Mixing Reconstructed Prairie with Cropland to Balance Food and Biofuel Production with Environmental Quality
Research and outreach efforts were successful in 2011. The growing season was characterized by a wet beginning and followed by very dry conditions for the rest of the year. Native perennial vegetation continued to positively impact sediment and nutrient losses from watersheds via reduced surface water runoff. In addition to surface water, soil water and groundwater samples were collected throughout the field season. On June 21, the 5th annual stakeholders meeting was held and a report of this meeting was prepared. An overview of the various research being conducted was presented and then followed by an interactive session, encouraging attendees to ask questions of the researchers. This included a brainstorming exercise in which stakeholders could voice their opinions on how to best persuade landowners to implement the practices we have demonstrated improves water quality and soil conservation as well as providing other ecological benefits. Later, a tour of the research field sites enabled stakeholders to get a hands-on look at where the research is performed. The meeting was considered successful and informative by all who attended.
- Figure 1: Surface runoff in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 (PFS – prairie filter strips)
- Figure 2: Sediment export in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 (PFS – prairie filter strips)
- Figure 3: Impact of perennial filter strips on cumulative (a) total N and (b) total P in surface runoff.
During 2011, 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.
Surface runoff in 2011 was reduced by an average of 43% in watersheds that consist of 10% or 20% native prairie cover (Figure 1). Over the last three years, the integrated native plant community has reduced surface runoff considerably, with reduction percentages consistently being greater than 40%.
Consistent with previous years lower concentrations of sediment, total nitrogen and total phosphorus in surface runoff have been observed from watersheds that incorporate 10% or 20% of the area in native prairie (Figures 2 and 3). Results for nutrients in runoff continue to be summarized.
Soil water and groundwater samples have been analyzed for nitrate-nitrogen. Overall, after disturbance and tillage in the fall of 2006, an increase in nitrate-nitrogen concentration was observed starting in about August 2007. Since treatment implementation, lower nitrate-nitrogen concentrations have been found in those areas with native vegetation both in soil water and groundwater samples. This is more evident at monitoring locations at the footslope of the watersheds. Despite the relatively young age of these established prairie patches, it appears there is a positive impact on belowground nitrate-nitrogen concentrations.
For the fifth consecutive year, a stakeholders meeting was held at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, near Prairie City, IA. This meeting allowed researchers to disseminate their findings to interested parties in attendance. Attendees (43) representing 15 groups, ranging from academic, environmental, wildlife, and agricultural interests were present. After the presentations and discussion, a guided tour of field research sites was given to show how and where the information was gathered. Most importantly facilitated discussion at the meeting focused transitioning from science to practice. A report detailing this discussion was prepared.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Throughout the year, a number of presentations were given at local and national conferences and peer-reviewed publications produced. Also, information from this project was featured in various media outlets. They are listed below:
Helmers, M.J. Crop Advantage Series meeting, Atlantic, Iowa (24 January, 2012). Can conservation complement agriculture?
Helmers, M.J. Crop Advantage Series meeting, Atlantic, Iowa (18 January, 2012). Water quality benefits of perennial filter strips in row-cropped watersheds.
Helmers, M.J. New Approaches to Soil and Water Management Workshop in Carroll, Iowa (20 December 2011). Water Quality Benefits of Perennial Filter Strips in Row-Cropped Watersheds.
Tomer, M. 72nd Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Des Moines, Iowa (6 December, 2011). Runoff and Sediment Reduction from Integration of Native Prairie Filter Strips into Row-Crop Agriculture.
Zhou, X., M.J. Helmers, H. Asbjornsen, R. Kolka, and M. Tomer. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco, California (6 December, 2011). Nitrogen losses in runoff from row-cropped watershed: Environmental benefits of native prairie filter strips.
Helmers, M.J. Integrated Crop Management Conference in Ames, Iowa (1 December, 2011) Environmental benefits of perennial filter strips in row-cropped watersheds.
Helmers, M.J., H. Asbjornsen, X. Zhou, R. Kolka, M. Tomer, and R. Cruse. ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts., San Antonio, Texas (Oct. 16-19, 2011). Field monitoring of water quality in agricultural landscapes: Environmental benefits of vegetative filter strips.
Helmers, M.J. Crops and Agricultural Engineers Extension Professional Development meeting near Prairie City, Iowa (30 September, 2011). Can conservation complement agriculture?
Liebman, M. Soil Science Society of America, annual meeting, San Antonio, Texas (18 September 2011). Using biodiversity to link agricultural productivity with environmental quality: results from three field experiments in Iowa.
Helmers, M. Field Day near Prairie City, Iowa (6 September, 2011). Water quality impacts of targeted perennial placement.
Liebman, M. Iowa State University, field day, Prairie City, Iowa (6 September, 2011). The STRIPS at Neal Smith project: Science based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Perennials.
Lockett, D. American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Annual International Meeting, Louisville, Kentucky (7-10 August, 2011). Impacts of Incorporating Prairie Vegetation within Row Crop Production on Soil Hydraulic Properties. (Poster Presentation)
Helmers, M.J. Field Day near Greenfield, Iowa (27 July, 2011). Water quality impacts of targeted perennial placement.
Helmers, M.J., H. Asbjornsen, M. Liebman, L. Schulte Moore, M. O’Neal, R. Kolka, J. Tyndall, J. Arbuckle, M. Harris, M. Tomer, N. Grudens-Schuck, R. Cruse, J. Neal, P. Drobney, T. Sauer, C. Witte, M. Castellano. USDA AFRI/NRI Managed Ecosystems Project Directors Meeting, Washington D.C (19-21 July, 2011). Learning and teaching with experimental watersheds: evaluation of ecosystem services in mixed annual-perennial agroecosystems. (Poster Presentation)
Helmers, M.J. Field Day in Linn County, Iowa (13 July, 2011). Water infiltration and nutrient cycling in both ag and urban environments.
Liebman, M. State of Iowa Soil Conservation Commission, Prairie City, Iowa (14 June, 2011). The STRIPS at Neal Smith project: Science based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Perennials.
Liebman, M. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, advisory board retreat, Coon Rapids, Iowa (1 June, 2011). Emerging issues in Iowa agriculture.
Liebman, M. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, sustainability and resilience workshop, Ames, Iowa (25 May, 2011). Sustainability and resilience in Iowa agriculture.
Liebman, M. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, seminar, Urbana, Illinois (29 April, 2011). Impacts of biodiversity in agricultural systems: results from field experiments in Iowa.
Liebman, M. University of Guelph, Department of Plant Agriculture,seminar, Guelph, Ontario, Canada (8 March, 2011). Impacts of biodiversity in agricultural systems: results from three field experiments in Iowa.
Liebman, M. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Climate Prediction Application Science workshop, Prairie City, Iowa (2 March, 2011). STRIPS: Science-based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairies.
Liebman, M. Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and University of Nebraska Extension, Rural Advantage and Healthy Farms Conference, Columbus, Nebraska (18 February, 2011). Managing cropping systems to address challenges from weather, rising energy costs, and weeds.
Helmers, M.J. Nutrient Efficiency and Management Conference in Rochester, Minnesota (15 February, 2011). A new twist on old conservation practices – Waterways, terraces, buffers, control structures, and targeting perennials.
Liebman, M. Practical Farmers of Iowa, research cooperators meeting, Ames, Iowa (10 February, 2011). Managing cropping systems to address challenges from weather, rising energy costs, and weeds.
Gutierrez-Lopez, J. 2012. Soil Moisture and Plant Water Uptake Dynamics after the Introduction of Native Prairie Vegetation into Agricultural-Dominated Landscapes. M.S. thesis. Iowa State Univ., Ames, Iowa.
Lockett, D. 2012. Soil Hydraulic Property Impacts of Incorporating Prairie Vegetation within a Row Crop Production Area. M.S. thesis. Iowa State Univ., Ames, Iowa.
Helmers, M.J., X. Zhou, H. Asbjornsen, R. Kolka, M.D. Tomer, and R. Cruse. In Review. Sediment removal by perennial filter strips in row-cropped ephemeral watersheds. Journal of Environmental Quality.
Hernandez-Santana. V, X. Zhou, M. Helmers, H. Abjornsen, R. Kolka, M. Tomer. In review. Native prairie filter strips reduce runoff from hillslopes under annual row-crop systems in Iowa, USA. Journal of Hydrology.
Helmers, M.J., X. Zhou, H. Asbjornsen, R. Kolka, and M. Tomer. 2011. Water quality benefits of perennial filter strips in row cropped watersheds. In: Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Integrated Crop Management Conference (November 30 and December 1, Iowa State University, Ames, IA), pp. 139-144.
Liebman, M., M.J. Helmers, and L.A. Schulte. 2011. Integrating conservation with biofuel feedstock production. Pages 131-142 in: P. Nowak and M. Schnepf (eds.), Managing Agricultural Landscapes for Environmental Quality II: Achieving More Effective Conservation. Soil and Water Conservation Society, Ankeny, IA.
Liebman, M., M.J. Helmers, L.A. Schulte, and C.A. Chase. In review. Using biodiversity to link agricultural productivity with environmental quality: results from three field experiments in Iowa. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems.
Lockett, D., X. Zhou, M.J. Helmers. 2011. Impacts of incorporating prairie vegetation within row crop production on soil hydraulic properties. American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) 2011 Annual International Meeting. Louisville, Kentucky. 7-10 August 2011. Paper No. 1111508.
Larsen, G.L., T.G. Knoot, and J.C. Tyndall. 2011. From science to practice: Findings from the 2011 STRIPS project stakeholder meeting (June 21, 2011) http://www.nrem.iastate.edu/research/STRIPs/news/docs/STRIPs%20-%20Science%20to%20Practice%20Report%202011.pdf
Additional Outreach including Media
February 2011. Gary Van Ryswyk was featured in an article in The Progressive Farmer. “The perks of perennials: permanent prairie strips reduce erosion, keep nutrients in place and build organic matter”.
February 15, 2011. Article on the Neal Smith STRIPS project, “Big Bluestem On the Slope: Using Native Plants in Contour Strip-Cropping Systems”, published on The Progressive Farmer’s website. http://www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com/dtnag/common/link.do;jsessionid=68ED2BAAE7BA9818C9E03EC960524D89.agfreejvm2?symbolicName=/free/landmanagement/news/template1&product=/ag/news/landmanagement&vendorReference=0702DDC6&paneContentId=70119&paneParentId=70104
June 24, 2011. Land Stewardship Project’s “Ear to the Ground” podcast #103 about “Using native prairie strips to make row crop fields more sustainable.”
September 6, 2011. Public Field Day with Iowa Learning Farms. Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.
October 10, 2011. Television channel WHO broadcasts interviews of Matt Liebman and Gary Van Ryswyk.
November 2011. Article in Missouri Ruralist titled “Prairie conservation strips control erosion”.
November 2011. Article in Ohio Farmer titled “Prairie grass strips control erosion”.
November 2011. Article in Prairie Farmer titled “Prairie conservation strips: new tool for erosion control”.
November 2011. Article in The Farmer titled “Grass strips control erosion on slopes, cut nutrient loss”.
December 2011. Article in The Michigan Farmer titled “Prairie grasses found to reduce erosion”.
December 2011. Article in Nebraska Farmer titled “Vegetative alternative controls erosion”.
2011. Land Stewardship Letter 29(2): 14-15. Titled “Stripping it down to nature”.
January 2012. Kansas Farmer. “Grass strips control erosion”.
January 2012. The Farmer-Stockman. “Grass strips control erosion on slopes, cut nutrient loss”.
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