More LED lighting means lower utility bills for livestock farmers

Nick Fetty | September 16, 2014
Livestock farmers are saving money on utility bills by equipping facilities with LED lighting. (Benny Mazur/Flickr)
Hog farmers are saving money on utility bills by equipping facilities with LED lighting. (Benny Mazur/Flickr)

The increased popularity of energy efficient LED (light emitting diodes) lighting has moved to the farm and livestock farmers are saving on utility bills by embracing this trend.

Hog farmers in Iowa have been particularly quick to adopt the new technology. Washington, Iowa-based Sitler’s Supplies has sold more than 10,000 LED fixture and bulb sets in the past 18 months. This is to help accommodate the utility demands of livestock operations which can have up to 600 lights running for more than 16 hours per day.

A 2010 Oklahoma State University study found that cows produced six percent more milk when raised near LED lighting compared to fluorescent lighting. However a University of Florida scientist claims that the evidence is inconclusive and that “[t]he wavelength of light you get and the whiteness from LED should not have an influence.” This was again debated in a 2014 article from LEDs Magazine which suggests LED lighting will “substantially increase the production of eggs, meat, and other protein sources, while dramatically reducing energy use and other input costs.”

Governmental and private entities have also embraced LED lighting in recent years although at $50-60 per fixture the technology is not yet affordable for some farmers. An LED bulb can have a lifespan of about 80,000 hours which is more than double than of a compact florescent.

Iowa farmers have also been proactive in utilizing other energy efficiency measures such as solar panels, geothermal, and methane gas recovery.

On the Radio: Global warming could lead to food crisis

KC McGinnis | September 15, 2014
A vegetable delivery from an Iowa community supported agriculture group. (Chanzi/Flickr)
A vegetable delivery from an Iowa community supported agriculture group. (Chanzi/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new study which suggests global warming greatly increases the odds of a global food crisis in coming decades. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.


Transcript: Food Crisis – Maggie St. Clair

New research from Stanford University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research suggests that climate change has greatly increased the odds of a crisis in global food production.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study, titled “Getting caught with our plants down,” is meant to serve as a warning to institutions affected by fluctuation in food prices.

The study’s authors allow that the prospect of a major slowdown of corn and wheat production in the next few decades is low. However, they say that the chances of such of an event multiply by twenty times when global warming is factored in.

In this model, the trend of increasing food production would continue, but the rate of increase would drop substantially. This change would clash with global food demand, which is expected to keep rising.

For more information on the new study, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Study: Conversion of forests to cropland linked to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

Nick Fetty | September 12, 2014
A Yale University study suggests that converting forests into cropland is having a net cooling effect on the earth's atmosphere. (/Flickr)
Farmland near the Loess Hills in western Iowa. (CroDigTap/Flickr)

A study from Yale University suggests that the conversion of forests into cropland over a 150-year period has caused “a net cooling effect on global temperatures.

The report, published in the journal Nature Climate Change by Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies professor Nadine Unger, found a reduction in the quantity of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) released into the earth’s atmosphere. These compounds “control the atmospheric distribution of many short-lived climate pollutants, such as tropospheric ozone, methane, and aerosol particles.”

Unger used computer modeling to calculate a 30 percent decline in BVOC emissions between 1850 and 2000 – much of which was attributed to the conversion of forested areas into crop land – and a .18 degree Fahrenheit (.1 degree Celsius) reduction in global temperatures. During roughly this same period the amount of land worldwide being used for crops increased from 14 percent to 37 percent.

This reduction in global temperatures is dwarfed by the 1.08 degree Fahrenheit (.6 degree Celsius) increase caused by carbon emissions. Also, Unger was sure to point out “that the findings do not suggest that increased forest loss provides climate change benefits, but rather underscore the complexity of climate change and the multitude of factors involved.”

According to the Iowa Data Center, there were approximately 30,800,000 acres of farmland in Iowa in 2013.

Iowa State grad named to Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame

Nick Fetty | September 11, 2014
Jerry L. Hatfield is the Director for the ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. (USDA)
Jerry L. Hatfield is the Director for the ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. (USDA)

Jerry L. Hatfield – the director of the ARS (Agricultural Research Service) National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa – will be among four scientists inducted into the Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame.

Hatfield earned a PhD in Agricultural Climatology and Statistics at Iowa State University in 1975. He also holds degrees from the University of Kentucky (M.S. ’72) as well as Kansas State University (B.S. ’71). He served as a biometeorologist on the faculty at the University of California-Davis from 1975 through 1983 then was with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Lubbock, Texas from 1983 through 1989. He has been at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames (formerly called the National Soil Tilth Laboratory) since 1989.

Dr. Hatfield’s main research has examined interactions among the components of the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum and its relation to air, water, and soil quality. Other research has focused on how farm practices affect water quality as well as the impact that climate change has had on agriculture. Recently he co-authored the book Climate Change in the Midwest: A Synthesis Report for the National Climate Assessment which was published last month.

Three other scientists join the 2014 Hall of Fame class including Perry B. Cregan, a researcher at the ARS Soybean Genomics and Improvement Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland; Hyun S. Lillehoj, a molecular biologist at the ARS Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory also in Beltsville; and Ross M. Welch, a retired plant physiologist for the ARS Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research Unit in Ithaca, New York. To qualify for induction into the Hall of Fame, nominees must be retired or eligible to retire.

Poll finds widespread support for alternative energy among Midwest voters

A solar panel array (Maryland GovPics/Flickr)
A solar panel array (Maryland GovPics/Flickr)

Voters spoke out in broad support of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources during a recent round of polls across the Midwest.

The bipartisan poll was conducted earlier this summer to gauge attitudes toward various energy issues, and included interviews with around 2,500 voters from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. Among them, 95% supported increasing energy efficiency, while strong majorities supported increasing the uses of solar (91%) and wind energy (87%) in their states. Only 55% supported increasing coal use, while biomass had the lowest support (50%). Biomass also had the highest number of “Don’t Know/Not Applicable” answers, at 37%, implying some confusion around the energy source.

Attitudes toward solar, wind and natural gas remained about the same from 2010 to 2014, while support for nuclear energy dropped. Support for coal held at 55% over the last four years. However, over 80% of voters wanted to move toward cleaner sources of energy rather than increase coal use. They also viewed renewable energy production as a bigger contributor to their economy than coal mining.

Voters also voiced their opinion on potential policy issues. With the understanding that switching to alternative energy sources may cost more in the short term, 81% were willing to pay an additional $1 per month for energy, and 69% were willing to pay $4 more. They also supported energy measures like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, announced earlier this year.

For the complete report, click here.


Dubuque and other communities improve infrastructure for future natural disasters

Nick Fetty | September 8, 2014
Following the Flood of 1965 (pictured) the city erected a floodwall. (Wikimedia)
Following the Flood of 1965 (pictured) the city of Dubuque erected a floodwall. (Wikimedia)

Heavy rains and flash flooding has caused Dubuque to be declared a presidential disaster area on six different occasions in the last 16 years and climate change is expected to continue contributing to these problems. Dubuque and other cities across the country are attempting to be better prepared for future disastrous events through more efficient infrastructure, however local governments have been struggling to fund these projects.

Dubuque’s Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project aims to protect part of the “city’s most developed areas where over 50% of Dubuque residents either live or work.” The $179 million project is divided into 12 phases and is expected to begin as early as fall 2015 and be completed by 2016.  The Iowa Flood Mitigation Board awarded the city of Dubuque $98.5 million for the project in December 2013. The money was awarded in the form of state sales tax increment financing which will be spread across 20 years. The City has raised an additional $30 million but still needs nearly $50 million more to cover the entire cost of the project.

The project will both reduce the volume and slow the rate of stormwater in the upper watershed, provide safer conveyance of stormwater in flood-conducive areas, and protect the City’s wastewater treatment plant from stormwater. Additionally, the project will expand upon the area’s trail system and connect Dubuque with East Dubuque on the Wisconsin side.

Aspects of climate change have contributed to natural disasters from California to Florida to New York. Along with Dubuque, local governments in Norfolk (Virginia), Miami Beach (Florida), and New York City have also built infrastructure designed to withstand natural disasters in those regions.

On the Radio: Algae blooms present hazards in Iowa waters

A blue-green algae bloom along the shore of Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, late June 2014. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)
A blue-green algae bloom along the shore of Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, late June 2014. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a type of hazardous algae that’s become increasingly common in Iowa waterways. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.


Transcript: Algae

As the summer comes to an end, late season beach-goers are advised to take extra precaution as algae blooms in Iowa lakes can be at peak levels.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Hot August temperatures coupled with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Iowa waterways provides the ideal breeding ground for algae. Certain forms of blue green algae can contain toxins that are harmful to humans and have even been known to kill dogs, livestock, and other animals.

Blue green algae are generally visible on the surface and can give the water a consistency similar to paint. The Iowa Department of Public Health advises any persons to immediately wash algae off themselves or pets that come in contact with it.

So far this summer, Saylorville Lake and Lake Red Rock, both in central Iowa, have reported high levels of blue green algae, and at least six other state-operated beaches across the state have seen high enough algae levels that swimming was not recommended.

For more information about blue green algae, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.