Midwest researchers come together for research project


Doug Schnoebelen, left, explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Doug Schnoebelen, left, explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | July 30, 2015

Roughly 30 students, professors, and researchers from six different institutions met in Muscatine this week to discuss a collaborative research effort to improve land, water, and air quality in the Midwest.

This Midwestern project is part of a nation-wide project known as the Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) an effort by the National Science Foundation to “[study] the zone where rock meets life.” The Midwestern project is called the CZO-IML (Intensely Managed Landscapes) and focuses on watersheds and lands in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) in Muscatine hosted the IML-CZO conference which began Tuesday and ends today. This marked the second annual meeting for what will be a five year project.

“The first year was a lot of planning and field campaigns. The second year we’ve collected some data will be able to get that back to look at the results. We finally have some things to discuss, some real science,” said LACMRERS Director Doug Schnoebelen.

Schnoebelen, who also serves as a contributor for the IML-CZO project as well as a member of CGRER, said he hopes this research will be helpful not just for farmers and watershed managers but also for the general public.

“We’re hoping to look at an integrated approach and that’s what the Critical Zone is, being able to say something about water movement, soil conservation, transformation of carbon and energy in the environment. All of these things are really critical to the soil, the water, and the way we live.”

The conference brought together researchers from Indiana University, Northwestern University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, and University of Tennessee. Schnoebelen said this emphasis on collaboration over competition has been key to the success of the project. He added that he is also grateful the CZO chose to support a Midwestern research project since much of the CZO’s other research takes place on the coasts.

“I think it was important when the national team came out and they realized how managed our landscape was and how important this research really was. It’s not just flyover country in the Midwest, it’s a critical part of our economy for food and energy.”

On the Radio: Unexpected consequences of beef hormones on aquatic ecosystems


Cattle in the snow near Monmouth, Iowa (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Cattle in the snow near Monmouth, Iowa (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
July 13, 2015

This week’s On the Radio looks at new research suggesting beef hormones can make their way to waterways for longer periods than originally thought. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript:

Transcript: Beef hormones and waterways

A powerful growth hormone used on cattle may be having unexpected consequences on U.S. waterways.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

An Indiana University study co-authored by two University of Iowa researchers shows that trenbolone acetate, or TBA, a growth hormone given to cattle, may be making its way to streams and rivers in an unexpected and highly potent form. That’s according to lead author and CGRER member Adam Ward:

“These are incredibly potent steroids; we designed them to be potent. We designed them to persist so they don’t break down in cattle and continue to have that impact. And when these reach the environment, they do the same thing to fish.”

In the case of TBA, the byproduct is a new compound called 17-alpha-trenbolone, a powerful endocrine disruptor that can affect the reproductive processes of fish and can even cause sex changes from female to male.

“That means the product, what is unexpectedly made in the environment, is more harmful than what we put into the environment.”

For more information about this study, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.missourifarmertoday.com/news/livestock/hormones-released-into-environment-persist-longer-than-expected/article_bbe8101a-04a0-11e5-ae13-a77458cdfbb3.html

http://news.indiana.edu/releases/iu/2015/05/beef-hormone-exposure.shtml

Poll shows majority of Iowa farmers support Nutrient Reduction Strategy


Riparian buffers are one way to protect waterways from agriculture run off such as this one on Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism Press Release/Flickr)
Riparian buffers are one way to protect waterways from agricultural runoff such as this one on Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism Press Release/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | June 12, 2015

A recent poll by researchers at Iowa State University shows that many Iowa farmers are aware of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy and support its objectives.

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll has been conducted each year since 1982 and is “the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation.” The 2014 edition asked farmers about their awareness and knowledge of the 2013 nutrient reduction strategy, their awareness and concern about nutrient-related water quality issues, attitudes toward the strategy, and perceived barriers to action. Surveys were sent out to 2,218 farmers in February 2014 and 1,128 (51 percent) replied with usable data.

Just over 20 percent of farmers surveyed identified as “not at all knowledgeable” in regard to the nutrient reduction strategy while 21.6 percent identified as “knowledgeable” or “very knowledgeable.” More than 75 percent of farmers either agreed (60.8 percent) or strongly agreed (15.3 percent) that agriculture is impacting Iowa water quality. When asked if they think nutrients from Iowa farms contribute to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, just over 50 percent said they either agree (40.9 percent) or strongly agree (11.2 percent) while roughly 40 percent said they were uncertain. Nearly 85 percent of respondents said they agree (63.3 percent) or strongly agree (20.3 percent) that “Iowa farmers should do more to reduce nutrient and sediment run-off into waterways.”

“Viewed as a whole, the results of the 2014 Farm Poll indicate that substantial progress has been made in raising farmers’ awareness of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This is a critical step. However, the challenge going forward will be to translate awareness and positive attitudes into much more widespread use of conservation practices and farming systems that lead to sustained progress toward nutrient loss reduction goals,” the poll’s authors concluded.

The poll was collaboration by the ISU Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service.

On the Radio: Energy from manure to receive a boost


(dmblue444/Flickr)
(dmblue444/Flickr)
June 8, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks to a new standard that could give a boost to an energy industry that utilizes animal manure. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Energy from manure to receive a boost

BY NICK FETTY

A RECENT CHANGE BY THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, COULD BOOST AN ENERGY INDUSTRY IN IOWA THAT UTILIZES ANIMAL MANURE.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

LAST SUMMER, THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY REVISED ITS RENEWABLE FUELS STANDARD TO GIVE BIOGAS MORE VALUE IN THE FUEL MARKETPLACE. THIS HAS MADE IT SO THAT THE FUELS DERIVED FROM ANIMAL MANURE AND OTHER SOURCES CAN BETTER COMPETE WITH BIOFUELS SUCH AS ETHANOL. METHANE GAS IN PARTICULAR CAN BE EXTRACTED FROM THESE RESOURCES AND USED TO CREATE RENEWABLE ENERGY.

A 2013 REPORT BY THE NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY FOUND THAT IOWA LED THE NATION IN THE AMOUNT OF METHANE AVAILABLE FROM ANIMAL MANURE.

IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY TEAMED UP WITH THE DES MOINES-BASED COMPANY –“ECO-ENGINEERINGS” TO CREATE AN INTERACTIVE MAP AND WEBSITE THAT ALLOWS USERS TO VIEW THE AMOUNT OF METHANE-CONTAINING WASTE IN THEIR AREA.

FOR A LINK TO THE MAP OR TO READ MORE ABOUT THIS INITIATIVE, VISIT IOWA.ENVIROINMENTALFOCUS.ORG.

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, I’M JERRY SCHNOOR.

http://iowaenvironmentalfocus.org/2015/04/23/animal-manure-could-create-a-new-energy-market-in-iowa/

Wet conditions hamper fieldwork in May


Fall crops and standing water from rains in 2009 in Polk County (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
Fall crops and standing water from rains in 2009 in Polk County (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | June 2, 2015

Rain, cool temperatures and standing water halted Iowa farmers for parts of last month, slowing crop progress by limiting suitable days in the field.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that in the last week of May just 2.3 days were suitable for fieldwork across the state, with only 1.7 suitable days for southwest Iowa. Topsoil moisture was rated at above surplus for 50% of southwest and south central Iowa, and 22% across the state. That’s compared to last year, when only 7% of Iowa topsoil was at surplus moisture.

This excess moisture has made it difficult for farmers to get in their fields, leading to lags in soybean planting and alfalfa hay first cutting, which was only at about half the five-year average. Some operators reported standing water in their fields, and some fields will need to be replanted due to the excess water. The moisture also prevented spraying, and led to concerns over muddy feedlots.

While 92% of soybeans were planted by the end of May last year, this year’s numbers were at 50% or less for parts of the state, with southwest Iowa reaching only 37%.

Iowa faced a similar situation last year, with consistent heavy rains in June and July leading to less than three suitable field days for three consecutive weeks. “We just came through three of our most challenging years, as far as weather goes,” noted northeast Iowa farmer Travis Holthaus in a recent CGRER documentary. Heavy rains, flash flooding and challenging droughts continue to lead to increased unpredictability for Iowa farmers. These producers may need to prepare for decreased field days in the next week as well, with more storms predicted later this week.

On the Radio: New carbon reduction incentives for farmers


Carl Wycoff / Flickr
Carl Wycoff / Flickr
June 1, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new set of incentives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could help farmers combat global warming. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: USDA to give incentives for farmers

A new set of incentives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture may give farmers even more reasons to combat global warming.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In an effort to reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration, the USDA has released new programs to persuade agricultural producers to generate renewable energy in their operations. The initiatives, carried out under the 2014 farm bill, are voluntary, but could lead to a 120 million metric ton reduction of greenhouse gases from the ag sector per year. Agriculture is one of the leading greenhouse gas emitting sectors in Iowa.

The programs will incentivize several GHG-lowering practices, like cover crops, lagoon covers (to manage methane emissions), tree planting and independent energy generation. These practices could coincide with Iowa’s existing nutrient reduction strategy.

For more information about incentive-based programs, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2015/04/0109.xml

Iowa farm groups concerned about new EPA water rules


The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 29, 2015

Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over new clean water rules unveiled Wednesday by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

Leaders of several Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over the new rules – outlined in a nearly 300-page document – citing that would “infringe on their land rights and saddle them with higher costs.” Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill said the new rules fail to address concerns farmers expressed when the first draft of the new Clean Water Act regulations was released last.

“The permitting process is very cumbersome, awkward and expensive,” Hill said in an interview with Radio Iowa. “And, according to what we read in this new rule, farmers will be required to get permits for things they’ve never been required to get permits for before.”

At the national level, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and roughly 225 other organizations have teamed up to oppose the new rule. Some congressional republicans as well as farm state democrats have also voiced concerns about the new rule, including Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

Despite the criticism, the rule has been applauded by groups such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Sierra Club, Environment America,  and the Natural Resources Defense Council which called the rule “‘a significant fix’ for tens of millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of streams that contribute to the drinking water for 117 million Americans.”

The new rule is part of the 1972 Clean Water Act which gave the federal government authority to limit pollution in major major water bodies, such as the Mississippi River, as well as streams and rivers that drain into the larger water. The most revision to the rule applies to about 60 percent of the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.