November 22, 2014

Research finds native grasses help reduce nutrient runoff

Iowa State University researchers say planting native prairie grasses along the edge of a field of row crops reduces nutrient runoff and soil loss. ISU economist John Tyndall says the cost of planting prairie strips is cheaper than other common conservation practices, but a prairie mix may cost a bit more to plant than traditional grasses.

Tyndall says, “When you have high diversity planting mixes, the seed packages that you often get from companies that sell these things, they’re going to be higher than when you have a low diversity mix.” Federal conservation programs often help off-set the costs. He adds, the biggest cost is income lost when acres are taken out of production and that’s the same with whatever seeds are planted. In his research, Tyndall focused on the cost of planting prairie strips alongside row crops.

“They’re on par with a couple of other technologies that are out there,” Tyndall says. “Contour buffer strips for example, or vegetative filter strips in terms of overall cost and they’re far more inexpensive than a practice such as terraces, which are pretty common.” Tyndall’s work follows extensive research at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge which found prairie strips reduce phosphorus and nitrogen runoff, curb soil loss and help revive biodiversity.