Pipeline deliberations: Easements rejected by nearly 300 Iowa landowners


A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
KC McGinnis | February 10, 2016

As Iowa utility regulators continue to debate a proposed pipeline from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota that would run diagonally through the state, nearly 300 Iowa landowners have already rejected offers for the pipeline to run through their land.

The owners of 296 parcels of Iowa land have so far refused attempts by Texas-based Dakota Access LLC to provide easements in exchange for permission to build the 30-inch-diameter pipeline on their land. Concerns range from the pipeline’s safety to its effects on crops and limitations on expansion. Along with the risks associated with increasing fossil fuel use, farmers are worried the pipeline could affect their tile drainage lines or the yields of plants grown above the pipeline. Pipeline builders would need to replace significant amounts of valuable topsoil for the crops to stay viable — something developers have been told they are no longer required to do if it is “infeasible” to do so according to a rule change last year.

According to a report in the Des Moines Register regulators spent part of Tuesday looking at maps of Boone, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties, where farmers have either refused to sell their land or suggested the pipeline be built around their land. Landowners and opponents of the pipeline are skeptical that it would bring any tangible benefits to Iowans, a key argument at stake in whether or not to grant the company eminent domain, or the right to seize private land for use that contributes to a public good.

On The Radio – USDA announces new initiative for Iowa farmers


U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack speaks during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | February 8, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at an initiative by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide farmers and livestock producers with more funding for conservation efforts.

Transcript: USDA announces new initiative for Iowa farmers

Iowa farmers and livestock producers could receive additional funding to implement soil and water conservation practices thanks to a recent initiative by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In January, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will expand access to its conservation programs to include an additional 85,000 acres of sensitive lands in Iowa. Additionally, the initiative will provide more funding for technical assistance and capital improvements and encourage state partners to identify priorities for an improved “watershed-based strategy” for nutrient management.

USDA has invested more than 2-point-2-billion-dollars in Iowa conservation efforts and has helped to enroll more than 4-point-5-million-acres of Iowa working lands in USDA conservation programs since 2009. USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program has led to a reduction of 260 million pounds of nitrogen and 534 million pounds of phosphorus in the Mississippi River Basin between 2008 and 2013.

In addition to protecting farmland, the initiative also encourages the restoration of wetlands and other natural habitats. The initiative also aims to strengthen cooperation between public and private entities working together on conservation efforts.

For more information about this initiative, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot org.

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

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.

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. (Brynne Schweigel/CGRER)
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. (Brynne Schweigel/CGRER)
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.

ISU researchers study economic productivity of Iowa farmland


A screenshot of the economic productivity of Iowa farmland in 2015. (Iowa Environmental Mesonet/Iowa State University)
A screenshot of the economic productivity of Iowa farmland in 2015 based off of research by agronomists at Iowa State University. (Iowa Environmental Mesonet)
Nick Fetty | January 27, 2016

A team of researchers at Iowa State University recently published a study which found that “significant portions of Iowa farmland consistently produce yields that fall short of the cost of the inputs required to grow crops.”

The study was a collaboration between agronomists at ISU and AgSolver, an Ames-based agricultural services company. Together the researchers examined data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as data from ISU’s annual Farmland Value Survey. The data is available to the public through an interactive map on the Iowa Environomental Mesonet.

The research team estimated that 2.5 million hectares of Iowa farmland lost $250 or more per hectare last year. Additionally, roughly 6.2 million acres (approximately 27 percent of all Iowa farmland devoted to row crops) are expected to have lost $100 or more per acre.

Emily Heaton, an associate professor of agronomy at ISU and co-author of the study, said she hopes the research will provide farmers with alternative ways for re-purposing unproductive land. One alternative she suggested is to plant perennial grasses which can improve soil health, reduce erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and even serve as a renewable source of energy when harvested. Heaton is currently working with officials at the University of Iowa on the Biomass Fuel Project which uses perennial grasses such as miscanthus to power the UI campus.

The article was published earlier this month in the academic journal Environmental Research Letters.