A field day was held at the Eastern Iowa Airport near Cedar Rapids on Sept. 8. The field day highlighted the installation of prairie strips and biomass fuel crop Miscanthus. As one of the largest farms in Linn County, the airport farmland is leased and farmed by five local farmers. It has over 1,900 acres in corn and soybean production and is located at the top of the Cedar and the Iowa Rivers watersheds.
The Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) project, is at Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City. During the 2007 to 2012 trial period, researchers found that a 10 percent conversion to prairie reduced sediment export by 95 percent, total phosphorus export by 90 percent, and total nitrogen export by nearly 85 percent when compared to the losses from the 100 percent row-crop, no-till watersheds. Iowa farmers are now applying this conservation practice on their own fields for the benefits that the research results have shown.
The biomass fuel crop the airport will be growing is a large perennial grass called Miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus) a sterile, noninvasive variety. As a deep-rooted perennial grass, it provides soil and water quality protection similar to prairie strips. Miscanthus is able to produce more biomass of fuel per acre, and per unit input, than other types of grass or prairie, making it more economically viable and reducing the amount of land needed for fuel production.