“Reverse farming” restores farms & golf courses to native prairie in North Dakota

Bryan Sprenger is practicing a reverse form of farming.

Instead of breaking up the prairie, the Grey Eagle man is bringing it back to life.

Sprenger, who works for Prairie Restorations Inc., spent a sunny June 24, 2016 steering a John Deere tractor and pulling a seeder around six acres of Red River bottom land north of the Moorhead Country Club.

If all goes well, in a few years the area on the north end of North River Drive will be a flower-packed grassland, much like it was before farming and urban sprawl ripped it up.

The work is part of the “Urban Woods and Prairies Initiative,” paid for by Audubon Dakota with donated funds and in-kind help from local governments

Last year, Princeton-based Prairie Restorations tilled and seeded about 142 acres on the Fargo side of the Red River in areas where there were home buyouts and other flood mitigation efforts, said Blaine Keller, the firm’s site manager. This year, another 50 acres are being seeded, mostly in Moorhead, with some further work in Fargo, Keller said.

Marshall Johnson, executive director of Audubon Dakota, said the goal is to restore 1,500 acres of riparian prairie, floodplain forests and wetlands to their natural state, which will not only make those areas more enjoyable for people but provide ecological benefits such as filtering water as it flows to the river, and create habitat for songbirds, pollinating insects and other critters.

So far, so good. We’ve done a lot of woodland and prairie enhancement and restoration. And prairies take patience. So we’re being patient, and kind of managing and establishing these prairies so they can be vibrant and in the long haul lower the maintenance costs for the two cities (Fargo and Moorhead),” Johnson said.

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