AMES, Iowa — The Iowa State University research project known as Science-based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips, or STRIPS, was recently awarded grants from the McKnight Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.
The Walton Family Foundation grant awarded the project nearly $359,000 for two years, ending in July 2018. The McKnight Foundation grant awarded $140,000 also funded for two years. Both grants will enable the STRIPS team to train Technical Service Providers (TSPs) and Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs) for certification in prairie strips design, establishment and monitoring. More certified technicians will allow more Iowa farmers to use this conservation tool.
The STRIPS research team found that removing 10 percent of a row-crop field from production and planting strips of perennial prairie in strategic locations reduces sediment loss by up to 95 percent and water runoff by 40 percent. In addition, prairie strips can reduce phosphorus loss by 90 percent and nitrogen loss by 80 percent, as well as increase pollinator and wildlife habitat.
The key to prairie strips being so effective is in the design, said Tim Youngquist, the STRIPS team farmer liaison and its only designer. He walks the land, talks with the farmer, determines soil type and maps the field for slope and possible placements of the prairie strips.
With the funding from the McKnight and Walton Family foundations, the team will be able to train others. TSPs, CCAs and others can enroll in a one-day workshop, to be held regionally this summer and fall, for certification in prairie strip installation.
The workshops will cover topics including field mapping, plant identification, seed mixtures, maintenance, determining costs and more. Attendees will receive a $250 stipend for the workshop, and a $1,000 bonus after successful installation of prairie strips on their first field.
Participants will create a communications piece to support their business credentials in prairie strips. Those who become certified will help promote this practice in their region as well.
The two grants have enabled the STRIPS team to add a graduate student, Rachael Whitehair, who will be assisting with the workshops. Whitehair, from Shakopee, Minnesota, is studying agricultural education. Nancy Grudens-Schuck, ISU associate professor of agricultural education, is her supervisor.
The team first planted prairie strips in 2007 at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa. The project expanded in 2012 to Iowa farmers’ fields; now, 27 sites have prairie strips. These sites include private farms, five ISU Research and Demonstration farms, Des Moines Water Works and the Eastern Iowa Airport near Cedar Rapids. The STRIPS team monitors some of these fields, measuring sediment, runoff, crop yields and wildlife response.
The STRIPS team will be mailing information about the workshops to TSPs and CCAs this spring. Its website, www.prairiestrips.org, will have workshop information and more about the STRIPS project and the research.
— Iowa State University
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