Volunteers from one central Iowa community spent the weekend at a planting party. But, the seeds won't just beautify nearby fields.
Olivia Schouten says she likes to learn by getting her hands a little dirty. She says, "I've always loved being outside, just the prairie, I love the open landscape."
The Central College Sophomore says her Biology major has taken her out of the classroom and into the field. She's one of more than 100 volunteers working on the Prairies for Agriculture Research Project.
Associate Professor of Biology Russ Benedict says, "We essentially want to see how beneficial prairie vegetation out in the agricultural landscape is."
Benedict is heading up the effort at the Carlson-Kuyper Field Station south of Pella. They're planting more than sixty varieties of prairie grass on 270 plots. He says, "Most folks don't realize that tall grass ecosystem is one of the most endangered species on earth."
He says the goal is to see what benefit those tall grass ecosystems could provide both farmers and nature if planted on strips of land that can’t be farmed. He says, "The thoughts are, you can attract beneficial organisms, so you attract insects that are pollinators, insects that are predators. You can also slow down soil erosion and store carbon in the soil."
Benedict says this project won’t just help teach students. He says they'll also bring farmers, business leaders and government leaders to the field station. He says, "Show them numbers. Here's the amount of money you may be able to save in fertilizer cost or in pesticide cost by using this particular mix as opposed to this mix."
Benedict says the study will last twenty year, and the land will only start looking like a prairie by the time students like Schouten graduate in a couple years. She says she’s proud to be a part of a study that could make a difference in Iowa’s landscape down the road. She says, "This is an ecosystem native to our state, and it's just sad so much of it is gone. This is a great way we can incorporate it back into everyday life."
Benedict started planning this project five years ago. Students planted some plots last fall, but he says this is really the start of the research.