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

Saving Soybeans

The total value of the U.S. soybean crop was $41 billion in 2016 according to the American Soybean Association. Soybean is heavily impacted by root and stem rot diseases caused by oomycete pathogens, fungal-like microbes that cause highly destructive plant diseases and plague almost every type of row crop grown. Oomycetes, which contain hundreds of species, along with the rest of the plant pathogens, are estimated to cost billions of dollars in crop losses annually. A type of oomycete, Phytophthora sojae, is one of the most disruptive pathogens in soybean fields across our nation.

Read More