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Native Wildflower Production Area

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Adel Sign
(M.J. Hatfield)

The Dallas County Wildflower Production Area (or Adel Plot as it is more informally known) is a cooperative extension of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) native seed production program. First proposed in 2000, the production area has three primary partners – Iowa DNR, Dallas County IRVM and Dallas County Conservation Department. Although not a partner in the 28-E agreement, the Iowa Department of Corrections (IaDOC) is an integral and important contributor to this venture. Inmates from the IaDOC’s Rockwell City facility travel to the Production Area every Wednesday from May through October to provide labor for planting, weed control and seed harvest operations. Additionally, the Dallas County Farm and the Center for Community-Based Agriculture, Education & Human Development (CCBAEHD) have played pivotal roles in the project by providing land, assistance and support.

Our agreement stipulates that the DNR and Dallas County share equal amounts of each species collected. Dallas County’s share is divided equally between the IRVM program and the Conservation Department. Most of the seed harvested from the Production Area is transported to DNR facilities at Brushy Creek recreation area where it is dried, processed and cleaned. However, Dallas County does provide some assistance to the DNR thanks to Living Roadway Trust Fund (LRTF) grants from the Iowa Department of Transportation. These grants have made it possible for Dallas County to purchase our own seed processing equipment allowing for us to help the DNR with seed cleaning tasks as well as process our own seed that we collect from native prairie remnants throughout the county.

Spiderwort (M.J. Hatfield)
Cardinal Flower
Cardinal Flower (M.J. Hatfield)

It is important to bear in mind that virtually every species in the production area is perennial. This disparity is reflective of the relative numbers of perennial versus annual plants in a native prairie. Currently there are over 70 species of plants being grown at the production area.

A word about planting... The transplants that are used in the Adel Plot come from seed harvested from remnant prairies on government–owned land in central Iowa. Much of this seed is “preserve quality” (i.e. harvested on a state preserve) and therefore its ecotype (line or strain of a species that, through evolution, has adapted to a local environment) is well documented. Seed from preserves is cleaned and propogated at the IaDNR Prairie Resource Center or sent to several IaDOC facilities where inmates and DNR staff propagate seedlings to be transplanted later that year.

Compass plant and bergamont
Compass plant and bergamont
(M.J. Hatfield)
Production Wildflowers in 4ft. rows
Production Wildflowers in 4ft. rows
(M.J. Hatfield)

By now you hopefully understand why we are interested in producing native grass and wildflower seed. Land stewardship and wildlife management objectives have changed over the past decades resulting in an increased demand for local ecotype seed as its importance has been recognized. Bear in mind that our ability to purchase wildflower seed is limited because of its high per unit cost. However, people love to see

Prairie blazing star
Prairie blazing star (M.J. Hatfield)
wildflowers and they help diversify prairie restorations allowing us to better replicate native areas, in turn creating highly stable plant communities that offer a higher quality habitat for wildlife. By raising wildflower seed in a production fashion, we are able to acquire greater quantity and diversity than would be justifiable through our budget. This seed ultimately ends up being planted on state and county wildlife areas and parks as well as in Dallas County roadsides.

The Dallas County Production Area has been a very successful project for all parties involved. It is providing substantial quantities of local ecotype seed, averaging a yearly value around $60,000 while at the same time adding beauty and projecting a positive image for the Dallas County Farm and CCBAEHD. It serves as an educational tool and demonstration area for those with an interest in producing native seed. Also, it is a model of sustainability – yielding a high value crop with little or no chemical inputs or fossil fuel use. This partnership has been a classic win-win-win situation.

Prairie coreopsis
(M.J. Hatfield)
Pale Purple Cornflower
(M.J. Hatfield)