12 August 2016

Using Prairie to Restore Farm Land

The attitudes toward prairie plants has been changing gradually over the past decade.

When settlers arrived in the midwest a century ago, they removed wild plants and grasses in order to put in crops, thereby eliminating prairie.

Now there is recognition that it is a mistake to shun prairie plants and many farmers are putting patches of prairie back into their farming plans.

Research at Iowa State University points to the prairie plants' deep-roots that soak up polluting waste water, filter it and enrich the soil.

In an interview with the Washington Post, prairie guru,  Lisa Schulte Moore, said, "“The reason why we have the best soil, making it possible to have the world’s best food production, is prairie."

The article says, "Now Schulte Moore and a team of 50 researchers are pushing for a resurrection and spreading a message: Wild prairie could help the state’s agriculture industry. It could slow soil erosion that costs farmers more than a billion dollars per year in lost yield and lower water pollution from fertilizers and chemicals — pollution that triggered a lawsuit by Des Moines against three farm counties upstream."

Prairie serves as habitat for hundreds of species. Its milkweed feeds monarch butterflies, which make an epic migration through the United States from Mexico to Canada every year. Monarch populations have dropped dramatically because of insecticides and loss of habitat.

Providing wildlife habitat for birds and animals on the decline is one of the driving forces behind a program called STRIPS — Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips. Smith said he planted his prairie two years ago because he strongly believed in that philosophy."

Erosion can also be slowed. "The state’s soil is eroding at an alarming rate. Topsoil was an average of 14 inches deep statewide in the mid-1800s; now it’s about six, Iowa State researcher Rick Cruse estimated in studies."

Iowa farmers lose about $40 per acre to soil erosion in a state where more than 85 percent of the land is covered by crops. “If you look at those figures and the amount of corn acres in Iowa, you quickly surpass a billion dollars of annual lost revenue,” Cruse said. Nearly a third of topsoil is lost in ephemeral gullies, swaths carved into farms by heavy rain. Since most prairie plants are perennial, they physically stabilize the soil most of the year."

Click over to this link to read the entire article.


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