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  • A NRS Cost Tool Overview Tyndall & Bowman, 2016 Draft


    In and Edge of Field Practice Prairie Strips: Multi-purpose prairie strips are narrow strips of high diversity prairie alternated down the slope with wider cultivated strips that are farmed on the contour. Multi-purpose prairie strips have been shown to reduce sheet and rill erosion, increase water infiltration, and reduce excess sediment and nutrients (table 1 below) from

    fields with 2% - 10% slopes. Multi-purpose prairie strips are usually a minimum of 15 feet wide and planted in parallel between 100 to 150 feet apart. In practice, research has determined that no more than 10% of a drainage area (cropped field) needs to be planted to prairie. Vegetation in strips consists of high diversity mixture of native grasses and forbs. NRCS conservation programs may help offset the costs of prairie establishment and long-term land use; e.g., NRCS Practice 332, Contour Buffer Strip. Basic Cost Parameters and Cost Assessment There are five main cost categories that farmers must consider in the use of contour prairie strips: (1) site preparation costs; (2) prairie strip establishment costs

    including seed purchase and planting; (3) annual and periodic management costs involving mowing and/or burning for several years following planting and then periodically once the prairie stand is established; (4) relevant annual opportunity costs in the form of foregone land rent or revenues; and 5) any additional costs associated with changes to cropping system management (e.g., new field herbicide application protocols to protect the prairie). On average the annual cost of converting one acre of crop land to prairie would cost in 2016 between $260 to $340 per acre; summarized in table 2. The majority of this cost (80% +) is the opportunity cost of that acre (which is represented here by foregone land rent across a range of soil qualities), the second most expensive individual component is the cost of high diversity prairie seed (~ 10% of the establishment cost). Annual management activities account for up to 15% of the annual cost. In the context of use where no more than 10% of a drainage area (cropped field) would be planted to prairie, the average cost per treated crop acre ranges from $26 to $34 per acre per year (e.g., assumes 1 ac of prairie treats about 9 ac of row crops). Contrast this with the cost per treated crop acre of cover crops being between $40 to $80 per acre per year. Table 2 below presents the general cost bearing activities associated with establishing and management prairie strips. Assessment presented here represents an update of Tyndall et al. (2013).

    Table 1. General use characteristics of multi-Purpose Prairie Strips and basic cost parameters.

    Best Management Practice (NRCS practice

    standard code)

    General use of the BMP: For the most part this information comes directly from NRCS practice standard information.

    Basic Cost Parameters: Varies considerably from site to site and depends on initial conditions, hydrology, soil, crop, practice design, and management characteristics.

    Multi-Purpose Prairie Strip (Qualifies for

    FSA CP 15) 1

    Reduce sheet and rill erosion. Reduce suspended solids and associated contaminants in runoff. Restore riparian plant communities. Reduce erosion by reducing slope length. Reduce excess sediment, nutrients (N & P).

    Site preparation; seed mix (high diversity); planting; mowing and/or periodic burning. Opportunity costs in the form of foregone land rent or crop revenue.

    1. Farm Service Agency, CP 15: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/2015/CRPProgramsandInitiatives/Practice_CP15A_Contour_Grass_Strips.pdf

    Photo: A MacDonald, ISU

  • A NRS Cost Tool Overview Tyndall & Bowman, 2016 Draft


    Table 2. Average annual 2016 costs (per acre per year) of using multi-purpose prairie strips

    Annualized Total Costs 1 Higher Quality Land (CSR 83) Medium Quality Land (CSR 73)

    Lower Quality Land (CSR 60)

    Per acre of prairie $339 $297 $257

    Cost per treated crop acre per year2, 3 ~ $34 ~ $30 ~ $26 Total upfront establishment costs per

    acre (including rent) $475 $434 $396 1. Calculated using standard discounted cash-flow procedures using a 4% discount rate and 15-year management horizon. Average 2016 Iowa land rent charge for CSR 83 = $270/ac; CSR 73 = $230/ac; CSR 60 = $191/ac. 2. Assumes 1 ac of prairie treats about 9 ac of row crops. 3. In most cases, 10% of total cost is site prep and establishment, ~ 10% to 15% of cost is management and 80% to 90% of cost is land cost.

    Important caveat: Please note that the direct and indirect cost of any Best Management Practice can vary considerably from site to site and are largely contingent on: initial conditions, hydrology, soils, crop, practice design, management characteristics and experienced opportunity costs (which can be highly variable). As with all of these types of financial assessments, the costs presented here are simply baseline numbers and are meant to be informative rather than prescriptive. References Edwards, W. (2009) Natural Resources Custom Rate Survey. Iowa State University. File A3-11

    Updated September, 2009

    Plastina, A. and A. Johanns (2016) 2016 Iowa farm custom rate survey. Ag Decision Maker. File A3-10; FM 1698 (Revised, March 2016).

    Plastina, A., A. Johanns and C. Welter (2016) Cash Rental Rates for Iowa. 2016 Survey. File C2-10. FM 1851 Revised May 2016. Ag Decision Maker.

    Tyndall JC, Schulte L, Liebman M, Helmers M. (2013) Field-Level Financial Assessment of Contour Prairie Strips for Environmental Quality Enhancement. Environmental Management. 52(3): 736-747.

    This cost information may be cited as: Tyndall, J., and T. Bowman (2016) Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Best Management Practice cost overview series: Prairie Strips. Department of Ecology & Natural Resource management, Iowa State University.

  • A NRS Cost Tool Overview Tyndall & Bowman, 2016 Draft


    Table 2. Costs associated with planting multi-purpose prairie strips planted after soybeans. Costs presented in 2016 dollars. Data updated from Tyndall et al. 2013.

    Cost Activities 1/ items Year cost incurred

    2 Range of costs (units)

    Mean price (ac)


    Site Preparation Tillage 0 $0 to $30/ acre $15.00 Tillage type will be variable depending upon

    initial conditions. Tillage may also be unnecessary, e.g., Prairie seed can be drilled directly into bean stover. Data: Plastina and Johanns (2016): https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a3-10.pdf.

    Herbicide 0 $40 to $80/gal $15.00 Chemical Mix for Site or Seedbed Prep or Weed Control (Glyphosate $40 to $80/gal. - 1 qt/ac)

    Herbicide application 0 $5 to $10/ acre $7.00 Plastina and Johanns (2016)

    Prairie Establishment

    Prairie Seed 0 Highly variable; depends upon goals of planting. $137.00 There are a number of companies that sell regional genotypic prairie grass and forb seed.

    Seed drilling 0 $10 to $25/ acre $15.00 Plastina and Johanns (2016)

    Cultipacking 0 $5 to $30/ acre $17.50 Edwards (2009): https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/html/a3-11.html

    Prairie Management

    Mow, rake/row, bale & move 3 x in yr 1; annually

    2-15 after $28 to $61/ acre $44.00 Plastina and Johanns (2016)

    Burning 3

    Mow 3x in yr 1; Mow, rake/row &

    bale yr 2; burn every 3 yrs after

    Mow & bale ~ $23/ acre. Burning $60 to $200/acre ---

    SNR Foundation 2007 & Edwards 2009; inflated to 2016 $ rounded to nearest dollar.

    General operating costs Annual 1-3% of upfront costs --

    Opportunity Costs 4

    Land rent Annual Variable $120 - $400

    Plastina, Johanns and Welter, (2016): https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/fm1851-pdf

    1 Establishment and management of prairie strips will vary somewhat from site to site depending on initial conditions, soil, previous cropping system, and practice design. 2 Assumes early spring expenditure.3 Burning the prairie is an alternative to mowing and baling; assumption is land manager would either mow/bale or burn. 4 Note that research has shown no negative yield impacts on crops adjacent to prairie.