Profiting from Prairie
spared his ponds and creeks the herbicide runoff, and he saved about $20 per acre. "The weevils work 24 hours a day," he says.
Meadows' program has saved his topsoil. A researcher measured 26 inches in one spot, as compared to 10 inches on plowed ground. The perennial plants develop deep roots that interlace and hold the soil. Because the soil is never bare, there is no soil runoff when it rains.
Although the Dunn Ranch restoration has progressed relatively smoothly and quickly, there is some land that can never be restored. Meadows rents and owns land that will stay in annual cool-weather grasses for hay fields. While he has never seeded or plowed the prairie, he disks up poor ground and seeds it with alfalfa.
Every year, based on observation, Meadows develops a plan for each area. Because he rents and owns hay fields of legumes like alfalfa, and because his neighbors have fields of cool-weather grasses, he watches for invasions. It is probably impossible, he concludes, to have a prairie today that is exactly like the prairie of 200 years ago. Exotic grasses always are sneaking in.
In the last 20 years, Clubine and Meadows have seen many changes on Dunn Ranch and the surrounding county. Like other parts of rural Missouri, the county is losing population as mechanized equipment does the job of human power. Many row-crop farmers have turned to ranching. Homesteads, hay barns and grain elevators have been abandoned.
Since 1989, many acres in Missouri have been placed into conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). When the programs end, this land may be rehabilitated for ranching or farming. According to Clubine, restoring native grasses and wildflowers is a logical end for much of this land.
When the Meadows began their program, the idea of prairie restoration was new. Today, more ranchers are becoming interested in alternatives to cool-season pastures. Clubine's job has changed so that he no longer works with individual ranchers. Instead, he works with the state's 36 wildlife management biologists, keeping them informed on the best ways to help landowners. Over time, he feels, more Missouri pasture will be restored to a native prairielike environment.
Clubine emphasizes the fact that, in Missouri, virgin prairie has nearly disappeared. "You can get a prairielike environment in 10 or 15 years. What does it take to make a prairie, with all the micro-organisms, flora and fauna? Three hundred to 3,000 years? Perhaps."
Meadows takes the practical approach, however, "You can make things better every year. You have to have a plan."