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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Prairie in a corn maze

<ir="ltr">Head 15 minutes out of Northfield in any direction and you’ll find sprouting cornfields stretching to the horizon like a woven blanket. The United States grows 40% of the world’s corn. Over half of that crop is produced in Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, and Minnesota, which are part of the Midwestern “corn belt.” Other cereal crop monocultures including wheat and soybeans are also grown across the Midwest using similar industrial agriculture techniques. This immense agricultural production is sustained by thick, fertile prairie soils, mollisols. Unfortunately, prairie ecosystems that helped form and retain mollisols have been destroyed. Over 96% of native prairie has been converted to agriculture or used for development.

The Carleton Arboretum is no exception. Although most of the Arb was originally tallgrass prairie, over the past 200 years parts of the lower Arb has been used as a dump, a mill, the Carleton Farm, and a traditional arboretum. Currently, the Arb is being restored to native habitat, including tallgrass prairie. Further restorations of land currently in agriculture are planned. Carleton’s 800 acre native habitat restoration provides native species habitat and is a resource for academic programs and community environmental education. However, The Arb’s history in agriculture and modern corn production surrounding the Arb do not necessarily contradict the Arb’s current mission and role.

The Arb and other native prairie communities provide ecosystem services like soil stability, nutrient retention, pollination, and pest predation to farmers. A study of the Prairie Pothole Region by the United States Geological Survey finds perennial native plantings increase soil stability because perennial cover decreases wind and water erosion and sedimentation. By retaining soil, the land also retains nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, decreasing the need for synthetic fertilizers. Additionally, tallgrass prairie restorations provide habitat for insects and migratory birds that prey upon pests and pollinate fields. If farmers recognize the ecosystem services the Arb provides, they may support further habitat restorations in and around their agriculture fields.  

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