Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 October 2010
The multifunctional agronomic, ecological, economic and social uses of grass-based agricultural systems in peri-urban Marion County, Iowa, were the subject of investigation from 2003 to 2005. Following a sociocultural analysis that identified diverse motivations of cow–calf operators, an on-farm, agroecological experiment was established with a member of the study group. The objective of the experiment was to investigate the feasibility of establishing a multifunctional prairie pasture in response to the operator's interest in certified organic, warm-season plant species paddocks. At the field level, the implementation of native grasses and legumes into fallow pasture without the use of herbicides under flash grazing, mowing and unmanaged control treatments showed differences in species establishment and pasture composition. After three growing seasons, native species were evident in all treatments, with no significant differences between grazing and mowing in total native species establishment. There was a trend toward greater native legume establishment in the control over the managed treatments. Thus, total species abundance was greatest in control plots, suggesting this treatment for maximum prairie pasture establishment without herbicides. Concurrence was observed between motivations expressed by cow–calf operators in the sociocultural study (i.e. biodiversity preservation and sustainable management of natural resources) and outcomes from the prairie pasture experimental system. Support for grass-based systems from local institutions at the community level is necessary for the expansion of prairie pastures in Iowa and throughout the tallgrass prairie region.