Heavy rains can run fast across a plowed farm field heading straight for the ditch. But what if you could slow it down and create a sort of speed bump in your field to help keep soil in place?
Carol Davit, Missouri Prairie Foundation executive director, says planting prairie strips in or around farm fields is one way to not only prevent water runoff and soil erosion, but also improve pollinator habitat. Her organization has grant funding available for farmers willing to give the practice a try.
“The main goal of prairie strips is to keep productive farmland productive,” she explains. “Prairie strips protect streams by keeping any kind of agricultural chemicals on the field where they can do their work, and keeping soil on the fields rather than running off. The practice is designed to be used on and around productive farmland to address erosion or water-quality concerns. The secondary purpose is to provide wildlife and beneficial insect habitat by establishing diverse plant communities.”
Planting prairie strips is part of the continuous Conservation Reserve Program under CP43. The practice has been gaining momentum in the U.S. with more than 14,000 acres enrolled across 14 states. The latest CRP numbers show Illinois leading in plantings with 6,393 acres in the program, followed by 4,187 acres in Iowa and 1,174 in Minnesota. But Missouri lags far behind.
Currently, there has been limited enrollment in the practice, Davit says, but she’d like to see acreage increase.
Planting strips on acres
CP43 prairie strips has been available to landowners through the USDA Farm Service Agency since 2019. Diverse perennial plants can be planted on terrace channels, along waterways, next to irrigation pivot corners or along field edges, Davit explains.
Farmers can elect to take a minimum of 30 feet to 120 feet of cropland, or not more than 25% of a field, and replace corn or soybeans with a diversity of native plants. Machinery traffic is allowed on locations that replace turn rows on the perimeter of the field, but the strips cannot be used as travel corridors.
According to the STRIPS (Science-based Trials of Row Crops Integrated with Prairie Strips) Research Team and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, farmers who plant just 10% of the crop area in prairie strips experience the following:
Funds available for planting
The CP43 prairie strips program differs from general CRP in that it is not competitive. So, if your land meets requirements and acres are available, your land is accepted.
The first step is to visit your local USDA service center. In addition to annual payments, cost share and incentives offset most of the establishment costs. Financial benefits include:
- 10 to 15 years of annual rental payments
- up to 50% cost-share payments for establishment
- 5% practice incentive payment
- sign-up incentive equal to 32.5% of the first year’s rental payment
But Davit says the Missouri Prairie Foundation also has limited funds to help offset the cost of establishing prairie strips. “A farmer could gain cost share through CP43, and also come to us for additional funds to help offset establishment,” she says.
The best time to plant prairie strips is typically in the winter months, November through March. Most native plant seeds need to go through cold periods to break dormancy. Davit encourages farmers to start planning and applying for funding for fall establishment of prairie strips now.
Missouri Prairie Foundation, through its GrowNative! program, offers an online guide where farmers can research and purchase native seed. For more information on Missouri Prairie Foundation grant opportunities, call Davit at 573-356-7828.
Women’s prairie strip program
The Missouri Prairie Foundation, along with American Farmland Trust, is offering a webinar May 11 for female landowners to learn more about prairie strips. Women will be able to ask questions of the Natural Resources Conservation Service regarding the CP43 practice. To learn more, visit Missouri Prairie Foundation at moprairie.org.