Iowa State University Protecting Soil and Water with Strips of Native Prairie

Photo credit: Iowa State University News Service

Farmers today manage their fields for many different results. They work to increase yields and earn a profit while protecting the land’s soil and water resources. Rain, especially torrential rain, is a major challenge since it can wash away fertilizer and susceptible soil. This problem is called runoff.

Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore and Dr. Matthew Helmers lead an interdisciplinary team of scientists who have found an innovative way to minimize runoff, keeping water clean without sacrificing production. The research team is experimenting with strategically planting strips of native prairie within corn and soybean fields.

Farmers respond to data. It’s our job to provide them with the best possible information for managing their fields to meet a variety of goals.

– Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore

They learned that prairie plants’ deep, interlocking roots and stiff, upright stems provide the perfect architecture for preventing runoff. By strategically interspersing these strips on an average of 10 percent of a field, they are able to drastically reduce water, soil, and nutrient loss without altering per acre-yield. The team also determined that the practice does not cause fields to become overrun with weeds. 

Their next step is to work with additional farmers and partners in Iowa and beyond to implement the practice and monitor results.

Retaking The Field Volume 1 “Retaking the Field: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research” is a collaborative report from 13 partnering universities and the SoAR Foundation. The report provides a compelling case to policymakers and the public for increased federal agricultural research funding by celebrating the advances and exploring the untapped potential of the agriculture and food sciences. View The Issue
Retaking the Field Volume 1: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research Click to download report

More Stories from the community

Maximizing Biodegradable Mulch

Vegetable and fruit growers pay for a lot of plastic – $3.4 billion in worldwide sales in 2017. Farmers use plastic mulch to suppress weeds, retain moisture, prevent soil erosion, and increase yields. Disposal at the end of each growing season is a costly problem. Plastic mulches are stockpiled on farms, burned illegally, and/or transported to landfills. Conventional plastic mulch materials are not biodegradable and can persist in the soil for decades if not centuries. Residual pieces of plastic film remain in the soil, where they can form microplastics, damage soil, and may even enter the food chain.

Read More
Harnessing a Flood of Data to Improve Rice Production

Dr. McCouch and Dr. Wang analyzed genetic sequencing of all the rice varieties whose seeds lie in the public domain to determine the genetics responsible for production levels in specific conditions. They have started to identify genomic regions that best accommodate a range of temperatures and carbon dioxide levels.

Read More