PRAIRIE CITY, Iowa -- Small prairie strips growing at key points in corn and soybean fields at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge are yielding more than good crops; they're improving soil and water quality as well as creating beneficial habitat for insects and birds. Research exploring this unique system that incorporates perennials into working landscapes will be highlighted at a field day on Wednesday, Sept. 2, hosted by the Iowa Learning Farm and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
During 2008, the newly established prairie strips reduced sediment being lost from the fields by about 90 percent. From data collected at the 14 sub-watershed sites this summer, preliminary findings show reductions in peak runoff from those sites where prairie strips are included. Also being monitored are quality and depth of groundwater, amount of nitrogen and phosphorous leaving each watershed, and changs in bird and insect p opulations, plant species and composition in the reconstructed prairie.
Speakers for the field day include:
- Gary Van Ryswyk, the Prairie City farmer who has been growing corn and soybeans around the project’s mini-prairie strips located within the Neal Smith refuge and on adjacent farms,
- ISU Extension water quality engineer Matt Helmers, ISU agronomy professor Rick Cruse and ISU ecologist Heidi Asbjornsen, with interactive demonstrations of how perennial vegetation strips affect water quality, infiltration, and soil water uptake,
- ISU entomologist Matt O’Neal, ISU ecologist Lisa Schulte-Moore and ISU agronomist Matt Liebman on plant biodiversity, the bird population, and beneficial insects that are helping to control soybean aphids and other pests, and
- Soil scientists Cynthia Cambardella and Mark Tomer with the USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Laboratory for a discussion on soil tilth and carbon sequestration.
Field day activities will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the research site with a complimentary evening meal served at the Prairie Learning Center by the Jasper County Pork Producers featuring pork burgers from Audubon Family Farms. The event is free and the public is invited to attend, but an RSVP is recommended. Please call the Jasper County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office to register for this event, (641) 792-4116.
The research site, also called the Interim site, is located approximately two miles south of Highway 163 on West 109th Street, between 96th and 104th Ave. From Jasper County road S6G turn west (left) onto 98th Avenue, travel one mile west and turn south (left) onto West 109th Street.
The Leopold Center’s Ecology Initiative along with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship-Division of Soil Conservation, ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the U.S. Forest Service are funding the Neal Smith project, which is guided by a Stakeholder Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from 15 organizations. Baseline measures were taken in 2006 and the prairie plantings were done in 2007.
The Iowa Learning Farm takes a grassroots approach offering innovative ways to help all Iowans have an active role in keeping our state’s natural resources healthy and not take them for granted. A goal of the Iowa Learning Farm is to build a Culture of Conservation, encouraging the adoption of residue management and conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF staff are working together to identify and implement the best in-field management practices that increase water and soil quality while remaining profitable.
Iowa Learning Farm is a partnership between the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources; in cooperation with Conservation Districts of Iowa and the Iowa Farm Bureau.