Local La Crescent landowner, Marvin Wanders, is enjoying the progression of his native pollinator prairie, which is now in its third growing season.
Back in 2018, Marvin explored alternative options to CRP for his recently purchased 44-arce parcel. His hilltop site had the cropping history and CRP eligibility, but he wanted to establish an enhanced habitat for pollinating insects and grassland birds that would offer a highly diverse native prairie that wouldn’t have an acreage limitation.
After learning about his stewardship objectives, we discussed the options to establish a native pollinator prairie through the Improving Working Lands for Wildlife Program, which is federally financed through EQIP, or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, through the USDA -NRCS.
EQIP differs from the Conservation Reserve Program (or CRP) in that it provides a generous lumpsum payment, rather than annual payments. The timeframe is a shorter 5-year span with EQIP, whereas CRP is typically a 10-year program.
Participants in EQIP are expected to invest in the prep work, the seeding, contractor fees, or rental equipment with that lumpsum payment. Clients have told us that there is more flexibility with EQIP because you can partner various practices along with the prairie establishment, including prescribed burning, edge feathering, tree or shrub planting, or long list of forestry, prescribed grazing, or soil health practices.
To quote Marvin, “it has been amazing to watch the changes and transformation of the plants and wildlife. The support of the collaborative partners on this project were critical to long term success. We have been following the lead and learning from these partners, as we know the importance of the prairie, but we did not have the technical expertise needed. The collaborative partners did have the expertise”.
It’s been a pleasure to work Marvin and his partners and to provide them with the knowledge and technical support that has allowed them to establish such an incredibly diverse and productive native tallgrass prairie and an enhanced habitat for pollinators. Throughout the years we’ve watched the prairie progress from a bare corn field to a supportive prairie ecosystem that is now buzzing with life.
The prairie establishment process is always a practice in patience. After the conventionally cropped field was seeded during the initial conversion phase, it looked like a jungle of annual weeds and thistles.
Year two brought a flush of native growth, but it was dominated by blacked-eyed Susan as far as the eye could see. This year there is much more grass growth, much more biodiversity, and widespread wildflower dispersal.
During a recent field check, 26 native wildflowers were identified, which is tangible evidence of Marvin’s commitment and investment in the most premium pollinator seed mix that money can buy. In just three years, the growth of native bunchgrasses rivals the most mature native prairies.
The amount of butterfly and buzzing bee activity in the prairie is truly astounding, as is the number of grassland birds that have taken up residency. Similarly, the number of deer trails and beds throughout the prairie was also impressive, and a testament that such a diverse prairie does not just benefit birds and bugs, but wildlife species of all kinds.
Marvin is a very selfless person who aspires to educate his follow neighbor. Just recently he invited a group of about a dozen curious nature lovers and fellow landowners to see his pollinator prairie during our Train the Trainer event.
The event encouraged interactions from the participants, and specifically we discussed questions related to the seeding and restoration process, along with management recommendations, especially implementing a prescribed burning regiment. Together, the group identified dozens of wildflowers, and with the help from Kiley Friedrich from the Monarch Joint Venture, we caught an array of insects.
Overall, the pollinator prairie event was very enjoyable and educational, and it even caught some media attention, which helped tell the habitat story to many people in the Coulee Region of southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.