On the Radio: Agricultural initiative to curb climate change effects


Hay bales along the Maple River near Castana, Iowa (TumblingRun / Flickr)
Hay bales along the Maple River near Castana, Iowa (TumblingRun / Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new initiate to mitigate the effects of climate change on Iowa farmers. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Agriculture and Climate Change

A North American farm group is taking proactive steps to reduce the effects of climate change on agriculture.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The group – Solution from the Land – is supporting the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Initiative. The initiative aims to bring together representatives from industry and academia as well as government and non-government organizations in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change for farmers.

The initiative follows the release of the National Climate Statement which suggests that at its current rate, the effects of climate change will be largely detrimental to crops and livestock over the next 25 years. The initiative aims to help farmers adapt to changes in precipitation and temperature.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, and the National Farmers Union are some of the national organizations which have endorsed the effort.

For more information about the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Initiative, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

source: http://farmfutures.com/story-reducing-climate-change-risk-ag-0-120108; http://www.sfldialogue.net/SFL/press_release_9-23-2014.pdf

UI Climate Narrative Project fellows focus on soil


The fall 2014 Clime Narrative Project fellows. From left, Erica Damman, Jeffrey Ding, Jenna Ladd, and Sarah Nagengast. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
The fall 2014 Climate Narrative Project fellows. From left, Erica Damman, Jeffrey Ding, Jenna Ladd, and Sarah Nagengast. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | December 12, 2014

The fall 2014 fellows with the UI’s Climate Narrative Project presented their work Thursday night in the University Capitol Center in Iowa City.

Through various mediums (film, radio, visual arts and creative writing) the fellows shared the research and interviews they have compiled over the past fourth months. The theme was “Semester in the Soil: Regenerative Agriculture, Urban Farms and Food.”

Jeff Biggers – writer-in-residence for the UI Office of Sustainability – worked with the students throughout the semester and introduced each presenter Thursday night. He mentioned the relationship between climate change and soil conservation stating “we have science coming out of our ears yet we’re doing very little.”

Erica Damman – an artist and researcher in the Interdisciplinary PhD program focusing on Environmental Humanities – presented her project which was entitled “Soil Testimonies.” The project included sped up video of Damman creating a large charcoal drawing of a sow bug, a crustacean that lives beneath the soil. While the video played Damman also had an audio track of her conducting a fictional interview with a sow bug as it told her about life underground. The project integrated humor with lines like “everything down here is eating everything else” but also discussed the impacts of soil tilling for agriculture which destroys the homes of bugs, worms, and other parts of the soil ecosystem. Damman and the bug also discussed the effects of soil deep freezes which has been as deep as 15 nightcrawlers (or roughly 50 inches) during recent winters. The Ohio native concluded her presentation by stating that “[We need] to think of soil as our companion species.”

Jenna Ladd – an undergraduate majoring in sociology and minoring in Spanish – presented “Immigrant Seeds and Stories” which examined the availability of garden plots for immigrants in Iowa. She began her presentation by stating that “access to local and healthful food is a right not a privilege.” She then showed a photo slideshow with an audio narrative telling the story of immigrants from Mexico and Africa who came to Iowa as climate refugees because the effects of climate change have hampered their ability to farm and garden in their homelands. She cited data from the American Red Cross which shows that the number of climate refugees in the United States is greater than the number of political refugees. Some of the immigrants lack resources to consume “expensive good food” when coming to Iowa and this has led to an increase in obesity rates for some immigrants.

Actors playing farmers were part of Jeffrey Ding's interactive presentation. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Actors playing farmers were part of Jeffrey Ding’s interactive presentation. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Jeffrey Ding – an undergraduate triple majoring in political science, economics, and Chinese – presented “Dispatches from the Land” which looked at farmers and the future of agriculture in Iowa. He also weaved some humor into his interactive presentation by reminiscing about the days when Hawkeye football was one of the passions in his life instead of “an exercise in mediocrity tolerance.” However most of the presentation was focused on serious issues facing Iowa farmers.  He discussed the UI’s Biomass Fuel Project with specific focus on miscanthus – an Asian perennial tallgrass – which is being grown on plots in Iowa and which he referred to as “the field of the future.” Ding also discussed the importance of soil conservation, citing  that farmers should “leave the land better than you got it.” He looked at the future of agriculture in Iowa citing that a quarter of farmland is owned by people over the age of 75 and that with Johnson County being the second-fastest growing county in the state it has created a rift between rural interests and urban development. He concluded his presentation by stating “before regenerative agriculture can save us, we have to save us.”

Sarah Nagengast – an undergraduate majoring in environmental policy and planning with a minor in geography and a certificate in sustainability – presented a video documentary entitled “Recipes in an Age of Climate Change.” She focused on the importance of food availability as well as proper food disposal. Approximately 40 percent of food is wasted and when this food is dumped in conventional landfills as opposed to being composted it creates environmentally-damaging greenhouse gases. Not only do consumers contribute to the high amount of food wasted in the United States but often times farmers and producers will dispose of crops that they feel doesn’t meet their standard for selling.

The Climate Narrative Project was sponsored by the Office of Sustainability and the Office of Outreach and Engagement in the Office of Executive Vice President and Provost.

Check out The Daily Iowan for additional coverage of the event.

Journal features ISU research on agriculture and climate change


This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)
This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | December 11, 2014

The most recent issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation includes several articles by Iowa State University researchers focused on ways that climate change is affecting agriculture.

Researchers and graduate students in from Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project contributed to most of the articles in the recent issue. The project, known simply as the Sustainable Corn Project, is based at Iowa State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of the 20 reports in the recent journal issue, 14 were authored by researchers with the Sustainable Corn Project.

One of the reports analyzed the effects cover crops have on nitrous oxide emissions, concluding that cover crops increased nitorus oxide levels in 60 percent of published observations. The authors point out that certain variables could have affected the reaction between the cover crops and nitrous oxide emissions including “fertilizer N(itrogen) rate, soil incorporation, and the period of measurement and rainfall.”

The Sustainable Corn Project is a collaboration between 10 Midwestwen land-grant universities: Iowa State University, Lincoln University (MO), Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, South Dakota State University, University of Illinois,  University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, and University of Wisconsin. Roughly 160 scientists, engineers, educators, and students work with more than 200 farmers on this project.

Natural Christmas trees could be a green alternative this holiday season


A family at a Christmas tree farm (Mass Office of Travel / Flickr)
A family at a local Christmas tree farm (Mass Office of Travel / Flickr)

With the holiday season in full swing, natural Christmas trees grown in Iowa may provide a greener way to deck the halls.

Each year, around 100 Iowa farmers grow various pines, spruces and firs for holiday decor on more than 1,500 acres of farmland, much of which is unsuitable for other crops. Unlike artificial Christmas trees made of plastic and synthetic materials, natural Christmas trees produce minimal waste, can be recycled as mulch, and absorb carbon dioxide while producing oxygen during their lifetime, usually 6 to 12 years before harvest. While artificial trees remain in landfills for centuries after use, natural Christmas trees can be reused as decoration or sunk into fishing ponds to make refuges for fish. They can also be used as sand and soil erosion barriers near river beds.

Iowa tree farmers saw a rebound in tree growth this year, after drought in 2012 killed off crops across the state. Growers must constantly monitor their trees for insects and leaning to ensure proper balance and form. Iowans harvest about 39,500 Christmas trees each year, mostly by selecting and cutting down the trees themselves at the farm. For a list of Christmas tree growers in your area, visit the Iowa Christmas Trees website. City utilities often provide information and services about tree pickup and recycling.

 

 

On the Radio: New rule to curb agricultural pollution


A tractor sprays liquid manure onto an Iowa field (Mark Evans / Flickr)
A tractor sprays liquid manure onto an Iowa field (Mark Evans / Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new measure that provide stricter enforcement of rules against manure spills. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: New Rule

A new rule to curb agricultural pollution in Iowa waterways is now in effect.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, as part of a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has developed a new measure which will provide stricter enforcement of rules against manure spills on livestock farms. More than 60 such spills have been reported over the last year, which have caused contamination leading to fish kills and water pollution.

The DNR is poised to inspect farms’ handling of manure more stringently, issuing fines to operations that don’t cooperate. Earlier this year, a dairy farm was ordered to pay over $160,000 for a spill that killed hundreds of thousands of fish in a nearby lake.

Iowa farms produce waste from 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows.

For more information about the new environmental measure, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

Farming conservation techniques catching on in Iowa


A mixture of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish and New York style turnip is used as cover crops on this farm in Eastern South Dakota. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)
A cover crop mixture of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish, and New York style turnip is used on this farm in Eastern South Dakota. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 5, 2014

A recent study by the international consulting firm Datu Research finds that Iowa farmers are beginning to better utilize cover crops, crop rotation, and no-till practices.

The 53-page report  concluded that 23 percent of Iowa farmers who responded to the survey said they utilized cover crops. Seventy percent were using minimum or conservation tillage while 47 percent said they practiced no-till techniques. The study also found that 80 percent of respondents rotated between corn and soybeans each year.

Practices such as cover crop use, crop rotation, and reduced tillage can help to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff which leads to water pollution. These practices also improve soil health and help to manage moisture content while saving farmers money on fertilizer costs. Currently agriculture accounts for over 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus that enters the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. This has threatened the aquatic ecosystem in one of the nation’s largest and most productive fisheries.

A separate ongoing study by researchers at the University of Illinois suggests that cover crops do not increase crop yields but do “increase the amount of sequestered soil organic carbon.” This study finds that tillage techniques also affect the soil organic carbon content.

The Datu study was conducted on Iowa farmers and landowners in June of 2014. Approximately 1,500 farmers were surveyed and of those 212 were considered eligible respondents.

Weather conditions impede farmers’ post-harvest duties


Early snows  (Julie Falk/Flickr)
Snow and cold temperatures are impeding farmers’ ability to apply fertilizer to fields during the post-harvest season. (Julie Falk/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 28, 2014

Early snow and unusually cold temperatures this month will likely cause repercussions for farmers in the spring as they are currently unable to fertilize their fields.

The frozen ground – which measures between 5 and 9 inches deep – has caused difficulties for farmers looking to fertilize their fields, especially using liquid manure. This is problematic not only for the soil but also the receptacles that hold the manure which will eventually exceed capacity.

“We’re hoping for a warm spell so we can get out there and inject more manure. Otherwise, we’re going to have to surface apply some of this manure so we don’t have facilities that are running over,” said Iowa State University Extension Agronomist Joel  DeJong during an interview on Radio Iowa.

In 2010 the Iowa Code established that farmers cannot apply fertilizer to their soil between December 21 and April 1. Fertilizer applied to frozen ground has a greater chance of running off the field and polluting nearby waterways and damaging local ecosystems. Several manure spills have occurred in Iowa this month including one in Fairfield where an estimated 3,000 gallons of liquid manure “spilled into an unnamed creek.” In August, a spill occurred in northwest Iowa that killed more than 860,000 fish in Mill Creek.

The state in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently passed rules for stricter regulation of manure spills specifically and livestock farms more generally. Fines and other actions are taken against farmers and operations that violate the new rule.