UNI prairie project improves Iowa quality of life
In 2015, UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center launched the Prairie on Farms program to help 10 northeast Iowa landowners plant prairies on their farmland. The Tallgrass Prairie team is now expanding that program thanks to a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Researchers at Iowa State University have learned that prairies, strategically placed on farm fields, can not only reduce soil loss, but also prevent nitrogen and phosphorus — which farmers use to fertilize their fields —
from being washed off into rivers and streams. The pilot program focused especially on prairie strips, which are 30-120 foot wide patches of prairie mixed into farm fields. Participants in UNI’s pilot program received assistance from the Tallgrass Prairie Center on seed mix design, planting, and follow-up monitoring.
The benefits go beyond cleaner water and more fertile soil. Farm owner Jerry Kramer, one of the pilot program participants, said he saw a pheasant taking wing at one of his farms for the first time in years. Kramer attributes the resurgence of native birds - along with flowering plants and pollinating insects - on his farmland to his participation in the pilot program, which is devoted to restoring native vegetation throughout the state.
“There’s a whole group of birds that used to live in Iowa that are nearly gone,” said Laura Jackson, Tallgrass Prairie Center director. “You hardly see them anymore — unless you have a prairie.”
“The landowners care about the land and water,” Jackson said. “They ask tough questions. We’re making sure that they have the information, tools, knowledge and relationships to use prairie, along with other conservation practices, to address them.”
More information about UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center and the Prairie on Farms program can be found here.