. Each year these goals were met by first accumulating information from our STRIPs (Science-based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips) project located at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, Iowa, and then working to understand the information to communicate it to interested parties and individuals. We found that strategically converting a relatively small amount (10-20%) of an agricultural drainage area into native perennial vegetation can have significant positive effects on reducing surface water runoff, and in turn reducing sediment and nutrient export from the field. Our researchers have disseminated these findings through various outlets, including websites, podcasts, videos, instructional and informational guides, formal and informal presentations, discussions with landowners and soil and water conservation districts, peer-reviewed publications, presence at conferences, and an annual stakeholder meeting that includes members of many groups that are influential in policy-making.


    Soil erosion and nutrient export from agricultural fields by water is an increasingly serious problem in agricultural landscapes, especially as growing populations intensify pressures on a fixed land area for food and energy. In addition, the impact of climate change is projected to increase the intensity of precipitation events. Loss of sediment along with nutrients reduces on-farm soil productivity and sustainability, degrades downstream water quality, and induces many off -farm social and ecological damages. Although restoration of native grassland on erodible soils would reduce these losses, this practice is not feasible across large regions where local communities depend on agriculture. One alternative strategy for erosion control and water quality improvement is the incorporation of relatively small amounts of native perennial vegetation (NPV) in strategic locations within agricultural landscapes. These patches or strips of NPV are designed to reduce surface water runoff and the sediment and nutrients carried with it. It is our research goal to quantify these impacts that native perennial vegetation has on hydrologic flows as well as sediment and nutrients important for agricultural purposes.


    Project objectives:

    Efforts were focused on two objectives; 1) Quantify the impacts of integrating native perennial plants into agricultural fields by monitoring hydrologic flows and nutrient and sediment movement in experimental watersheds, and 2) Promote outreach to stakeholders.

    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.