Farmer's in Iowa might have discovered a secret weapon to land management in Native Prairie. Prairie plantings are a land management tool that involves integrating native plant species into farm fields as contour buffers and edge-of-field filters.
Native prairie once stretched from Missouri to Ohio and contributed to some of the richest soils on Earth. The soil doesn't regenerate once the prairie is taken out though. Since the mid-19th century soil organic content has dropped by 40%-60% across the Midwest and topsoil has shrunk by nearly 14 inches on average. Pesticides and loss of habitat have also hurt insect populations and the biodiversity within the soil has similarly suffered.
Most of Indiana's prairie, which once accounted for 15% of the state's land, has been lost to drainage, urbanization, and agriculture. The Department of Natural Resources holds up Hoosier Prairie in Lake County as one of the best preserved pieces of our home state's prairie.
Teams from Iowa State University have been studying native prairie's potential for decades through their STRIPS (Science based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips) program. According to new research, planting just 10% of farmland with native prairie can drastically reduce soil loss and nutrient runoff.
Prairies are an effective way to mitigate the damages of decades of development. Prairies can help restore soil, foster carbon sequestration, and generally improve biological functioning. They also provide habitat to birds, small mammals, and pollinators.