Prairie Strips (Contour Grass Buffer Strips)

Posted date: Apr 23, 2022

by: Admin My Local Life
Written by Fred Wedel, Retired NRCS District Conservationist

Contour grass buffer strips are narrow strips of perennial vegetation alternated down the slope with wider cropped strips that are farmed on the contour. Contour grass strips are used on cropland with potential for sheet and rill erosion. Many times, grass buffer strips are used in combination with terraces. The grass buffer strips are typically used below terraces where land slopes are less than 4 to 5 percent. Grass buffers work best when used with other conservation practices like reduced tillage, no tillage and multi-year, multi-crop rotations. Benefits of contour grass buffer strips include:
Photo by Lyndsie Beasley

  • Reduced sheet and rill erosion
  • Reduced water quality degradation from transport of sediment
  • Improved soil moisture management
  • Increased water infiltration into soil
  • Improved pollinator habitat
  • More upland game habitat

The grass buffer strips should be planted to a multi-species native grass mixture of warm season grasses and forbs. Native tall grass species commonly used are Indiangrass, Big Bluestem and Switchgrass. They are used because of their stiff upright stems. Stiff upright stems of prairie plants take so much energy out of water flowing downhill that sediment drops out in the grass strips and does not leave the field. The forbs planted include a minimum of 10 native flowering plants. Introduced species are not allowed in native plantings. At least two forb species shall be from each bloom period – early, mid, and late flowering season. This native mixture will use 35-40 seeds per square foot. The grass seed should not exceed 90% of the seed mix based on seeds per square foot. Grass buffer strip width is often 30 feet. This width of grass strips is good nesting cover for upland game birds and other native wildlife species and pollinators. Converting 10 percent of a field to contour prairie grass strips will reduce soil erosion and sediment transport by 95% compared to cropland without prairie strips. Overland water flow is reduced by 42%. Nitrogen transport is reduced by 85%. Prairie strips increase the diversity of plants, pollinators, songbirds, and other wildlife. Prairie strips provide year-round habitat and food for pollinators and other beneficial insects that prey on crop pests.

Operation and maintenance of contour grass strips is very important. See the following list:

  • Conduct all farming operations parallel to grass strip boundaries
  • Control weeds during the year of grass establishment
  • Do not disturb cover during the primary nesting season for wildlife
  • Control all noxious weeds. Use herbicides or spot mowing before seed heads form. Where
    possible, delay control measures till after August 1 to protect nesting wildlife.
  • Control noxious weeds.
  • Protect grass strips from haying and grazing.
    Photo by Lyndsie Beasley
  • Reseed acres that do not have adequate cover
  • Do not use grass strips for field roads or other uses that destroy grass cover.
  • When native prairie grass strips are used with cropland, a 380% increase in native plant species
    has been observed, as compared to entirely cropped watersheds.
  • Prairie plants provide year-round habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators that prey on crop
  • When mowing grass strips, always mow after the nesting season. Mow only 1/4 to 1/3 of the
    area each year.
  • Spraying or other control of noxious weeds shall be done on a “spot” basis to forbs and legumes
    that benefit native pollinators and other wildlife.

In summary, contour prairie grass strips reduce soil erosion, increase diversity of plants, pollinators, songbirds, and other wildlife. This complex ecosystem is teaming with life. Grass strips catch sediment and excess nutrients moving down slope. The grass strips are a metropolis for beneficial insects including pollinators like bees, butterflies, wasps, and predatory insects that control crop pests. The result is that contour grass buffer strips are cost effective.
Other Articles You Might Be Interested In
Winter Farmer's Market
On Saturday the 5th of March, from 10am til 1pm, there will be a Winter Farmer's Market at 108 W Washington St in Saint Francis.

The Farmer's Market Board has been working to round up vendors who want to participate and give you the opportunity to come and get those products and food you normally only see during the summer time. There will be ready-to-eat foods, take-and-bake food, metal crafts, hand made crafts, packaged meats, salves and oils, and I have heard there will even be fre
Playa Wetland
What is a playa? Playas are small, shallow, intermittent wetlands that are disconnected from rivers, streams and lakes. They only fill with water as a result of rain, snow or runoff from nearby land. Playas can remain filled with water from a month to all season long. Kansas has nearly 22,000 playas. They are in the western half of the state. Playas are also called mud holes, buffalo wallows or lagoons.

Wetland playas have the general characteristics: soggy soils, water-loving plants,
Amendments to the Kansas amusement ride act which could affect carnival rides at the fair.
House Bill 2389 is scheduled to be heard, I think on Thursday and Friday in Topeka. This may or may not affect the carnival rides at the fair, but looks like it may. I would suggest people contact Representative Adam Smith and maybe e-mail any concerns, so this doesn't have a negative affect on the community.

Here is a link to the information page on the Kansas Legislature site:

March 23, 2017

The Honorable John Barker, Chai
Highway 36 Bloggers will visit Cheyenne County
The Highway 36 Association has been working with local Chambers of Commerce, Main Streets, and Economic Development offices in the thirteen Kansas counties that Highway 36 runs through to bring two travel bloggers to our region this month. These bloggers, Sara Broers with Travel with Sara, and Melody Pittman with Wherever I May Roam Blog, will be road tripping along Highway 36 to highlight what visitors can experience in all 13 counties along Highway 36. They arrive in Doniphan County on Sunday,
Our 'In Town Chicken Project', so far
Last year, the City of St. Francis approved the raising of chickens within town limits as long as certain criteria is adhered to.

The coop must be approved by the city before it is populated with chickens.
No more than 6 chickens.
No roosters, only females are allowed.

So I knew, that at some point, we would have chickens, to have fresh eggs, and I have an eight year old who loves critters. The day would come when chickens would inhabit the yard, but in truth, I was putting it off, sinc
Future Leadership Training Classes in Cheyenne County
There is a group of leaders in Cheyenne, Rawlins, Sherman and Thomas Counties that held discussions with K State Extension, Hansen Foundation and the Kansas Leadership Center regarding support for establishing sustainable leadership programs in these four counties. The first Community Builders class was held in Cheyenne County in 2007 and the last of four classes was held nine years ago in 2012. Close to 80 county residents participated in these classes. The original eight trainers have eithe
Rangeland Fencing
Written By Fred Wedel, retired NRCS District Conservationist
Photos By Cale Rieger, NRCS Natural Resource Specialist

Proper fence is needed for grazing livestock in a rotational grazing system. As mentioned before, a rest-rotation grazing system is essential for properly managing grazing systems in the western Kansas area of short grass and mid-grass prairie.

Many perimeter fences are 3 or 4 strands of barbed wire. Interior cross-fences are usually a single smooth wire. The interior fe
Classic Rose and The Rustic Garden, ribbon cutting ceremony
The Classic Rose and The Rustic Garden had it's official ribbon cutting ceremony this morning to celebrate a new owner and renovation. The members of the Cheyenne County Development Corp. were on hand to perform the ribbon cutting and highlight the addition of an important, new business in our community. Plus, they brought cake :)

Jan Fortin has created a wonderful new environment within the Classic Rose; taking down partitions, giving the entire space a face lift, opening up the space fo
Written by Fred Wedel, Retired NRCS District Conservationist

What are cover crops? Cover crops are grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil. In Agriculture, cover crops are used to cover and protect the soil rather than to be harvested.

Cover crops are used to manage cropland and reduce soil erosion, improve soil fertility, improve soil quality, improve water storage, reduce pressure from weeds, pests and diseases, and improve biodiversity and wildlife in an agroecosystem.