Modern agriculture’s large monoculture fields grow a lot of corn and soybeans, planted annually. The outputs from row crops can be measured both in dollars paid in the market and also in non-market costs, known as externalities. Soil, nutrients, groundwater, pollinators, wildlife diversity, and habitat (among other things) can be lost when crop yields are maximized.
Now it appears that prairie strips have an extraordinary power to change this pattern.
A prairie strip is much what it sounds like: a strip of diverse herbaceous vegetation running through a farm’s rowcrops. In the American Midwest, chances are the soil that now supports crops was once covered in prairie before cultivation. Prairie plants are a mixture of native grasses, wildflowers, and other stiff-stemmed plants. They have deep roots that draw water and nutrients from far below the surface. They are perennials, returning to grow each spring.
“Research shows that areas of native prairie planted in the right places in a farm field can provide benefits that far outweigh losses from converting a small portion of a crop field to prairie,” said Lisa Schulte Moore of Iowa State University. “For example, when we work with farmers to site prairie strips on areas that were not profitable to farm, we can lower their financial costs while creating a wide variety of benefits.”