Ag industry making progress on climate


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Photo via Flickr

Julia Poska| December 13, 2019

Politico report from last week offered insight into a confidential meeting on fighting climate change with agriculture six months prior. The meeting, hosted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance in Maryland, “represented a change” from farmers’ historic attitudes on climate, according to reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich.

The article explained that farmers have been long-resistant to discuss or adapt to climate change for several reasons, including the left-wing association of the issue (American rural communities are largely Conservative) and that farmers are often blamed for a number of environmental issues. But severe flooding and unyielding wet conditions this growing season, however, left a record number of American farmland unplanted in 2019, leading to huge financial losses for farmers. The article suggests that unfavorable weather in recent seasons may be raising farmers’ alarm.

At the June meeting, government, business and non-profit leaders in ag spoke and listened, brainstorming and sharing solutions. The host organization premiered a 5-minute video on the topic, released on Youtubein August, titled “30 Harvests” to represent the amount of time remaining to make transformative change in the industry.

The article referenced a number of farm industry climate action examples from around the country, including a climate-smart agriculture meeting at Iowa State University last month. Bottemiller Evich interviewed several Iowa farmers as well, including Ray Gaesser of Corning, who advocates for both his conservative political beliefs and sequestering carbon through row crop farming.

“Everybody I talk to, including farmers, they say ‘yeah we need to talk about this,” Gaesser told Politico. “We need to find ways to adapt to what’s going on. We’re seeing things we’re not used to seeing.”

Researchers call for "peak meat" to limit emissions by 2030


Tyler Chalfant | December 12th, 2019

A group of scientists has called on governments to “declare a timeframe for peak livestock,” expressing the need for global meat production to stabilize or decline by 2030 in order to reduce global carbon emissions. Raising livestock accounts for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 80% of agricultural land use while only making up 18% of food calories.

Production of meat, milk, and eggs have continued to grow along with the world population since the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published in 1990. If current trends were to continue, livestock would account for almost half of the global emissions goals set for 2030. 

In addition to reducing the methane produced by cattle and other large livestock, the researchers also say that cutting back on meat and dairy in diets would free up land to restore forests, which are the best option for naturally removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The letter to the Lancet Planetary Health journal focuses its recommendations on wealthier nations, acknowledging that priorities must be different in developing countries where undernourishment is prevalent. For the United States, and especially Iowa, one of the country’s leading livestock producers, peak livestock will likely mean balancing economic incentives against environmental concerns.

Amb. Kenneth M. Quinn to retire as World Food Prize President as new year begins


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Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn sits on the right at a World Food Prize event (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 11, 2019

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn brought nutrition and peace to Southeast Asian communities, ending a genocide and serving as Ambassador to Cambodia,  before taking the helm of the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines 20 years ago.

He will retire from that position Jan. 3 after decades spent encouraging social and environmental change for the sake of food security.

“What at first seemed an impossible quest, to have the World Food Prize come to be seen as the ‘Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture,’ has over the last twenty years become a dream come true,” Quinn said in a press release about his retirement.

The World Food Prize honors the vision of Iowan Nobel Peace Prize recipient Norman Borlaug by annually recognizing outstanding achievements in promoting global food security with a $250,000 prize. Borlaug is credited with starting the midcentury “Green Revolution” with a genetically enhanced wheat variety that reportedly saved one billion lives.

As president of the foundation, Quinn promoted  global food security, Borlaug’s vision and the state of Iowa, expanding the reach of the prize, associated ceremony and symposium and WFP education programs around the globe, reaching tens of thousands of people.

He will be replaced by Barbara Stinson, a co-founder and Senior Partner of the non-profit Meridian Institute, which aims to address complex global problems through action and collaboration. A press release on her appointment said that in her over 30 years of environmental public policy experience, she has successfully worked on campaigns to address food safety and climate change’s impact on food production.

 

Rise in natural gas drives increase in global carbon emissions


Tyler Chalfant | December 10th, 2019

As representatives from nearly 200 countries meet to discuss limiting greenhouse gas emissions, a study released last week shows that global fossil emissions have risen for a third year in a row. This rise is largely due to an increase in the use of natural gas that has outpaced the decline of other fossil fuels, including coal.

The growth in emissions largely comes from China and India. While emissions in North American and European countries are gradually declining, these countries still consume 5 to 20 times as much oil per capita as China and India. Therefore, as car ownership and air travel in Asia increase, global oil consumption is expected to rise.

This prediction is part of a larger trend. Natural gas, often viewed as a cleaner “bridge fuel” used to replace coal and other fossil fuels, as well as renewables, are being used to provide new energy to new consumers, not just replacing other fossil fuels. Natural gas is the fastest-growing fossil fuel globally, but has been presented by energy companies as a long-term solution. 

As coal has declined in recent years, the U.S is projected to see a 3.5% rise in natural gas use in 2019. The University of Iowa has increased natural gas use, rising 61% between 2014 and 2018, as the primary means of displacing coal in its power plant. When University President Bruce Harreld declared a climate crisis on Monday, he said that the university wants to substitute natural gas as well and move towards biomass.

Because of these trends in oil and natural gas use make it likely that we will see another increase in carbon emissions in 2020. One major obstacle to meeting the goal of a 2 degrees Celsius increase limit, set in the Paris Climate Agreement, is establishing international carbon markets, an issue that could be decided in Madrid this week. 

As flood risk increases, FEMA pushes updates on southwest Iowa levees


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Levees hold back floodwaters from developed areas (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 6, 2019

FEMA will “de-accredit” 94.5 miles of levees in southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri unless owners make updates that ensure protection within new 100-year flood boundaries, the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday.

The levees protect parts of Pottawattamie, Mills and Fremont counties, which experienced historic flooding this spring.

Affected communities have historically been located in FEMA’s 500-year floodplain, giving them a 0.2% chance of flooding in a given year (NOT flooding once in 500 years, as is a common misconception). Flood recurrence is calculated from historic averages, and increasing flood frequency due to climate change now puts those areas within the 100-year flood plain, making flood risk 5 times higher.

The floodplain updates take effect in the spring but levee owners have a few years to make updates before official losing accreditation. The Register reports, “It’s estimated that work to meet FEMA’s standards could cost upwards of $1 million per mile of levee,” a steep price for an area still recovering from the last round of floods.

The Register reported that nearly 1,500 home and business owners would need to purchase flood insurance in the spring the levees don’t receive updates. In such a high-risk area, insurance would become mandatory, and rates in some areas could increase 2600%, according to the Register. 

 

Federal judge blocks enforcement of Iowa "ag gag" law


Photo by Jonathan Padish

Tyler Chalfant | December 5th, 2019

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Monday blocking enforcement of an Iowa law that would prevent whistleblowers or undercover activists or journalists from investigating livestock facilities, puppy mills, or meatpacking plants. The law makes it a trespassing crime to get into an agricultural facility under false pretenses with the intent of causing financial or physical damage.

Critics refer to it as an “ag gag” law, and claim that any news coverage of “bad practices” will inevitably damage a business’s reputation and cause financial harm. Governor Kim Reynolds argued that the law helps “further the safety and security of our farmers” by preventing unapproved items or people from entering farms.

Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said that the law threatens “animals, food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment.” The Animal Legal Defense Fund was one of several groups that joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa in challenging the law.

The law was passed in March after a similar law was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional on first amendment grounds. The state is currently appealing that decision. 

The new law is also similar to an Idaho law that partially survived a constitutional challenge last year. The court ruled that audio and visual recording of agricultural operations could not be banned, but upheld two provisions against using misrepresentation to obtain records or employment with the goal of causing harm.

Gov. Reynolds supports biofuel industry with Tuesday exec. order


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A bus displays that it runs on biodiesel (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 4, 2019

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order declaring that future diesel engine vehicles purchased by the state must be able to use 20% biodiesel Tuesday at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting.

The Iowa Department of Transportation fleet has already been using B20 biodiesel since 1994, a press release  said. While the order may not drastically change Iowa’s existing vehicle purchase tendencies, it is a gesture of support to an industry long dissatisfied with federal biofuel policies.

Iowa farmers and others have for months expressed displeasure with the Trump administration’s repeated Renewable Fuel Standard exemptions to oil refineries. The exemptions undercut what would otherwise be guaranteed demand for biofuel, and several failed ethanol plants have blamed the exemptions for their closure.

Environmentalists and other stakeholders argue about the environmental benefits of ethanol and biodiesel. The fuels reduce fossil fuel use and emissions but are produced through resource-intensive agriculture, which expends almost as much energy as the fuels store.

The fuels are pivotal to Iowa’s economy regardless. A Des Moines Register article about the executive order said Iowa is the nation’s biggest ethanol and biodiesel producer.