Hosts Joe Zimbric and Jerry Clark interview Iowa State’s Tim Youngquist and Omar de Kok-Mercado about Prairie STRIPS (Science-Based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips). Prairie STRIPS are strategically placed native prairie plantings designed to intercept stormwater, build soil, and provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife in row-crop fields.
Recorded June 23, 2020
Jerry Clark, Omar de Kok-Mercado, Joe Zimbric, Tim Youngquist
JASON FISCHBACH 00:00
This is a podcast about new crops. You’re gonna love it. Join us on the cutting edge. A podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. (music)
Tim Youngquist 00:11
Put it into something like prairie strips, since farmers are not investing money in inputs on low yielding acres, then it does help their bottom line economically so in the long run, not farming sub-profitable acres is gonna make the farmer a little bit more money.(music)
Jerry Clark 00:49
So welcome to Cutting Edge a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. I’m your co host Jerry Clark with the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension and Chippewa County serving as an agricultural agent, and today our co, my co host is Joe Zimbric. Joe.
Joe Zimbric 01:09
Yeah, thanks, Jerry. My name is Joe Zimbric. I’m the crops and soils educator in dodge and Fond du Lac counties in Wisconsin. And today we’re going to shift gears a little bit away from our typical crops, and talk about the Strip’s Program, which is an ongoing research project at Iowa State University. And we have two guests joining us today, Omar de Kok-Mercado, the outreach specialist for the Strip’s Program. And we also have Tim Youngquist, who is the farmer liaison for that project. Thanks for joining us, guys.
Omar de Kok-Mercado 01:45
Thanks for having us.
Tim Youngquist 01:46
Great to be here.
Joe Zimbric 01:48
So, you know, I went through the University System. And I’ve been hearing about Strips for the last probably five to ten years. Really And I, you know, I think it’s a really interesting project. First, maybe just tell us a little bit about your background. Let’s start there. If you would just tell us your background, what you do your involvement with the strip’s program. And tell us maybe you know how you arrived at the strip’s program.
Omar de Kok-Mercado 02:21
Tim why don’t you take the chart on that.
Tim Youngquist 02:25
Sounds great. Well, I appreciate you guys inviting us up here because I think that it is a pretty interesting program. And even though we’ve been doing this for a little over 10 years now, it’s it’s still not incredibly well known. As you mentioned, I’m Tim Youngquist. I’m what’s called the farmer liaison with this project. Essentially, I serve as the pivot point between the researchers at Iowa State and then private farmers and landowners that are interested in getting prairie strips on their land. So I’ll help with design issues, then implementation, maintenance down the road. And then I do a lot of outreach programs like this. So I’ve kind of got a little bit of expertise on farming and then on prairie establishment, prairie maintenance. I’ve been with the project since 2014. And that was kind of the shift from the original research project that took place at the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge down by Prairie City, which is east of just east of Des Moines, which is the capital of Iowa. And that was where, back in 2007, the initial project started. So for about six or seven years, a lot of research was taking place there. And as more and more outreach is taking place, and more and more data was coming together from the team, people around the state of Iowa and beyond started to ask, Well, if this is so these results are so good on the wildlife refuge. Could I maybe do this on my lane, and that was kind of how it transitioned the project. A little bit where we moved off of the refuge and onto private property. So that’s kind of where I came in.
Omar de Kok-Mercado 04:05
So yeah, I’m the project coordinator for Strips and communications lead. My kind of informal title is professional cat herder. I kind of coordinate our large team and make sure that our efforts are just fluid between departments because we’re a large transdisciplinary research group, covering everything from agronomy, entomology, economics, human dimensions. microbiology, there’s there’s a large list of things that we’re looking at. So I kind of help facilitate communications between researchers. Most recently, I led the team in writing the policy that’s now live through the Conservation Reserve Program. So now farmers can sign up prairie strips under the Conservation Reserve Program and get a rental payment for that.
Tim Youngquist 05:01
So, I mean, I’m sure a lot of our listeners probably aren’t familiar with strips. So if you would, Could you just tell us generally what are strips
Omar de Kok-Mercado 05:09
When it really comes down to it, exactly what it sounds like, just just a strip of prairie in a row crop field so that the strip’s acronym stands for science based trials of row crops integrated with prairie strips. There’s a couple of words in there that aren’t an acronym. So a little mouthful. But yeah, is’s just exactly what it sounds like. It’s a strip of prairie at a minimum of 30 feet max of 120 feet or more, if you’re not using CRP, but it’s a strip of perennial native vegetation and row crop fields strategically placed to intercept water.
Jerry Clark 05:49
So yeah, that was the question I had was, I was curious about so the strips minimum maximum width or is it mainly replacing grass waterways? That You know, contour strips that we typically see in agricultural fields and then sounds like they do a requirement is for them to be native plantings or native species within those strips.
Tim Youngquist 06:13
Yeah, Jerry that’s a lot of lot of good questions there. So, Omar is absolutely right. You know, these are basically strips that are out in row crop fields but don’t get too hung up on the title of strips, you know, these could be kind of blocks or larger chunks, you know, you don’t necessarily have to think of as a ribbon that would go through the field, okay. But if you consider, so down here in Iowa, we’ve got a lot of terraces that go across the hill slope or perpendicular to the flow of water, and that’s how you’d be placing the prairie strips they basically serving as as kind of like you mentioned, the the contour grass strips that you see up there in Wisconsin that I think a lot of people are maybe taking hay off of or something like that. That was They’d be placed across the hill slope or along the edges of the field. And then yeah, one of the differences is also that, just the emphasis on the native vegetation. We don’t have a required seed mix, but the using native grasses and forbs, that would have made up the tall grass prairie. You get a lot of those wildlife benefits to the songbirds and the pollinators and the game birds and things like that.
Jerry Clark 07:26
So if there’s, if farmers are to put these on their their, in their farms is the right, if it is cost shared, and maybe explain a little bit of that if there’s cost share dollars through some of the agencies, do they require hunting then or can they can they use this property? Are these what is enrolled in these programs or these blocks? Can that be used for hunting then? Or is it mainly for water? You know, conserving water flow and those kind of things?
Omar de Kok-Mercado 07:57
Yeah, Tim, I don’t think there’s any restrictions on hunting on CRP ground.
Tim Youngquist 08:02
Yep, they can absolutely be used for hunting. Yeah, absolutely. So the, the requirements for prairie strips and CRP, they, they fall under the guidelines of all other CRP practices. So the restrictions are similar. But the thing with prairie strips, as with CRP practices, it’s significantly more flexible than some of the existing practices that address the same thing like riparian buffers or contour grass strips. Like for example, the grass strips only require a minimum of 15 feet, but they don’t require natives. They don’t require a certain amount of flowering plants in every season so the prarie strips practices, you know, taking the research that we’ve done and translated into policy. So we’re really trying to focus on the diversity component. So there’s a minimum of two flowering plants. In every season throughout the growing season, to spring, summer and fall as an example of increased diversity. And I think Iowa so far is the only state that that’s requiring only natives. But since it’s a national practice, we had to write it. So it was flexible enough to appeal to seed markets out west which they might not be able to access just strictly native seeds. But that’s that’s the major difference between existing practices and the prairie strips practices, the amount of diversity and the emphasis on native vegetation.
Jerry Clark 09:39
Joe Zimbric 09:40
Yeah. And kind of on that point. There’s been a lot of research on sort of the how wildlife, particularly pollinators and birds respond to these strips in a watershed. And it sounds like there’s disproportional benefits. So could you maybe just elaborate a little bit about Some of the research on wildlife and, and what you’ve what you’ve all been seeing down there.
Tim Youngquist 10:04
Yeah, that’s been one of the neat things. You know, we started at the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge. And that’s actually the largest prairie reconstruction in North America. So it’s a little bit you know, of course, there was going to be some some birds and things down there. But as we’ve moved off the refuge, and we’re on to more private farms, we’ve been seeing a lot of the almost an even stronger effect, you know, looking at some of the different pollinators and birds and things. I’m not an ornithologist, or I don’t study the birds but essentially we’ve been just finding a larger density of grassland birds, so things like red winged blackbirds. dickcissel, common yellow throats, meadowlarks you know, those are some of the main ones that are affected, and then also seeing larger numbers of game birds like pheasants and quail. And then, you know, kind of on and on, I mean finding more adult monarch butterflies. So some of those key pollinators, larger numbers of, you know, the ground beetles that are really good at seed predation for weed seeds and then seeing a lot more of the native honeybees and things like that that have been in kind of great decline over the last couple decades.
Omar de Kok-Mercado 11:24
So, so yeah, some of the formal numbers that our team has looked at is that compared to row crop yields, prairie strips support a 3.5 fold increase in pollinator abundance. And then also a two fold increase in bird abundance including birds of greatest conservation need. And that most recently, our pollinator team has been looking at honeybee production in prairie strips and the research isn’t published yet but the results are suggesting that prairie strips can provide a late summer forage in August when there’s a lack of floral resources and in row crop fields. So after the senescence of soybean flowers, honeybees are looking like they’re using prairie not just prairie strips, but prairie in general as a floral and nectar resource, which is a kind of an exciting thing that we’re looking at right now.
Jerry Clark 12:24
So, so from a management standpoint, a farmer has fields that he’d like to, how does a farmer get involved or enrolled or just contact your shop at Iowa State? Or how does this work to get individual farmers started in a program like this or how and I guess another question would be how, how could it you know, translate to like Wisconsin, or you know, doing those kind of things, getting it in a little larger area.
Omar de Kok-Mercado 12:55
You bet. You know, Tim is the farmer liaison so that farmers can still contact our team and work with Tim and for designing and implementing prairie strips, but now that prairie strips is a CRP policy, every USDA service center and every county, in every state nationwide has the technical assistance needed to be able to put this practice on the ground. So a farmer can just go to their county office and ask to put in prairie strips and they’ll be able to help that farmer out.
Jerry Clark 13:28
So then from other manage, so is it cost sharing then? Is there cost sharing for seed or, you know, tillage or prepping the areas? Those kind of things?
Omar de Kok-Mercado 13:38
Yep, yep, totally. So let’s see, CRP is a minimum of 50% cost share. There’s actually a really great article. If listeners want to type in “successful farming, prairie strips cost share”, there’s an article that kind of highlights all of the the details on how much cost shar they could potentially get on prairie strips.
Joe Zimbric 14:03
Great. Um, one thing kind of on that note that I’ve been wondering if you all have tried to tackle with with your research is, have you done any sort of, like formal economic analysis? Like, how are these impacting the bottom line for farmers? I mean, we all know that the commodity markets are, you know, not great. So, the thought of taking land out of production could be pretty tough for a lot of people to think about. What is your, you know, research showing in terms of just whole farm economics?
Omar de Kok-Mercado 14:36
We do have an economist on our team. His name is John Tyndall and we have a publication on our website that you can access if you go to prariestrips.org and click on the “How do I get started”, there’s a really, really nice list of some extension publications there and there’s one called “the cost of prarie strips” that it’s like all, you know, all the details on you know, different kinds of seed mixes, and What that level of diversity, you know, higher diversities higher seed mix and you know, kind of looks at all that stuff. And what we’re seeing is that if farmers implement prairie strips through CRP, the cost of implementation can be as low as $7 an acre. But again, there’s a lot of different variables that go into calculating something like that. And right now our team is formalizing, you know, whether or not taking land out of production is actually beneficial to the farmers bottom line, because there’s just so many different variables to consider there. But there are other researchers like Dave Muth and Steve Brewer and Tom Fenton and Bruno Basso’s group that have looked at just sub profitable acres, you know, in in the Midwest and looked at what happens when we take those lands out of production and turn them into conservation practices and what demonstrating is that when we do take those lands out of production, you know, formal crop production and put it into something like prairie strips. Since farmers are not investing money and inputs on low yielding acres, that it does help their bottom line economically. So in the long run, not farming, still profitable acres is, you know, going to make farmer a little bit more money. But we haven’t formalized that finding as our own research group, but other researchers are demonstrating that.
Tim Youngquist 16:33
Yeah, it’s one of those things that maybe isn’t completely intuitive until you sort of unpack it a little bit.
Jerry Clark 16:41
So are those of those acres that are coming out of production or being identified? Are those more of the marginal soils, the marginal edges of fields, you know, those kind of things? Is that is that where farmers are enrolling that land or you know, are they actually using it more as you know, a traditional contour strip or, you know, that kind of thing?
Omar de Kok-Mercado 17:05
Yeah, I would add my my observation so far with the farmers that have enrolled we have we have about over 250 farmers that have implemented prarie strips through CRP in the States since it launched in December. And the what we’ve heard from them is that they’re mostly using it as a field border, or maybe diversifying their terrace channel or planting it along end rows, because with the practice, in prarie strips, you can actually travel on the end rows. And that’s a first for CRP, which farmers are finding really helpful. But yeah, in general, that placement is going to be in a area like a toe slope or you know, where a lot of water is moving that. And those traditionally for row crop production are just going to be unproductive. And the nice thing about prairie is that it’s been here for the last 10 thousand years and it’s really well adapted to a wide array of different growing conditions and the diversity of the prairie mix are really resilient. And, you know, a lot of different types of climate. So if it’s drought, or if it’s really wet or in between, there’s plants that are going to do really well regardless of the scenario. So yeah, I would say that, in general, farmers are putting it in areas of the field that are not as productive.
Joe Zimbric 18:24
This question is more for Tim. So say, I’m a farmer. I’m, you know, maybe a little bit interested in this. I’ve made a few steps. I’ve, now I’m not I’m planting my my strips. I’ve, I’ve contacted USDA. What do you generally see, I know prairie takes a long time to really develop. What What do you see in terms of like the timeline for these things to really sort of develop or what is that? Can you just speak to that a little bit?
Tim Youngquist 19:00
Yeah, that’s a great question Joe. The prairie is very different agronomically than something like corn or soy beans or even an alfalfa or some of the hay crops. There’s a DNR friend of mine down here that talks about the first three years of prairie and the three P’s. The first year you pray like hell, the third year you pray like hell so but essentially though, to break that down in a little more manageable, these prarie are, a lot of them are very small seeded species. So they’re going to put a lot of energy into these deep below ground roots during the first two years. A lot of the annual weeds that we have in the row crop fields are trying to put on as much growth as possible so they can make as much seed as possible so then they can reproduce. I mean things like waterhemp or pigweed. You know, a lot of the lambsquarters those type of things. So by going in and mowing multiple times in that first year, essentially what we tell farmers is every time the height of the overall vegetation gets to about mid calf or knee height, go out in that first year and mow it down to a height of about four to six inches. You want to just make sure that that those small prairie plants are getting the sunlight, the water and the nutrients that they need. And then that you’re keeping all those annuals from going to seed and causing problems down the road. And then into that second year, you’re going to want to mow at least one time and again up to a height of about 10 inches that second year, you can let it grow a little bit taller. But just getting in there with a mower for the first couple years is going to be the best way to have success down the road and then make sure that you’re giving your prairie that competitive advantage of needs.
Jerry Clark 20:55
So are there other management things Tim once it’s established I’m assuming, you know, after those first two years as native plants, there’s not there’s no more inputs really needed at that point correct?
Tim Youngquist 21:09
Well, that’s there’s no more inputs. That’s right. But you know, prairie being pitched as a no maintenance land cover is kind of a misnomer. You know, if you’d go back, say 1000 years here in Iowa for certain there was just a lot less tree cover or woody vegetation than there is now. And a lot of that the whole state of Iowa I think about 85% was covered with prairie, and that was burned very frequently. So most of the fire would have been coming from the Native Americans that were here who were burning for a variety of reasons then lightning strikes and other natural fires. But these prairie plants have adapted with a regime of fire for for thousands and thousands of years. So you know, going in sometimes Maybe after the spring of the third year, if you could get an application of a prescribed fire over that ground, you’re really going to invigorate those native species. And then if you have, you know, cottonwoods, willows, mulberries, I mean, dogwood, some of those trees that kind of want to just invade the grassland areas, you can really hold those back with a little bit of fire. Other than that, you know, going out and doing periodic spot spraying, I mean, the trees are going to be a big enemy, but then also some of the perennial weeds. So down here, you know, Canada thistle, that’s an issue, something that it’s going to reproduce by seed, but it’s also going to reproduce by underground rhizome or roots that are moving. So you know, doing a little bit of scouting and just making sure that you don’t have issues like that. And if you do, you know, in our conventional farms, we encourage to some application of spot spray of herbicide to get after some of those areas. So that would kind of be part of it. But By having a diversity of plants, you know, that mix of the cool and warm season grasses, the forbs, legumes, sedges, all that stuff, you can really fill as many niches on that bare ground as possible that will will help you down the road, you know, keep other species from invading into those strips.
Joe Zimbric 23:17
All right. I kind of have a follow up question to that. So we’re seeing up here more and more people are shifting to 24D resistant soybeans and dicamba resistant soybeans. And I’m sure you have that in Iowa as well. Have you run into any issues where you have these broadleaf herbicides that are drifting onto strips and wiping out some of the broad leaves in the strips?
Tim Youngquist 23:46
Yeah, that’s another really good question. And one of the neat things about moving off of the wildlife refuge at Neil Smith is these are commercial farms. And we’re not asking anyone to Do anything different aside from planting the prairie You know, they’re using the same seed treatments, they’re using the same herbicides as they were prior to the prairie. What we have seen is that herbicide drift is less of a problem if a spray boom goes directly over the strip’s absolutely, you know, you can, you can wipe out some of those broadleaf species, but we have seen less and less trouble with drift, what you’ll get is maybe a plant that is gonna really brown up or the leaves will curl or maybe it won’t bloom in that growing season. But with those deep roots, it’s largely going to be able to come back the next year from from the roots. So they’re always going to be the most sensitive again during that first like two or three years of establishment. If you have a little bit of drift. You might have some trouble and then from just a purely management perspective or a field operations, by having small, narrow strips through the field, you do have to be more cognizant about when you go out to spray. Or if you have, say, a local Co-Op or someone that’s being hired to do the spraying, making very sure that they know where the boundaries of that strip are. And then just, you know, following all the rules that you should follow under a normal herbicide application, you know, watching your wind speed, watching your temperature, all those things. So it’s the drift is less of an issue, but it is still a concern if you’re going to be putting something in the middle of the field.
Omar de Kok-Mercado 25:37
All that we need really is somebody crazy enough to make Roundup Ready prairie? Right. I would kind of add to let Tim saying is that a lot of the folks that are putting in prairie strips are conservation minded. So they’re they’re going to be pretty conservative with their chemical application and be mindful of the you know, making sure that they’re following label recommendations.
Jerry Clark 26:02
Are there any farmers working in conjunction with say, Honey producers or beekeepers, Apple growers that you know need that. If there’s an early those early season native flowers that might provide some some Bees for area Apple growers, or is there any working with another industry like that? As part of this project?
Omar de Kok-Mercado 26:26
Yeah, there’s we do have a pollinator researcher, lead or pollinator research lead. His name is Matt O’Neill. He’s working directly with it. These type of questions and honeybee producers and most recently now we’re looking at integrating prairie strips in the solar fields and coupling that with honeybee production. kind of looking at the logistics of a system that could produce energy, have value added added commodities like honey bees, honey and row crops along with conservation, like prairie strips. So yeah, we’re looking at that. And we actually have a couple students that are graduating with their dissertation soon. So hope to have some more formal numbers on that sort of stuff soon. Great.
Joe Zimbric 27:18
Yeah, Omar, you mentioned that a lot of the people who are adopting or getting into strips right now are kind of conservation minded. What is sort of the plan to sort of break into new audiences? I mean, I imagine eventually, you’d like to see a good percentage of Iowa covered in strips. How are you approaching this idea of, you know, reaching new people, maybe farmers that haven’t tried many conservation practices before?
Omar de Kok-Mercado 27:46
I think, you know, I think though, the issue of conservation in general is that there’s not really an economic incentive to do that, you know, and there hasn’t really been an economic incentive for prairie outside of CRP. So, what I’m really interested in and other researchers in our group that are interested in is, you know, how can we develop potential markets for the tall grass prairie? And what kind of questions should we be asking to, you know, generate revenue from the prairie, you know, after a CRP contract is expired. So right now is a really great time because farmers can implement prairie strips through CRP and a 10 or 15 year contract, but where are they going to do after 10 or 15 years? Are they going to re enroll it? Are they going to rotate that strip on the land and and regenerate sales elsewhere on their farm or, you know, what opportunity is there outside of cost share and rental payment? So, you know, one example would be baling up all that biomass and integrating it in with manure from like a confined animal feeding operation and generating biogas from an anaerobic digester by mixing the prairie biomass in with the manure and, you know, piping making farms, hubs for energy production. You know, other things like we just talked about is the possibility of integrating honeybees. There’s you know, other opportunities by integrating prairie strips within transmission line corridors and coupling, you know, conservation with energy production again and then diversifying the edges around prairie strips with you know, agroforestry commodities and silvopasture and now that we we want to think about these sorts of things, you know, with from a systems lens and you know, how can prairie strips the way they are now evolved into, you know, a different type of agricultural production. One of the things I’m working on right now, that I’m really excited about is using prairie strips as corridors to access cover crops. So looking at the efficacy of you know, running polywire along the edge of a strip or virtual fencing and Using those strips as roads to access cover crops during rotational grazing within row crop fields with, you know, mobile electrical fence, coupling that with, you know, access to solar panels and that sort of thing. So I think, you know, just getting the churning going with, with creativity and farmers and getting them excited about diversifying their landscape and you know, doing something a little different, making their systems more resilient by adding more crops, adding, you know, greater diversity in the rotations, I think is really where we should be moving towards that there are farmers that are getting really excited about that sort of stuff. And I think, you know, farmers lead by example, and they talk a lot amongst each other. And, you know, you get a prairie strip on one field and the neighbor sees how crazy that guy is. And then they talk about that crazy guy and they started adopting, you know, that practice themselves. And I think, you know, at this point we’re we’re beyond the innovation phase for, you know, early adopters and now we’re kind of moving towards the, you know, the early majority. So I’m excited to see what happens in the next five to 10 years with this practice.
Jerry Clark 31:12
So, as part of the as part of the project and having having this just starting, are you taking soil, you mentioned regenerate regenerating the re energizing the soil? Does the project look at the soil health parameters like bulk density and filtration, these measurables from a soil health standpoint? And then is, is that going to be you know, something that farmers look at if they are going to rotate out of this in 15 years to move it to another piece of land?
Omar de Kok-Mercado 31:42
So we’re looking at that right now. The Marshall McDaniel soil scientist in the agronomy department and his PhD student Paul Vetter and then we have Karen Ruteski of Michigan State along with Nick Cadet and they’re they’re all looking at the effects of prairie strips on soil health. Both Underneath the strip and in the cropland adjacent. So, yeah, we’re curious, what are the spatial and temporal effects of, you know, moving prairie along a landscape? So, you know, down the hill slope and what what kind of effect does that have on building soil carbon influence on the soil microbial community? So those are, you know, long term questions. And we, as of this year are terminating some of our legacy research sites at Neil Smith and and taking those samples right now and trying to answer some of those questions.
Joe Zimbric 32:36
Kind of related to that, on that point, the soil carbon point, you know, we’ve been talking about carbon markets for a long time. And, you know, it sounds it seems like it’s an inevitable thing that’s going to happen eventually. Have any of you that have been involved in strips also tried to market your potential carbon sequestration? That’s happening with the strip’s or is that something that you’re all thinking about?
Tim Youngquist 33:03
We don’t have a lot of that going on yet or certainly nothing formally, but with the first round of the farmers and landowners that have adopted the prairie strips practices, Omar mentioned, they’re conservation minded. So several of them are trying to link up with some of these private companies that are working to develop those value chains. For things like carbon credits and some carbon trading I, again, I don’t know a lot about that. But many of these things, you know, there, there are these disproportionate benefits that are coming from the prairie strips and then a lot of things that there could be, you know, a lot of new revenue streams for farmers that that just aren’t quite there yet, but over, you know, potentially the next decade or two. Hopefully some of that stuff will be more fleshed out and hopefully some of our, our farmers or researchers at Iowa State will have a lot to do with that.
Joe Zimbric 33:58
Guess kind of want to shift gears Little bit, I know that you all are looking at how prairie strips can affect manure application. You know, in Wisconsin, we have a lot of manure that’s going out on the landscape. Can you talk a little bit about how prairie strips are being looked at with manure application in some of the CAFOs in Iowa?
Omar de Kok-Mercado 34:25
Like it? I can’t really speak to the details, right of any of the research that we’re doing right now, because all of our findings are preliminary. But just to kind of speak to it in general, as we’re know, we’re interested in whether or not prarie strips can mitigate the transfer of antibiotic resistant genes. So to kind of give a little bit of a context as you know, farmers or a lot of producers give their pigs antibiotics, the antibiotics get transferred into the manure And then the manure gets transferred onto the land. So the question is whether or not that those antibiotic resistant genes, because I got to back up a little bit more. So, you know, the idea would be that that manure that has the antibiotics in it, with that prolonged exposure in the soil, that there’s microbial communities that become resistant to it. Similarly to humans that, you know, get infected by like mersa, or something like that antibiotic resistant bacteria. We’re curious whether or not those resistant genes can be transferred within soil microbial communities. So we’re now looking at whether or not prairie strips can mitigate that resistant gene transfer. So if we implement prairie strips in a strategic place, whether or not when the effluent passes through the prairie strip, if those resistant genes come out the other side or not
Joe Zimbric 36:00
It’s really interesting research.
Omar de Kok-Mercado 36:02
Does that make sense?
Joe Zimbric 36:03
Yeah, really interesting research and definitely we’ll be looking forward to seeing what those results show. In terms of invasive species to mention that you have potentially, you know, thistles but I’m wondering a lot of the prairies around here that aren’t managed, you know, super close. We’ll see a lot of Reed Canary grass and Canada goldenrod Have you run into any problems where you just have invasive species come through and, and kind of overtake the strips?
Tim Youngquist 36:36
Yeah, the invasive species are always going to be a problem with prairie constructions, especially in these areas that are small. But what we’d like to look at is the seed mix that’s going out in the first place and putting seeds that are appropriate with the correct soil type. So putting, you know the right mix of wet species in the low areas and things like that, because generally Yeah, that your reed canary, you know, we’ve got a lot of our waterways that have, you know, the wet spots that the brome has kind of disappeared and reed canary has kind of worked its way into that. And I mean, that’s, that’s pretty tough to completely deal with. So I can’t say that we’ve solved that by any means, but again, by just having the appropriate species of prairie plants and then getting the, you know, the right mix. That can be the kind of the best way to get started. And then, you know, most of our prarie strips are going into either corn or soybean fields, where the weed pressure or the weed bank has been controlled for years, if not decades. So that’s really helpful. You know, going into a conversion of like a cool season pasture or something like that, you know, a different land use. That’s where you can have a lot more trouble and trying to encourage farmers to do as much site prep as possible. So even you know preparing for a year by doing a spray out of kind of a burndown repeatedly over 12 months to get rid of as much of that weed bank as possible before you go in with the prairie because if you if you rush into an existing pasture or kind of a cool season grass situation, it might be okay for a year or two, but you will have problems down the road. So that’s, that’s certainly a concern, but I don’t have any great answers for it. I will say I guess agronomically having a thick stand of a monoculture like reed canary grass is not great from a wildlife perspective, but can be pretty effective from a soil erosion or a water filtration side. So depending upon what your goals are having a little bit of a lower diversity planting or even having some of these invasive species like you know, you mentioned the goldenrod or thistle’s things like that. I mean, you You’re still seeing some of the benefits you’d get from from the natives, just not quite as much.
Joe Zimbric 39:04
Yeah, it seems like that perennial component is key.
Jerry Clark 39:08
So sort of Tim on that seed selection or the species selection, or the is are there consultants helping with that? Is it mainly through the project, our count our field agents and extension, helping with some of these, you know, consultations if a farmer is interested or who’s who’s helping the farmer?
Tim Youngquist 39:30
Yeah, that’s a great question. So every USDA office is going to have a list of approved contractors that can can do the seeding that can sell the seed all that so if you can get hooked up with the right, seed salesman, salesperson, you can, you can really do well there. You know, I think some of the folks at USDA do a really good job with that as well. But it just, it kind of depends. You know, the The USDA I mean, there’s a lot of diversity and staff and this prairie strips practice is kind of new. So that’s, that’s a little bit up in the air yet, if you’re willing to spend a little bit of time and educate yourself, the University of Northern Iowa’s as tall grass prairie center, they have an incredible amount of resources. And they’re one of our strips partners that’s been doing a lot of the work on on seed mixes and looking at, you know, kind of economy mixes and pollinator mixes and diversity mixes and seeing, you know, what are these benefits you’re going to get? How much is it going to cost? And then what can you expect, you know, down the road with your prairie planting, so there’s a little bit of help from USDA, and there’s a little bit of help from different seed contractors, we’re kind of lucky like that. I mean, even there are a lot of seed sellers here in Iowa, and then into Minnesota and Wisconsin as well. So you’ve got to do a little bit of looking around, but, but there are resources available.
Omar de Kok-Mercado 40:57
I know we’re giving a shout out to The Tall Grass Prairie Center, we should give a shout out to the Sand County Foundation, which is Wisconsin based. They’re one of our STRIPS partners that are helping farmers implement strips and they’re really great at what they do. So Wisconsin, Wisconsinites or Wisconsions?
Jerry Clark 41:18
Whatever we are. Yeah.
Tim Youngquist 41:22
Omar de Kok-Mercado 41:25
Yes, Sand County Foundation.
Joe Zimbric 41:29
Yeah, that’s true that that’s a good point. We have a couple of strips in Dodge County where I am right now, as a result of some of the good work from the Sand County foundation. What what are some of the like major lessons learned? That you if you were to start again, you know, maybe Tim, you could respond to this if what are some of these major lessons that you’ve learned that you would try to pass on to new farmers?
Tim Youngquist 41:53
When we started the project, we were kind of basing the design for the prairie strips more off of this contour grass strip, which is the USDA NRCS standard. And the there the grass strips were a minimum of 15 feet wide. So we installed a few of the first strips at about that 15 foot width. Because as you’re moving across the field, every five feet wider that you make that strip, you really can chew through acreage in a big hurry. So the wider the strip gets, the more land you take out of production. But that said, I think the CRP standard now the prairie strip standard of a 30 foot wide strip is a much more appropriate standard. And I wouldn’t put anything out in the field that’s less than that. Because you’re always going to have you know, whether it’s spray drift or tillage draft, I mean, the edges of waterways and prairie strips they can always just kind of move a little bit you know, with with how big the equipment is now, so, giving yourself something a little bit wider. I think it’s going to be the best way. You know, then I think, as far as advice, it’s great to get the word out, you know, and kind of help educate people about but there’s no substitute for going out and seeing these in person and then talking to either a farmer or landowner or someone that’s actually worked around them. I think that that’s more valuable than anything, because really, it’s it’s not adding that much to a field. And then you get a lot of benefits for that, especially if you’re putting something you know, say on the low edge of the field where the water is running out of the field, are these areas of concentrated water flow that are moving through the field, if you can filter those on the way out? You’re really not you’re not changing the field in any significant way. So I think if you’re hesitant at all, you know, if you think you want prairie strips, but you’re not sure I’d say starting, you know, in some kind of an edge of field buffer, that’d be the way to go and then keeping that buffer 30 feet or wider would be kind of two of the big things. I mean, there’s There’s certainly a lot to it, but those are some of the main ones. Yeah.
Joe Zimbric 44:06
Um, for the people that are, you know, thinking about doing this on a contour, I imagine you have to have some technical expertise, you know, working with GPS unit. In terms of installation. Is the USDA helping with that installation process? Or are they just providing the funds? Do you contract through, you know, small, small contractors that are helping you install these? How does that process usually play out?
Tim Youngquist 44:33
Yeah, that’s a good question. layout is key, especially if you’re moving into the infield strips and having a GPS unit with a high degree of accuracy is really helpful. So here in Iowa, several of the USDA offices do have RTK GPS or real time kinematic essentially sub inch GPS that they can help to flag the strips and that’s been really, really helpful otherwise You know, maybe sometimes some of the contractors will have that ability as well. But yeah, having some kind of a GPS with a high degree of accuracy is going to be the best way to get these things laid out. And then, wherever possible, laying out the strips in a way that you’re creating uniform farming lanes in between them, so you’re not creating an excessive burden to the farm operator that’s going to take every farm operation is going to take more time. So trying to create as smooth lines as you can and working with the contour as much as possible. But if you’re, if you have a less than 5% slope, which I know maybe there’s not a lot of that up in Wisconsin, but you can be really flexible with how you lay out the strips and you can kind of you don’t have to adhere to the contour as closely as if you get above that 5% threshold.
Jerry Clark 45:52
So in identifying these these fields, you kind of mentioned, the precision Ag the GPS type of thing. Is that also helping to identify those low production areas of fields? Where, you know, that’s where a farmer could take, you know, a part of a field out of production that just isn’t profitable, since we can overlay these yield maps and all that kind of stuff? Are there farmers looking at those? Are they still primarily sticking to the edges of the field at this point?
Tim Youngquist 46:20
Yeah, definitely some of both. You know, we’re at a unique opportunity right now, where I think precision ag technology is more a part of farming than it’s ever been in the past. And I think it’s becoming more commonplace. To run these analyses and I’ve heard you know, some of the precision ag folks you know, say think about breaking your field into grid squares and treating each one of those grid squares as a franchise restaurant, some of those are going to sell more and some are going to sell less. And if you can eliminate some of those more lower producing areas, you can get a larger return on investment or more bushels per acre from from your whole field. One of the issues with that is that oftentimes the low producing area, maybe a little bit of a knob or maybe a low wet spot, you know, it’s not necessarily going to lay out in a way that’s going to be extremely conducive to being farmed around. And with these prairie ships, like I mentioned, you have to mow them. So you can’t strand them out in the middle of the field, you know, you need to have some way to get out there to them. So that’s why, you know, having these low producing areas on the edge of the field are a little bit easier because they’re just simpler to get to from a maintenance perspective. So I don’t quite know. You know, how we’re going to get after some of these, you know, you get into parts of Iowa like North Central Iowa in particular, there’s just there’ll be a 200 by 200 meter knob in the middle of the field that you know, the topsoil is completely gone. But putting something like prarie out there that needs to be maintained. There’s going to be some challenges to that. So I don’t quite know how to get around that, but there are a lot of a lot of companies that are looking at those issues. So I’m, I’m hopeful that you know, as an area of active research that’s going to be better over the next 5-10 years.
Jerry Clark 48:11
I really like that analogy of the franchise restaurants, you know, a new way of looking at a field. Appreciate that.
Joe Zimbric 48:19
Kind of another technical question that has come up in conversations that I’ve had with with farmers. People are curious about their tile lines, you know, we’re getting bigger rain events, probably more rain on average, and tile is becoming increasingly commonplace. How are these strips impacting tile? You know, if at all?
Tim Youngquist 48:40
That’s one that we’ve actually done a decent amount of work on. And, you know, certainly a lot of these questions that you’re asking are the same questions that I get every time I go out and talk to a group. So you know, we’ve had time to kind of calibrate and do some research. You know, we’ve we’ve worked with first, have some, oh, underground sewer type companies that have these lighted cameras that that can get pushed into the tile lines. And we’ve done a lot of recordings. I’ve actually got some videos on our website at Prairiestrips.org if you do some searching around where we looked at a prairie that was about eight or 10 years old, and then we looked at a corn soybean rotation and then we looked at some continuous corn fields. And these were four inch tile that were about three and a half or four inch deep so you know, very, very standard black plastic perforated tile, and we found a relatively similar amount of roots in the continuous cornfields as we found under the prairie. We’ve continued to expand and we’ve gone out and looked at multiple other fields and multiple other moisture conditions soil condition and things like that. And it kind of seems to be there can be some root penetration under the prairie. But there is root penetration under the field, we’ve seen root penetration under cover crop. But we haven’t seen anything that’s really troubling. Probably the biggest thing. Again, we mentioned those cottonwoods. And those woody vegetation, if you get some of those, they can tend to want to seek that moisture out that’s in the tile line. The small roots will go through the perforation in the tile and begin to kind of expand and that’s where you can have some soil infiltration and get into some trouble. But that is one I’d encourage your listeners to go to the prairiestrips.org and look at the video that we have because it’s pretty neat. You know, it’s an area that you really don’t ever think about being able to see I say it’s kind of a journey to the center of the earth type of an adventure you get to be you know, in this little tunnel and looking at stuff you know, and there’s earthworms and spiders and some other things down there. But probably, I’m rambling a little bit here. But if I was to install any new tile on my farm, I would probably put some kind of a product like, there’s all kinds of sleeves that you can put over the tile that can prevent the penetration of roots. Or you could just do a non perforated tile under that section of prairie, something like that. I mean, just just to be extra cautious, but we really haven’t seen enough to tell me that these prairie strips are going to be clogging any tile lines.
Joe Zimbric 51:37
Well, that’s helpful. I know a lot of people that’s kind of their first thought is how it’s going to affect their tile.
Jerry Clark 51:44
I just think it’s a great, great project, especially with that sustainable part with all the different aspects of pollinators and solar you putting them in solar fields and these kind of things. What a great project. I just think it’s great.
Joe Zimbric 51:58
Yeah, it seems like there’s a lot of exciting opportunities to think creatively outside the box in ways that maybe we don’t always do in Ag. So really interesting work. And thanks again to Tim and Omar for joining us. Appreciate it a lot.
Tim Youngquist 52:14
Yeah, thanks a lot. Appreciate you guys helping us spread the word and yeah, thanks for the great work you guys are doing.
Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin Madison division of extension.