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Prairie Strips: Soil Erosion Stoppers

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November 12, 2008

Des Moines, IA - The non-stop rains this spring verified that the use of "prairie strips" at strategic locations in Iowa farm fields can stop significant amounts of soil loss. Iowa State University agriculture and biosystems engineer Matt Helmers ran a trial project with prairie strips this year, and he says recent results show it was a success.

The strips are unplowed pieces of land that hold precious topsoil in place to improve water quality. Helmers says his project shows that if those strips of land are located in critical runoff points, the topsoil loss can be cut dramatically.

"We saw about eight-and-a-half tons per acre coming off the areas that were 100 percent corn in 2008, versus well under one ton per acre coming off those areas where we had the prairie strips."

He explains the strips are sowed with native plants that do more than hold back dirt.

"It's a pretty diverse mix that will serve as a good bird habitat and may also have some beneficial effects for insects and predators and pests."

Helmers says the trial prairie strips took only a fraction of a field out of production, while the benefit to water quality could be seen in reduction of sediment in nearby streams as well as of other contaminants in area water.

The project was part of the Leopold Center Ecology Initiative which provided an initial planning grant and current five-year-operating grant for the project.

Dick Layman/Elizabeth Grattan, Public News Service - IA