Towards widespread adoption of prairie conservation strips: case studies increase expertise of professional farm managers, landowners and farmers

Project Overview

LNC19-425
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $199,547.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Tallgrass Prairie Center
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Laura Jackson
Tallgrass Prairie Center, University of Northern Iowa

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, grass (misc. perennial), soybeans
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bees

Practices

  • Crop Production: contour farming, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: farm succession, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life, social capital

    Proposal abstract:

    Professional Farm Managers (PFMs) manage millions of acres on behalf of landowners in the Upper Midwest, but are primarily accredited based on their knowledge of farm business, crop production and real estate appraisal. They face unique challenges in addressing conservation issues while pursuing the priorities of client landowners and negotiating annual lease agreements with farm operators. Surveys indicate there is strong interest in conservation among both non-operating landowners and farmers. Our project, “Towards widespread adoption of prairie conservation strips: case studies increase expertise of professional farm managers, landowners and farmers” addresses barriers faced by farmers, landowners, PFMs and conservation planners to improve soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat and thus rural quality of life in the Upper Midwest. Planting 10% of fields to prairie contour buffer strips can be as effective and more economical than cover crops; converting marginal land to prairie can improve overall farm profitability.

    We will assemble an advisory committee consisting of farmers, non-farming landowners, conservation professionals, and PFMs. Building on the work of Iowa State University (ISU), the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others involved in implementing prairie strips across the Midwest, we will develop 6-10 case studies from existing projects representing a range of farmer-landowner arrangements. We will also develop case studies for 1-2 new sites, covering financial analysis of alternatives, planning, and implementation. PFMs and conservation planners will gain greater knowledge, skills and confidence in their ability to provide prairie consultation for their clients. Farmers and landowners will better understand the critical information needed for planning and implementing these projects.

    We will share case studies through Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) field days and winter meetings, a webinar, and partner networks: the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA), two farm management companies, and ISU Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS). Our strategy of case-based and peer-to-peer learning promotes more engaged learning and greater consideration of environmentally sustainable practices. We will attempt to quantify the use of the finished case studies by PFMs and conservation planners, and assess changes in knowledge, skills and confidence at multiple points throughout the project using post-event surveys and interviews, with assistance from an extension rural sociologist.

    On a systems level, this project aims to improve the profitability of farmer and associated agricultural businesses, environmental sustainability and rural quality of life by increasing biodiversity and native perennial vegetation in corn-soybean systems.

     

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Professional farm managers and conservation planners will gain greater knowledge, skills and confidence in advising their landowner clients on strategic use of prairie for soil and water conservation.

    Landowners and farmers will become aware of critical information from a trusted source (PFMs and peers) to effectively address profitability and environmental sustainability concerns.

    PFMs and conservation planners will use case studies and hands-on experiences to support client landowner decision making and effective communication with farmer operators.

    With greater adoption of prairie strips, corn-soybean cropping systems and local communities will benefit from increased biodiversity provided by diverse, native vegetation.

    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.