Iowa Farmers Ripped Out Prairie; Now Some Hope it Can Save Them

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photo credit: flickr user josh moore

Author: Darryl Fears

There’s a wild presence in Tim Smith’s corn and soybean field that most farmers kill on sight.

Smith made his way toward it, hoisting his long legs over row after row of soybean plants under a baking mid-morning sun. “It’s right over there,” he said. He stopped at the edge of a Midwestern prairie, a thicket of tall flowers and grasses more frightening to farmers than any horror movie madman lurking in a barn with a chain saw.

Most growers say prairie is a nuisance that can choke crops. But not Smith. He is proud of the three acres he planted in the middle of one of the most productive farms in the county. He was there to show it off, not spray it.

This affection for prairie bucks a farming tradition that dates back to when settlers arrived in the Midwest to farm centuries ago and ripped out wild grasses to tame the earth. Over time, prairie was nearly eradicated. Farmers today are still destroying the little that is left.

It is a colossal mistake, according to recent studies by researchers at Iowa State University. Not only does prairie, with its deep-rooted plants, soak up farm wastewater that pollutes rivers, it also enriches soil.

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