On the Radio: Bakken pipeline presents environmental risks


An oil pad near the Little Missouri River near Billings, North Dakota (NPCA / Flickr).
An oil pad near the Little Missouri River near Billings, North Dakota (NPCA / Flickr).

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at environmental concerns raised by farmers and climate experts related to the Bakken oil pipeline. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Bakken pipeline environmental concerns

A proposed crude oil pipeline spanning the state is causing environmental concerns among Iowans.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Texas-based Dakota Access has officially sought permission from the state Utilities Board to build a pipeline across 18 Iowa counties. The pipeline would carry oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to central Illinois.

Similar projects have led to serious spills, like one that leaked 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana in January, contaminating the water supply of nearby cities.

Farmers and landowners at informational meetings in December spoke out against the pipeline’s construction, arguing that the project would interfere with drainage systems built to address Iowa’s growing runoff problem. Others noted that such a project may further Americans’ dependence on fossil fuels, at a time when climate experts are urging a shift to clean, renewable energy.

For continuous updates on the Bakken pipeline, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

Trust aims to preserve Iowa farmland


The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust aims to promote sustainable farming techniques and prevent soil erosion. (Paw Paw/Flickr)
The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust aims to promote sustainable farming techniques and prevent soil erosion as seen on this soybean field in Wisconsin. (Paw Paw/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 20, 2015

A recently introduced Iowa program aims to help out first-time farmers as well as those managing organic and sustainable operations.

The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) is a private nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving Iowa’s farmland. Lawmakers have supported this bi-partisan effort with its advisory board including Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton). The “working group” will consist of public and private stakeholders with 71-year old Corydon-resident Mary Ellen Miller being the first to donate 40 acres of land to the cause. In November the trust got a $20,000 interest-free loan from the Slow Money National Gathering.

The trust aims to put more emphasis on locally-grown products as Iowa currently imports 90 percent of its edible food. Additionally, the trust aims to promote sustainable agricultural practices to preserve soil as Iowa ranked second in the nation for amount of soil lost due to erosion in 2010, according to the Farmland Information Center. The trust also aims to assist novice farmers who may struggle acquiring land.

“It’s my dream to own an organic, diversified farm. Right now it’s really hard to find land. There’s lots of competition from developers, and some farmers sell land to larger farms. I am hoping I can find something through SILT,” aspiring farmer Kate Mendenhall said in an interview with Iowa Public Radio.

The Farmland Information Center also reports that Iowa is one of 28 states that have programs to protect land.

Edit: This post originally misstated that SILT was introduced by lawmakers.

On the Radio: First Iowa Ag Summit scheduled for March


A farmer chops corn for silage in an Iowa field (TumblingRun / Flickr)
A farmer chops corn for silage in an Iowa field (TumblingRun / Flickr)
February 16, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment introduces the upcoming Iowa Agriculture Summit, a political event taking place in Des Moines next month. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa Ag Summit

A recently announced forum focusing on agriculture aims to put Iowa farm issues in the national spotlight.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Last month Iowa entrepreneur and philanthropist Bruce Rastetter announced plans for the state’s first ag summit to take place in Des Moines on March 7th. The event aims to provide an opportunity for potential presidential candidates from each party to discuss agricultural issues affecting the economy in Iowa and around the rest of the country.

More than a dozen prominent political figures have been invited to speak at the event including New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Each speaker will take the stage individually and will have 20 minutes to discuss issues ranging from genetically modified organisms to federal subsidies.

For more information about Iowa’s inaugural ag summit visit Iowa.Environmental-Focus.org

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

http://www.porknetwork.com/news/ag-policy/inaugural-iowa-ag-summit-scheduled-march-7-2015-des-moines

Study: Requiring buffer strips can reduce water pollution in Iowa


This riparian buffer protects Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism/Flickr)
This riparian buffer protects Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 5, 2015

Requiring farmers to utilize buffer strips could help to improve water quality in Iowa at minimal cost to the farmer according to a report released this week by the Environmental Working Group.

The report – entitled “Iowa’s Low Hanging Fruit” – outlines the potential of buffer strips which are “small areas or strips of land in permanent vegetation, designed to intercept pollutants and manage other environmental concerns” often planted between croplands and waterways. Buffer strips have minimal affect on a farmer’s crop acreage and can reduce the amount of phosphorus, nitrates, and other chemicals that run off farmland and pollute waterways.

The report examines five Iowa counties (Allamakee, Hamilton, Linn, Plymouth, and Union) which each represent the state’s major landscape regions and “reflect the wide county-to-county range in how much land is devoted to row crops” according to the report. The researchers examined buffers of three different widths (35-feet, 50-feet, and 75-feet) and concluded that a 50-foot buffer would affect 11 percent of landowners in the selected counties. The report also found that a 50-foot buffer would require only 0.12 percent of cropland to be converted to permanent vegetation to act as the buffer zone. The author’s conclude that if action requiring buffer strips is not taken at the state-level, the counties could take the initiative to each set regulations.

Organizations such as the Iowa Soybean Association have cited practices such as buffer strips as being “a good long-term investment for farmers.”

EPA faces lawsuits for animal confinement air pollution


A pig at St Werburghs City Farm in the United Kingdom. (Ed Mitchell/Flickr)
A pig at St Werburghs City Farm in the United Kingdom. (Ed Mitchell/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 29, 2015

Two lawsuits were brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday alleging that the group isn’t doing enough to prevent air pollution caused by large animal confinement facilities.

The lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. were brought about by a coalition of eight groups including the  Environmental Integrity Project, the Humane Society of the United States, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Clean Wisconsin, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Association of Irritated Residents (represented by the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment). The coalition says that the lack of regulation by the EPA has allowed factory farms to pollute the air and threaten public health.

Specifically the lawsuits pertain to petitions filed in 2009 and 2011. The 2009 petition was filed by the Humane Society of the United States and called for concentrated animal feeding lots – or CAFOs – to be categorized as a source of pollution under the Clean Air Act and for new standards to be enforced on new and existing CAFOs. The Environmental Integrity Project filed the 2011 petition and sought health-based standards for ammonia emissions. The lawsuit asks for the EPA to respond to these petitions within 90 days.

A spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said that beef producers have made efforts to reduce pollution without government intervention and between 2005 and 2011 were able cut emissions in water by 10 percent and greenhouse gas production by 2 percent. However, Iowa Pork Producers and an Iowa State University professor say that the link connecting CAFOs to health hazards is inconclusive.

When it comes to climate change information, farmers trust scientists most


A combine sits in an Iowa field (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
A combine sits in an Iowa field (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | January 28, 2015

The best way to reach farmers and agricultural workers who are skeptical of human activity’s effect on climate change may be direct connections to climate scientists, according to one Iowa State University sociologist.

A 2012 survey conducted by ISU’s J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. found that 66% of Midwest farmers believe climate change is occurring, yet the respondents were mixed on whether or not human activity played a role. More than half said climate change either occurs naturally or is equally affected by human and natural factors. Only about 10 percent agreed that “climate change is occurring and it is caused mostly by human activities.”

Some of that skepticism may come from a general distrust of the mainstream media; the MSM was listed as the least trusted source of environment-related information. Given farmers’ dependence on scientific advances in crop development, it’s not surprising that the most trusted source of environmental information was scientists themselves.

This has important implications for anyone discussing climate change with agricultural professionals. In an interview with ClimateWire, Arbuckle recommended using language of adaptation to unpredictable weather events over explicit mentions of greenhouse gas emissions. More than half of the respondents believe it’s necessary to be prepared for more frequent high precipitation events like heavy rainstorms, even though many remain uncertain that increased atmospheric moisture due to higher emissions is to blame.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking steps to bring current research on changing weather trends and adaptive practices to farmers around the country. The USDA’s eight “climate hubs” focus on communicating strategies for reducing risk and reducing the costs related to variable weather by connecting researchers to farmers on the ground. One of these climate hubs is in Ames, Iowa.

2015 Cover Crop Conference coming to West Des Monies


This farmer in South Dakota utilizes a cover crop combination of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish, and New York style turnip. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 27, 2015

The 2015 Iowa Cover Crops Conference will be held in West Des Moines on February 17 and 18.

The annual event is hosted by the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Conservation Districts of Iowa , and the Midwest Cover Crops Council. This year’s event will include a presentation from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey as well as farmers and other agribusiness professionals.

Cover crop usage in Iowa has gained momentum in recent years with just 10,000 acres planted in 2009 and more than 300,000 acres by 2013. Cover crops are one of the techniques outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy as a way of minimizing fertilizer runoff which pollutes waterways. Approximately 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone came from the Mississippi River.

A report by the international consulting firm Datu Research last year found that 23 percent of Iowa farmers reported utilizing cover crops. The report found that Iowa farmers are also practicing no-till and minimum tillage techniques as well as crop rotation, all of which can reduce runoff and improve soil health.

An ongoing study by researchers at the University of Illinois suggests that the use of cover crops does not increase yields but it does “increase the amount of sequestered soil organic carbon.” However, research by scientists at Purdue University has found that cover crops can improve corn stover yields which can be used as a biofuel.

The cost of next month’s event is $99 for those who register before February 16 and $125 for those who register onsite.