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.

Modern turkeys twice the size of turkeys from 80 years ago


A wild turkey roams a field in California (Don McCullough/Flickr)
A wild turkey roams a field in California (Don McCullough/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 27, 2014

Turkey has been a staple of Thanksgiving dinners for generations but the bird’s evolution over the past century or so has been particularly interesting.

Turkeys raised and served these days are more than twice as large as they were in the 1930s. Many of the reasons for the increase in the size of these fowls is directly related to the turkey farming industry. Beginning in the 1950s turkey farmers began selectively breeding birds for both size and speed of growth to accommodate for increased demand of turkey meat. With some male turkeys weighing as much as 50 pounds they became unable to impregnate their female mates and today nearly all turkeys are bred through artificial insemination.

There is debate much about whether these selectively-bred turkeys are considered genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While most scientists would not classify turkeys as GMOs, some conventionally-raised turkeys are fed GMO corn. Since turkeys are being fed in close quarters with modern farm operations, the birds are given lower doses of antibiotics to protect against infection. This change in antibiotic dosages has caused violence among turkeys and has even lead instances of cannibalism.

Farm-raised turkeys also suffer from various health complications ranging from foot and leg deformities to premature heart attacks because of their larger bodies. Wild turkeys, which are generally slimmer and more mobile than their farm-raised counterparts, are able to reach speeds of 25 miles per hour on the ground and up to 55 miles per hour in the air. Selective breeding practices have caused this evolutionary rift between farm-raised and wild turkeys.

Minnesota leads the nation in turkey production with approximately 49 million birds each year. Iowa ranks ninth nationally with 11 million turkeys annually.

Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom talks environment, agriculture

Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom presented for the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition on Lecture Series at the Iowa Memorial Union on Thursday, November 20. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom presented for the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition Lecture Series at the Iowa Memorial Union on Thursday, November 20. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | November 21, 2014

Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom discussed environmental issues affecting Iowans as part of the montly University of Iowa Environmental Coalition Lecture Series Thurday night in the Iowa Memorial Union.

Bolkcom – who also serves as the Outreach and Community Education Director for the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research as well as the Iowa Flood Center – highlighted issues that farmers face with climate change in a state where agriculture drives the local economy.

“Keeping soil where it is is one of our top, if not our top challenge economically, water quality wise, and to address climate,” Bolkcom said.

By “keeping our soil” he is referred to runoff of topsoil which has been exacerbated by extreme weather events. Topsoil runoff and poor fertilizer application practices has also lead to increased pollution in Iowa waterways.

“The challenge for Iowa is we haven’t had the resources and when we have had the resources, we’ve not made the investments,” he said “If you want ag producers to do more conservation we have to come up with some more resources.”

Bolkcom said the state appropriated $4 million this year for resources to address topsoil runoff though more money will likely be necessary to fully correct the issue. He said the state legislature recently changed the state constitution so that next time there is a sale tax increase, three-eighths of a cent would go toward a fund to address environmental issues. Roughly 70 percent of Iowans expressed support for this environmental protection fund which is expected to generate about $150 million per year. Even though the state has not yet raised the three-eighths of a cent, Bolkcom said it would be a “game-changing investment.”

“It would create a bunch of jobs and it would start the work of cleaning up Iowa’s rivers, lakes, [and] streams,” he said. “It would start the work of putting together the kind of infrastructure on farms that we need because it’s going to take 10 or 20 years and our work’s never done.”

In addition to environmental issues affecting farmers, Bolkcom also discussed renewable energy.

“On the mitigation side its about trying to think about ways to produce energy more efficiently and in environmentally sound ways,” he said.

The wind energy industry is strong in Iowa and there has been a recent increase in solar energy as well. However Bolkcom said more can be done to embrace solar energy in the Hawkeye State.

“We’re kind of behind a number of other states. We’re behind a bunch of other countries in terms of the implementation of more solar technology,” he said.

Currently there are tax credits available at both the state and federal level to help businesses and individuals subsidize the cost for installing solar panels. The federal tax credit covers 30 percent of the cost while the state credit is 15 percent. However the federal credit is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016. Bolkcom said at this point its unclear whether the federal credit will be extended beyond 2016 which also leaves the future of the state-level credit uncertain.

“It’s not clear. Will the federal credits be extended? Don’t know. Can Iowa extend its credit in the absence of a federal credit? Yes, it would just be worth less money if it’s just Iowa’s credit but it might still be worth doing” he said, adding that this past year funding was boosted by $3 million.

Bolkcom concluded his lecture by returning to the topic of climate change. He said further focus on and acceptance of the effects of climate change are crucial for the future of Iowa.

“We’ve had this kind of debate where 50 percent of the time is for the 98 scientists that say we’ve got a big problem on our hands and 50 percent of the time to the two scientists that say no we don’t. So I’m fatigued by that and it’s time to move on.”

For more information about Thursday night’s lecture check out The Daily Iowan.

14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference coming to Iowa City

The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held Nov. 16 and 17 on the University of Iowa campus. (Photo courtesy UI Office of Sustainability)
The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held Nov. 16 and 17 on the University of Iowa campus. (Photo courtesy UI Office of Sustainability)

Nick Fetty | November 14, 2014

The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will take place November 16 and 17 at the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus.

The conference’s keynote speaker is Mary Berry who is the daughter of Wendell Berry, an American cultural critic, environmental activist, farmer, novelist, and poet. Ms. Berry is the executive director of the Berry Center, an agriculture-focused foundation based in New Castle, Kentucky.

The event will begin with a reception featuring locally and organically grown food and drink beginning at 6 p.m. on Sunday, November 16. Following the reception will be a screening of the movie Fresh which looks at local and organic food markets in the U.S. Sunday night will conclude with a concert by The Slow Draws Band.

The conference will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, November 17 with breakfast. At 8:30 a.m. Ms. Berry will give her presentation, “Rekindling the Light Within: The Art and Science of Organic Farming.” The rest of the day will consist of “breakout sessions” which will include presentations from United States Department of Agriculture representatives, Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg, and others. Lunch will feature a gourmet meal by award-winning UI Executive Chef Barry Greenberg consisting of locally and organically grown produce, meat, and dairy products.

Officials from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the ISU Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the UI Office of Sustainability worked together to organize this year’s event.

Cost of attendance is $115 ($35 for students) for anyone who has not already preregistered. For more information visit the UI Office of Sustainability website or contact Kathleen Delate at

Photos + Video: Iowa Climate Statement 2014

The 4th annual Iowa Climate Statement, signed by 180 researchers and scientists from 38 colleges and universities across the state, was released last month during a press conference at the state capitol. The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans examines public health risks associated with climate change. Video from the event is now available below, along with photos (above). Please feel free to share the video using the share buttons attached.

Climate and health experts discuss effects of climate change on Iowans

Nick Fetty | November 4, 2014

The 2014 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum took place on the University of Iowa Oakdale Campus in Coralville on Friday, October 31. The 2nd annual event was attended by approximately 50 climate and health experts from across the state.

Chris Anderson – Assistant Director Climate Science Program at Iowa State University – was the first to present at Friday’s event as he discussed the impact of climate change in Iowa.

“Climate change in Iowa is different from climate change on TV,” he said.

One example of this is the frequency of spring and summer rainfall combinations. There were approximately seven instances of spring and summer rainfall combinations between 1893 and 1980 compared to five instances between 2008 and 2014.

Mary Spokec – research geologist and program coordinator for IOWATER – along with David Osterberg – Associate Clinical Professor of Environmental Policy in the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health  – took the stage next to discuss water quality issues related to climate change. They said part of the reason for toxic algal blooms which can lead to water contamination is because there are no national standards for algal cyanotoxins.

This issue can be particularly problematic in Iowa other agricultural states where nitrogen and phosphorus can runoff of fields and into waterways which exacerbates the growth of hazardous algal blooms such as blue green algae. Extreme weather associated with climate change has also affected these algal growths. According to weekly monitoring of 38 state-owned beaches, there were 46 water quality advisories during 2013 and 2014 compared to seven in 2011 and two in 2010.

Peter Thorne – head of the UI’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health – presented next about climate-induced air quality issues affecting Iowans. Molds such as Aspergillus and Penicillium can grow on damp wood in houses and other structures that sustain flood damage. This can lead to a range of pulmonary conditions including mold allergies, asthma, inflammation of mucous membranes, Katrina cough, and Alveolitis. Climate change has also been attributed to more extreme weather events such as heavy rain falls which can lead to flooding.

Increased carbon dioxide levels, hotter temperatures, and a longer growing season (each of which can at least partially be attributed to climate change) is causing poison ivy plants to be more potent. Other allergenic plants have also seen increases in potency as well as an expanded range because conditions attributed to climate change.

Yogesh Shah – Associate Dean of Global Health at Des Moines University – discussed how has climate change has effected disease-carrying insect populations.

“This is the most deadly animal around,” Shah said of mosquitoes, adding that the disease-carrying insects have killed more humans than all other animals combined.

Approximately 600,000 deaths occur each year because of mosquitoes and reported cases of malaria are the greatest they’ve been since 1971. A relatively unheard of disease known as Chikungunya is on the rise, particularly in areas of Africa, India, China, and other parts of southeast Asia. Around 750,000 cases of Chikungunya have been reported in Caribbean and some cases have moved as far north into Florida and other parts of the U.S.

Two cases of Chikungunya has been reported in Iowa by people who contracted the disease while traveling. West Nile Virus is also carried by mosquitoes and in 2002 there were cases of either human or non-human WNV reported in every county in Iowa. Warmer temperatures and a longer growing season have also led to greater numbers of longer-living mosquitoes.

Peter Thorne concluded the morning session by discussing mental health affects caused by increased heat and particularly warmer nighttime temperatures. The group then broke for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon participating in a public health tracking portal presented by  environmental epidemiologists Tim Wickam and Rob Walker from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Many of the public health and environmental issues discussed at Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum were included in the Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans.

On the Radio: Tool helps livestock farmers handle environmental challenges

A group of cattle graze in an Iowa field. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
A group of cattle grazes in an Iowa field. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
November 3, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a website that’s helping Iowa farmers tackle environmental challenges on the farm. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: AM-PAT

An Iowa State University Extension and Outreach website provides livestock producers with the tools to better handle environmental challenges on the farm.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Air Management Practices Assessment Tool – or AM-PAT – aims to assist livestock farmers with mitigation practices to better deal with the odor, exhaust and dust associated with livestock and poultry operations.

Users can view and print off color-coded graphs and fact sheets to gauge pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, dust, odor, volatile organic compounds, and greenhouse gases and how they affect various aspects of livestock operations. The website also calculates the relative cost for the various practices.

AM-PAT is a collaboration between the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with funding provided by the National Pork Board.

For more information about AM-PAT and other resources, visit

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