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.

Study: Iowa ranks 3rd in nation for honeybee die-off rates


(BeeInformed.org)
(BeeInformed.org)

Nick Fetty | May 28, 2015

Iowa ranks third in the nation for the rate of honeybee dying off according to a report by researchers from 10 different institutions.

The report found 61.4 percent of honeybees in Iowa died between 2014 and 2015. Oklahoma led the nation with a 63.4 percent die-off rate while Illinois was in second at 62.4 percent. The research was a collaboration of the Bee Informed Partnership, the Apiary Inspectors of America, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The study received valid responses from 6,128 beekeepers who managed 398,247 colonies in October 2014. This accounts for just 14.5 percent of the country’s estimated 2.74 million managed honey bee colonies. Approximately two-thirds (67.2 percent) of respondents reported winter colony loss rates greater than the average rate of 18.7 percent.

“What we’re seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there’s some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems,” study co-author Keith Delaplane (University of Georgia) said in an interview with The Guardian. “We just happen to notice it with the honeybee because they are so easy to count.”

The results from this report are preliminary and the researchers expect these rates to fluctuate. A more detailed report is being prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed journal at a later date. Funding for the research was provided by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Earlier this year researchers at Iowa State University were awarded a three-year, $103,626 grant “to better understand how agricultural landscape diversity and approaches to pest management impact the health of native bees and other pollinators.”

On the Radio: Bird flu leading to cleanup concerns


(Kusabi / Flickr)
(Kusabi / Flickr)
May 18, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at environmental concerns brought on by the massive bird flu cleanup across the state. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Bird flu cleanup

The recent bird flu outbreak is raising environmental questions about disposing of millions of dead birds.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Avian influenza has hit Iowa harder than any other state, with almost 25 million chickens and turkeys affected so far. The disease is known to claim a bird’s life within hours of showing symptoms, and is extremely pathogenic. The only way to stop the spread of the disease is to euthanize entire flocks, using a foam application that asphyxiates the birds.

This mass euthanization is leading to a disposal crisis in affected counties. While composting the dead birds is the quickest option, the process may pose risk for local health and water quality. The USDA has deployed hundreds of bio-bags capable of killing the virus until the birds can be moved to sanitary landfills, but concerns from nearby farmers have prevented movement of the birds so far. The only remaining option may be incineration.

For continued updates on the Iowa bird flu outbreak, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.agrinews.com/news/minnesota_news/bird-flu-shows-no-signs-of-abating/article_424c056f-7a0e-539f-a1e8-43edb1df49fc.html

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-23/bird-flu-scourge-means-two-month-cleanup-for-u-s-turkey-victims