Iowa farmers ripped out prairie; now some hope it can save them

“The reason why we have the best soil, making it possible to have the world’s best food production, is prairie,” said Lisa Schulte Moore, an Iowa State professor known around the state as the prairie guru. “And we’re killing it.”

.. Providing wildlife habitat for birds and animals on the decline is one of the driving forces behind a program called STRIPS — Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips. Smith said he planted his prairie two years ago because he strongly believed in that philosophy.

.. “People who don’t work with farmers view them as curmudgeons,” Schulte Moore said. “But they’re savvy and very data oriented. They get it.”

.. When rain soaks the field, the deep-rooted prairie “slows it down,” Smith said, and allows the earth to absorb it.

Tests show that the nitrate level in water from Smith’s farm is substantially lower than water in the creek, Schulte Moore said.

.. How much time do Iowa farmers have?

The state’s soil is eroding at an alarming rate. Topsoil was an average of 14 inches deep statewide in the mid-1800s; now it’s about six

.. Iowa farmers lose about $40 per acre to soil erosion in a state where more than 85 percent of the land is covered by crops. “If you look at those figures and the amount of corn acres in Iowa, you quickly surpass a billion dollars of annual lost revenue,” Cruse said. Nearly a third of topsoil is lost in ephemeral gullies, swaths carved into farms by heavy rain.

.. Midwest states have to take responsibility for the pollution they produce, he said. “No one’s disputing that there is a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and no one is disputing that years and years of phosphorous have made their way down the rivers of the Midwest,” he said.