Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

STRIPS Research Team

prairie strips and fieldcrop field with prairie stripsGo to this research team's website

Watch the newest videos about this project


An interdisciplinary team of researchers from several ISU departments and collaborating institutions are investigating native prairie strips as a tool for improving the function and integrity of row-cropped farms. The project name is STRIPS (Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips). Formerly known as "the Perennializers," the team is showing that small areas of prairie, strategically placed on the contours and foot slope of a row-cropped watershed, provide multifunctional benefits for farmland health.

The STRIPS experiment began in 2008 on 14 small watersheds at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. The project has attracted substantial attention and interest from diverse stakeholders, and is currently being designed for demonstration on private farmland.

NEW!  Research shows that filter strips remove nitrogen in the best possible way. From a January 2015 article featured on the Soil Science Society of America website:

It turns out filter strip soils contain increased levels of dissolved organic carbon, likely because prairie soils have increased below-ground productivity compared to row-crop soils, which can lead to increased activity of the microbes that facilitate denitrification.

Unlike soil organic matter or plants, denitrification is an indefinite nitrate sink. Nitrates will continue being removed through this process as long as the amount of nitrates entering the filter strip is not more than its denitrification potential. Filter strips could, therefore, be expected to remove nitrates from cropland runoff over extended time spans.

This publication, Small Changes, Big Impacts, describes the overall project in the context of the Iowa landscape and agricultural production..

ABOUT THE PROJECT: STRIPS scientist Mary Harris outlines how the STRIPS team designed their research, what they found and how landowners and farmers may get involved in testing this innovative and efficient new conservation practice.


The goals of the STRIPS Research Team:

  • Test the potential for obtaining multiple ecosystem service benefits (e.g., water quality, hydrologic regulation, biodiversity, production of commodity goods, quality of life) from watersheds supporting mixtures of annual commodity and perennial prairie plants
  • Provide new environmental and production knowledge leading to
    • adoption of new landuse practices,
    • policy enabling conservation enhancing practices and outcomes, and
    • improved environment (water quality, soil health and biodiversity improvements)

Research team resources

Related grant projects

Links we like

Harvest Public Media asked Seth Watkins why he was adding STRIPS to his own farm in southern Iowa. Listen to the story [July 2013].

KMA Radio produced this 6-minute interview with Seth Watkins [August 2013].

More photos, research papers and profiles of all team members can be found on the STRIPS Research Team website.

Send an email to the research team; prairiestrips@iastate.edu