New prairie strip partial budget tool

What does it cost to convert cropland to prairie strips?

Strips of tall grasses in an otherwise empty field.
Year-old prairie strips in the Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Agroecosystem Research trial in Hickory Corners, Michigan, during fall 2023. Photo by Brook Wilke, MSU.

Conservation practices require a significant investment in time and money. There are often large implementation costs, learning curves and labor required, all of which might prevent farmers and landowners from being able to adopt these practices. Additionally, when there are no tangible payments or products, the financial benefits may seem invisible. Yet, conservation practices provide many benefits to the cropping system, often by improving soil health, protecting water quality and increasing yield stability. Because of this, farmers are often eligible for payments which can offset or even result in profit when converting cropland into a conservation practice. While difficult to quantify, there are tools to help estimate the return on investment for conservation practices. 

One new practice gaining traction in Michigan, prairie strips, involves converting up to 10% of cropland to a mixture of perennial grasses, flowers and forbs. Compared to other conservation practices, prairie strips require minimal management and provide multiple environmental benefits. Prairie strips have been shown to reduce nutrient leaching, provide habitat for pollinators and prevent soil erosion, all without reducing crop yields adjacent to the prairie strip. Economically, prairie strips can increase the net profit of a field, if installed strategically. This is because prairie strips have the potential to cost less than producing crops in consistently low-yielding portions of a field. 

To help navigate the costs, savings and payments associated with prairie strips, a collaborative team of scientists, economists, outreach specialists and Extension educators at Michigan State University has come together to develop a new partial budget tool. The tool predicts that prairie strips could save farmers money if planted in areas where crops yield below 50% of the statewide average. These areas, often field borders, low-lying areas or cumbersome extensions of fields, may cost more to put into production than to restore to prairie. Additionally, if enrolling in the CRP-43 prairie strip program or other incentive programs, the cost-savings of prairie conversion increase. 

The partial budget bulletin is available here and on the MiSTRIPS website. This bulletin includes a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, which can be adjusted to accurately fit individual field operations.  

If you are interested in learning more about prairie strips or are considering installing them, please contact Elizabeth Schultheis, MiSTRIPS program coordinator, at 

Support for this project was provided by MiSTRIPS, Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research and the following grants: Doug and Maria Bayer Initiative (PD 63262) and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Research and Education Grant (LNC23-494).  

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