Prairie strips. Photo: Sarah Hirsh
What are Prairie Strips?
Prairie strips are like “speed bumps” within and/or around corn and soybean fields that slow and absorb stormwater, help keep soil in place, and prevent runoff of fertilizers and agricultural chemicals. Photo by Omar de Kok-Mercado – Iowa State University. For a video introduction to prairie strips, see MPF’s “Prairie Strips: Protecting Productive Farmland” video on MPF’s YouTube channel.
Pictured here is Timothy Youngquist from Iowa State University speaking to a group of conservation professionals about the benefits of prairie strips and other prairie plantings at a field tour organized by MPF, Roeslein Alternative Energy, Iowa State University, and Quail Forever in September 2021. Photo by Carol Davit.
Prairie strips (CP43) is a continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) practice under the USDA’s Clean Lakes, Estuaries and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative. This practice reduces soil erosion, protects soil, improves water quality, stores carbon in the ground, and provides wildlife habitat. The STRIPS team (Science-Based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips) at Iowa State University developed and has been testing the practice since 2007.
Prairie strips are linear, perennial plantings of prairie grasses and wildflowers within and/or around row crop fields. Prairie strips must be between 30 and 120 foot in width and may not account for more than 25% of the cropped acres per tract. They can be established along the edge of a field (like the old CP33 buffers practice), through the field, in terrace channels along waterways, and next to pivot corners. If using CP43 cost-share to establish prairie strips, they must be in place for a 10- or 15-year contract period.
Why are Prairie Strips Important?
Made up of diverse native plants, prairie strips provide habitat for pollinating insects, grassland birds, and other wildlife. By planting at least 10% of a corn or soybean field to prairie strips, benefits include:
• 44% reduction in water runoff
• 95% reduction in soil loss
• 90% reduction in phosphorus runoff
• 84% reduction in nitrate-nitrogen runoff
• Increases in beneficial insects, pollinators and wildlife.
Who Can Help Me Establish Prairie Strips?
The CP43 Prairie Strips practice is continuous CRP. Unlike general CRP, it is not competitive so if your land meets requirements and acres are available, your land is accepted. The first step in enrolling is to visit your local USDA service center. In addition to annual payments, cost-share and incentives offset most of the establishment costs. Financial benefits include:
• 10 – 15 years of annual rental payments
• Up to 50% cost share payments for establishment
• 5% practice incentive payment
• Sign-up incentive equal to 32.5% of the first year’s rental payment
What Should I Plant in My Prairie Strips? Where Do I Buy Seed?
Missouri, like other states, has specific practice standards required for the seed mix. Generally, mixes include a diverse mix of mostly perennial native grasses and wildflowers, but in some cases may also include introduced species.
The Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Grow Native! program offers a Resource Guide to Suppliers of Native Plants and Services, including numerous native seed producers. Find them at https://grownative.org/resource-guide/seeds/.
- STRIPS Website: www.prairiestrips.org
- Prairie Strips farmer/landowner testimonials
- US Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program “Prairie Strips” Practice Code CP43
- Missouri Prairie Journal article on prairie strips
- Prairie Strips for Your Land: Women for the Land Learning Circle webinar on YouTube
- Native Prairie: Establishing & Managing Native Plantings from USDA