Vilsack announces new plan for farmers to address climate change

Tom Vilsack has served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture since 2009. Prior to that he served two terms as the governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | April 24, 2015

During an event at Michigan State University on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack unveiled a plan in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will team up with agricultural producers to address threats associated with climate change.

The new plan builds upon the the Climate Hubs – created by the USDA last year – and aims to “utilize voluntary, incentive-based conservation, forestry, and energy programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration and expand renewable energy production in the agricultural and forestry sectors.” USDA officials hope this effort will reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) per year by 2025. This new plan is expected to help the U.S. reach its 2025 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels, as announced by President Obama last year.

“American farmers and ranchers are leaders when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and improving efficiency in their operations. That’s why U.S. agricultural emissions are lower than the global average,” Vilsack said in a press release. “We can build on this success in a way that combats climate change and strengthens the American agriculture economy. Through incentive-based initiatives, we can partner with producers to significantly reduce carbon emissions while improving yields, increasing farm operation’s energy efficiency, and helping farmers and ranchers earn revenue from clean energy production.”

The ag industry accounts for approximately 9 percent of carbon emissions nationwide. This figure is below the global average but Vilsack says there’s still room for improvement.

Thursday’s event was part of a busy week for the former Iowa governor who was in Beltsville, Maryland on Wednesday to flip the switch and “symbolically activate USDA’s first solar array project in the National Capital Region” in commemoration of Earth Day.



Earth Day marks rally for end of 400-mile pipeline walk

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon near the end of his 400-mile pipeline walk across Iowa.
KC McGinnis | April 22, 2015

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon will conclude his 400-mile hike across Iowa with an Earth Day rally in Des Moines today.

For 39 days, Fallon walked along the path of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, talking with landowners and activists about their concerns over the environment and property management. Fallon supports an eminent domain bill in the Iowa Legislature that would prevent Energy Transfer Partners from condemning Iowa farmland without consent. He will host an Earth Day Rally to Stop the Pipeline today at the State Capital’s west lawn (People’s Park).

Fallon documented his conversations with Iowans along the pipeline route through a daily blog. He recalled conversations with farmers whose land was repeatedly trespassed by surveyors, residents whose homes would be within a few hundred feet of the pipeline, and town hall meetings where people discussed the issue at length.

In his meetings with Iowans along the pipeline route, Fallon had to counter the sense of inevitability created by pipeline representatives, who frequently met with landowners to inform them that the pipeline construction was unavoidable, and that they should sell their land to the company instead of waiting for it to buy at a lower price through eminent domain. Fallon assured these residents that the company proposing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, still lacks authority to use eminent domain, and that legislation currently in the House and Senate would prevent them from using it as a ground for construction. While some Iowans have already settled with the oil companies, many are still holding out despite aggressive persuasion.

The rally will take place at 5 p.m., with talks by Fallon, two legislators and two family farmers. There will also be an open mic available for people to share their thoughts.

Feeding the World symposium takes place tomorrow


A special symposium on food sustainability and water quality will take place in Iowa City this week.

“Feeding the World: Challenges for Water Quality and Quantity,” a day-long series hosted by the UI Public Policy Center, will be held at Old Brick Church & Community Center on Thursday, April 9.

Agricultural practices, water conservation and climate change have strong impacts on food security in Iowa and around the world. The upcoming symposium will take a past-present-future approach to addressing these issues, starting with historical perspectives on agriculture and assessing Iowa’s food future based on current practice.

The symposium will feature more than a dozen experts and scholars in public health, engineering and conservation from around the state. It will open with a roundtable of University of Iowa researchers talking about water sustainability, followed by a keynote address by Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe. The symposium will then move to agricultural concerns, with panelists from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, Drake University and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship addressing historical perspectives on agriculture and how present farming practices affect our water resources. The day will conclude with a panel looking at the future of food production in Iowa and a Q&A session.

Early registration for the event is closed, but guests may still register at the door. For more information, visit the Iowa Public Policy Center.

ISU research examines effects of corn residue removal

Mahdi Al-Kaisi is a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. (Iowa State University News Service)
Mahdi Al-Kaisi is a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. (Iowa State University News Service)

Nick Fetty | April 7, 2015

Recent research by an Iowa State University professor suggests that farmers should consider various site-specific factors when deciding whether to sell corn residue for cellulosic ethanol production.

Mahdi Al-Kaisi – a professor of agronomy – published his findings in the Soil Science Society of America Journal last month. Along with co-authors Jose Guzman (a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State University) and Timothy Parkin (a microbiology researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service), Al-Kaisi suggested that farmers consider factors such as “topography, tillage system, nitrogen application and the amount of organic matter present in their soil to determine how much corn residue [they should remove.]” Corn residue – or corn stover – is the plant material left behind after harvest and which can be sold to create cellulosic ethanol.

Al-Kaisi and his team have been working on this project since 2008. The research team conducted the research at two sites: One in central Iowa and one in the southwest part of the state. The researchers monitored the effects of removing of corn residue, soil organic matter, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil quality.

The researchers saw that an increase in carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions on plots where the residue was removed coincided with increased nitrogen application. They also concluded that excessive corn residue removal can cause erosion.

“Residue removal has some real environmental impacts on soil health and water quality. It needs to be approached thoughtfully and on a site-specific condition basis,” Al-Kaisi said in a press release.

Al Gore coming to Iowa for climate communication training

Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at the World Economic Forum on January 21, 2015 (World Economic Forum / Flickr)
Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at the World Economic Forum on January 21, 2015 (World Economic Forum / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | April 1, 2015

Iowans will have a chance to receive climate communications training from former Vice President Al Gore at an upcoming summit.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, being held May 5-7 in Cedar Rapids, will feature the former presidential candidate as well as scientists and strategic communicators, who will help attendees learn how to advocate for climate change policies at the grassroots level. Experts will talk about the science of climate change, the effects it’s having on local and global economies and potential solutions available today. They will also give instruction on how to use social media, public speaking, and media engagement to bring the climate conversation to the public.

The Climate Reality Project, founded in 2006 after the success of Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” aims to equip laypersons with the knowledge and skills necessary for bringing climate awareness to the general public and policy makers. The project advocates a turn from fossil fuels to renewable energy like solar and wind.

The Iowa training comes as the state leads the nation in percentage of energy produced by wind, with a quarter of its energy coming from the renewable source. It also comes with information relevant for farmers and agricultural experts looking to decrease emissions from the agriculture industry, which emits more greenhouse gases than any other industry in the state including transportation and energy.

The training is free, but does not include transportation costs. To apply to attend the conference by April 13, click here.

On the Radio: Agriculture now highest source of greenhouse gases in Iowa

Cattle grazing in a field in Story County (Carl Wycoff, Flickr).
Cattle grazing in a field in Story County (Carl Wycoff, Flickr).

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at the Iowa DNR’s 2013 Greenhouse Gas inventory, which shows that Iowa’s agriculture industry is now the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions for the state. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Agriculture is now the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resourcesʼ 2013 Greenhouse Gas inventory report
found that Iowaʼs agriculture industry contributes to 27 percent of the stateʼs
greenhouse gas emissions.

The figure is due in part to Iowaʼs increasing dependence on wind energy, which has
drastically decreased the need for coal use over the last decade and brought emissions
from electric power generation down to 25 percent.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture include those from animal digestive
systems, plant fertilizers and agricultural runoff. The most common of these gases are
methane and nitrous oxide.

Although agricultural emissions increased last year, Iowaʼs total emissions have now
decreased for three straight years.

For more information about greenhouse gas emissions, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, Iʼm Jerry

On the Radio: Bee-harming pesticide may be ineffective

A bee lands on a flower during pollination (Cristian Bernardo Velasco Valdez / Flickr)
A bee lands on a flower during pollination (Cristian Bernardo Velasco Valdez / Flickr)
March 16, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a popular pesticide thought to harm bees, which may not be as effective at warding off pests as previously thought. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Bee pesticide

A pesticide thought to harm bee populations may be less effective for pest control than previously thought.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The effectiveness of neonicotinoid, a class of pesticides used on nearly half of soybean crops nationwide, is being called into question by a recent EPA analysis. The study concludes that the treatment provides “little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations.”

The pesticide is one of the factors researchers like Mary Harris, of Iowa State University, suspect may be responsible for dramatically falling bee populations over the last ten years. While the pesticide can’t kill bees directly, it can contaminate pollen and contribute to loss of bees over winter. Farmers depend on bees and other insects to pollinate their crops.

For more information about pesticides and other crop treatments, visit

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