Drainage and water quality research site celebrates 25th year


A screen shot from an Iowa State University Extension video highlighting the Gilmore City research site. (YouTube)
A screen shot from an Iowa State University Extension video highlighting the Gilmore City research site. (YouTube)
KC McGinnis | January 5, 2016

In 1988, researchers at Iowa State University proposed a site that would measure the impacts of varying crop rotations and fertilizing techniques on water quality. This year the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Research and Demonstration Site near Gilmore City celebrates 25 years of operation, highlighted in a video released by the Iowa State University Extension.

“It’s probably one of the longest running drainage research facilities in the country,” said Iowa State University Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Matt Helmers in the video.

Researchers have used the experimental plot of land to analyze different nutrient techniques and their effects on water quality. Over the years they’ve had the advantage of observing the use of those strategies in a variety of weather conditions, making their findings useful around the country.

“That farm has been critical,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey in the video, “and now it’s been replicated at other farms around Iowa and other states as well.”

Perhaps what makes the Gilmore City research facility most special is its longevity, which allows researchers to see not just short-term effects but long-term as well.

“It takes studies like this that have been in place for 25 years and counting to be able to answer some of the important questions facing agriculture,” said Iowa State Associate Dean in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences John Lawrence in the video.

See the full video here:

UI speaker to talk urban food movement


Tim-McCollow, Project Manager of Milwaukee Home Gr/Own, City of Milwaukee, speaks at the UW-Milwaukee 2014 Henry W. Maier State of Milwaukee Summit. (Vimeo)
Tim McCollow, Project Manager of Milwaukee Home Gr/Own, City of Milwaukee, speaks at the UW-Milwaukee 2014 Henry W. Maier State of Milwaukee Summit. (Vimeo)
KC McGinnis | February 4, 2016

An influential voice in the urban food movement will speak at the University of Iowa tonight.

Tim McCollow, Project Manager of Milwaukee’s Home Gr/Own initiative, will speak at Phillips Hall at the University of Iowa campus at 7 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public.

McCollow will speak from his experience transforming city vacancies into projects like community gardens that increase access to healthy produce and increase greenspace in cities. The Home Gr/Own initiative, in effect since 2013, attempts to solve both Milwaukee’s foreclosure crisis and the food crisis by using vacant lots and foreclosed homes to improve the community food system.

The program looks at Milwaukee’s over 2,400 vacant lots and foreclosed homes as spaces for forms of urban agriculture like raised bed gardens, plant nurseries, compost farms, food recycling sites and even Christmas tree farms. Old buildings can even be used to grow mushrooms.

The talk looks to be a valuable resource for community members and policy makers looking at new forms of sustainable agriculture that could solve current land use problems in urban areas.

Study by University of Iowa alumnus examines ability to feed communities with local food


This map shows the ability of people to eat locally in different parts of the country. (University of California-Merced)
Nick Fetty | February 3, 2016

A University of California-Merced environmental engineering professor recently published a study which found that most of the country could grow enough food within 50 miles to feed up to 100 percent of a particular area’s population.

Dr. Elliott Campbell’s study – “The Large Potential of Local Croplands to Meet Food Demand in the United States” – was published as the cover story in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this month. Campbell and his research team used data from a farmland-mapping project funded by the National Science Foundation and information about land productivity from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to map out the ability of different communities to feed their populations with locally-produced food. Campbell also used data from University of California Global Food Initiative in his study. The researchers examined data for the period between 1850 and 2000.

Campbell said his findings could have an affect on public policy.

“Going into this study, I expected some potential for local food systems and certainly some drawbacks. The overall result was very positive. It’s drawn a strong response from the public, the media and the academic community. And it definitely has the potential to shape public policy. It’s exciting,” he said in a Q&A with the UC Food Observer.

Campbell’s work was lauded by Michael Pollan, an author and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC-Berkeley.

“Elliott Campbell’s research is making an important contribution to the national conversation on local food systems,” Pollan said in a press release. “That conversation has been hobbled by too much wishful thinking and not enough hard data — exactly what Campbell is bringing to the table.”

Campbell holds a B.S. and M.S. in environmental engineering from Stanford University and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Iowa. Elliott also served as a researcher for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research during his time at Iowa.

After Iowa caucuses, a busy week in energy policy


(DonkeyHotey / Creative Commons)
(DonkeyHotey / Creative Commons)
KC McGinnis | February 2, 2016

After Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took the most delegates in the Iowa caucuses despite his lack of support from Governor Terry Branstad over his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard, energy policy will continue to be a hot topic of debate in Iowa and on Capitol Hill.

According to Bloomberg, more than 100 amendments to end or rework the ethanol mandate have been filed and could go to the Senate floor as early as this week. These would be the first written modifications to energy policy since 2007.

Ethanol became a major point of debate nationwide as Presidential candidates clashed on the issue. Among Republicans, Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul were alone in their opposition to the ethanol mandate while both former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders expressed a need to improve upon the law, which requires fuels like gasoline to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels, without scrapping it altogether.

This week policy makers in Washington will also discuss the effects of fracking on drinking water, hydroelectric power, energy security and the COP21 climate summit that took place last December. The first hearing related to Flint water crisis will also take place before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

On The Radio – Iowa experienced unusually warm and wet conditions in 2015


Storm clouds roll through Polk County south of near Elkhart in November 2015. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Storm clouds roll through Polk County south of near Elkhart in November 2015. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | February 1, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at unusually high temperatures and precipitation levels that Iowa experienced at the end of 2015.

Transcript: Warm fall and winter

While global temperatures continued to set records, Iowa experienced an unusually warm and exceedingly wet winter in 2015.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that between August 31 and December 31, only 25 days recorded below average temperatures in Iowa. Temps during that period were 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, the warmest for that period since 1931.

Iowa also experienced by far its wettest December ever in both rain and snow, with a single storm system in mid-December shattering the records set by most winter months since record keeping started in 1873. Grundy Center’s 8.2 inches of precipitation dwarfed its previous December record of 3.7 inches set in 1982, while Des Moines’ 5.4 inches broke its previous record of 3.7 inches set in 1931. This continued a trend of unpredictability in weather patterns – which even included the first ever recorded tornado warnings in December. The heavy precipitation contributed to devastating flooding downstream from Missouri to Texas.

For more information about Iowa weather, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Video: Thoughts on the inaugural meeting for the Iowa Water Environmental Association’s Small Community Committee


Earlier this month, Matt Wildman – a Project Manager for the Cedar Rapid-based engineering firm HR Green – hosted the inaugural meeting for the Iowa Water Environmental Association’s Small Community Committee last week. Roughly a dozen engineers as well as governmental officials at city and state level were at the meeting to discuss ways that various public and private entities can work together to improve water treatment systems and infrastructure. We spoke with Wildman and with University of Iowa Civil & Environmental Engineering Professor Craig Just about the project and its goals.

University of Iowa professor appointed to USDA task force


University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering Charles Stanier has been appointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force. (IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering/University of Iowa)
Nick Fetty | January 28, 2016

University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering Charles Stanier has been appointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force (AAQTF).

Stanier – who is member of the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research and also an associate research engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering – will serve a two-year on AAQTF beginning in 2016 and ending in 2018. AAQTF is composed of 35 members from 20 different states representing a wide range of fields from academia and government to agriculture and industry.

AAQTF aims to promote USDA research efforts and also identify cost-effective ways to improve air quality in the agricultural industry. Additionally, AAQTF aims to better coordinate activities and resources among USDA agencies and other federal partners including the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Agricultural Air Quality Task Force is another example of USDA’s continued commitment to developing science-based solutions and conservation measures that not only reduce the agriculture industry’s environmental impact, but in many ways enhance our natural resources through improved agricultural practices,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Bringing together a variety of perspectives and scientific insights to this task force will help reach solutions to resolve air quality challenges.”

Hongwei Xin, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, served as an Iowa representative on AAQTF prior to Stanier’s appointment. Stanier along with Chris Peterson – who serves on the Board of Directors for the Iowa Farmers Union – are the two Iowa representatives currently on the task force.

AAQTF was formed by Congress in 1996 to address agricultural air quality issues.