Iowa farmers plant half season’s corn in a week


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 18, 2022

After several delays during the typical planting season, Iowa farmers planted 43 percent of their corn crop last week.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the corn planting is still nine days behind, but it is quickly catching up to where it has been in previous years. Statewide, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the planting percentage jumped from 14 to 57 in a matter of days. The large strides are because of an improvement in the weather. Warmer temperatures have heated the soil to where it usually is during Iowa summers, allowing for more viable seeds to be planted. Corn plants need soil to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mike Naig, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said in a press release that the progress farmers are making is significant. It is expected that the nearly 13 million acres of corn crop usually planted in Iowa will be in the ground by Friday, May 20.

“As we look ahead, weather outlooks show promise in keeping planters rolling and farmers busy in the fields,” he said.

Soybean planting was also up over the course of the week, jumping from 7 percent to nearly 33. The crop still remains roughly a week behind the five-year average in the state.

Biden administration to speed up environmental permits for infrastructure project approvals


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 16, 2022

The Biden-Harris administration vowed to speed up the construction of bridges, roads, and wind farms last week. Officials said they are looking to make permit approval easier without jeopardizing the necessary environmental standards for such projects.

The administration announced the goal during a press call on May 10. The new permitting plan officials are proposing would consolidate decision making to reduce the number of federal permits necessary to break ground. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory also said the new system would establish stronger timelines and tracking for projects while engaging in “meaningful outreach and communication” with states, tribes and local governments before a project begins. Mallory said a goal of the adaption is to use existing agencies’ resources to prioritize permit reviews and approvals.

Samantha Silverberg, White House deputy infrastructure implementation coordinator, said the switch will encourage states, tribes, cities, and private companies to work on new infrastructure projects using the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law which passed in 2021. Permitting delays tend to deter projects in various communities across the U.S.

The administration said alterations in permitting from the federal government will not sacrifice any environmental standards. Jason Miller, the deputy director for management for the Office of Management and Budget, said the plan can and will speed up permitting without costing the environment.

“This plan explicitly rejects the tired view that there’s an inherent tradeoff between permitting efficiency — doing permitting in a timely and predictable manner — with permitting effectively, ensuring the best outcomes for the community and the environment,” he said.

Iowa’s prime corn yields likely gone


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 11, 2022

Iowa State University agronomist Mark Licht says Iowa corn farmers are unlikely to see high yields this planting season.

Cold and rainy temperatures delayed planting in the spring months in 2022. As farmers look to finish up planting, Licht told Iowa Capital Dispatch the next few months are expected to be drier than normal. The two challenges present a likelihood that crop yields of Iowa corn will be low this year compared to recent seasons.

“I don’t mean that we can’t still have above-trend-line yields, I just don’t think that we’re going to see the record-breaking yields that we’ve seen in the last couple years,” he said. “I think we’ve maybe taken the top end off of it. How much is yet to be determined.”

At the beginning of the second week of May, Iowa farmers were two weeks behind the average planting schedule to the past five years. It was the slowest planting pace in nearly a decade. Only 14 percent of seed corn was in the ground on Sunday, as April weather made it particularly difficult to plant potentially successful seedlings. Research on corn yield from Iowa State University shows the most successful corn crops are planted before middle May.

Iowa farms have three weeks left in the planting season before yields get considerably lower in June.

EPA creates waiver for E15 fuel sale in in May


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 6, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a fuel waiver last week allowing heightened levels of ethanol in gasoline to be sold later into the summer.

The waiver is an attempt by the Biden-Harris administration to lower fuel prices as they continue to increase. The waiver allows gas stations to sell cheaper blends with 15 percent ethanol, also known as E15 fuel, to address the fuel supply gaps created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The waiver only extends until May 20, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, but the EPA can extend the waiver if they see fit.

The waiver affects a small percentage of gas stations across the country that sell corn-based ethanol fuel. Only 2,300 gas stations nationwide offer a 15 percent ethanol blend, compared to the more than 140,000 gas stations across the U.S.

During a stop in Iowa in April, President Joe Biden said the waiver would continue into the summer. There are not any current projections as to when the waiver would be extended nor for how long. Iowa’s delegation in Washington D.C. have pushed for year-round use of E15. Currently, the fuel cannot be sold from June to September because of air pollution concerns.

Spring corn planting slowed by low soil temperatures


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 4, 2022

As farmers prepare to plant their corn crop this spring they are running into some issues because of low soil temperatures.

Following cold and wet weather in Iowa, the state’s corn planting season has been significantly delayed. The pushing back of planting shortens the optimal yield window for the year. Only 9 percent of Iowa’s corn crop has been planted according to a May 2 Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The average by this time of year is 42 percent of the crop.

State Climatologist Justin Glisan told Iowa Capital Dispatch early planting this year was first stalled in April because of low temperatures five degrees below average. He said 2022 had one of Iowa’s top 15 coldest winters.

Soil temperatures need to be at least 50 degrees to plant corn seed that is likely to sprout. Soil temps have mainly stayed in the 40s this spring. The lack of planted crops will impact supply moving forward this year.

Large spending increase for tribal, climate programs expected from U.S. Interior secretary


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 29, 2022

The U.S. Interior Department is planning to ask the House of Representative to increase funding to a tribal programs and climate resiliency efforts this week.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will ask the spending panel to increase the fiscal 2023 budget for the department to set ambitious but achievable goals, according to written testimony for the budget request.

““Working together, we have the opportunity to invest now to strengthen our Nation for all Americans, protect our environment, and ensure our future generations continue to not only enjoy, but improve our way of life,” Haaland wrote in the testimony.

The current proposed request would increase spending on Indian Affairs programs by almost 25 percent. The sum would become $4.5 billion and would focus on sovereignty and equity opportunities for tribes across the country. The funding would also spend billions on delivering safe, clean water to tribe. The request will come in tandem with an increase in funds for the transition to renewable energy usage in the U.S. The department wants $1.4 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water projects to help with worsening droughts and $1.2 billion for wildfire management, among other spending. The administration asked for a total $61 million for tribal climate resilience programs.

New study finds cacti face a greater extinction risk by 2050


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 22, 2022

As the planet grows warmer, 60 percent of cactus species are at a greater risk of extinction by 2050.

While the earth gets hotter and drier, a new study found cacti are set to be in more danger than they already are. Poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-caused threats to the plants already make them one of the world’s most endangered organisms, according to The New York Times. Cacti thrive in a variety of environments, including rainforests and high altitudes, not just deserts. The study looked at a quarter of known cactus species and found many of types could experience significant declines in the land that is hospitable for them if the planet continues to warm up as it has in recent history.

The study, however, does not account for any extreme events. No wildfires or droughts were factored in based on where certain species are typically found. Researchers touted the new research as “pivotal” for showing what cacti could look like in the near and far future.

Biden administration restores infrastructure regulations requiring rigorous environmental review


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 21, 2022

President Joe Biden and his administration restored federal regulations that ensure rigorous environmental reviews of infrastructure projects on Tuesday. Pipeline, highway, and oil projects all must complete the reviews.

The Trump administration previous scaled back the regulations to fast-track projects and generate jobs. The National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Regulations Revisions were finalized this week and take effect in May. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory said restoring the community safeguards will reduce conflict and ensure projects are built properly the first time.

“Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby,” she said.

Environmental activists are touting the rule change, according to the Associated Press, for its restoration of previous regulations and keeping the environment healthy for the foreseeable future. Leslie Fields, the Sierra Club’s national director of policy, advocacy and legal affairs, said the restoration of clear runes plays a critical role in protecting the environment. Critics say the new regulations will slow down major infrastructure projects and the jobs associated with them.

Ottumwa company fined for discharge near water source


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 20, 2022

An Ottumwa company released thousands of gallons of wastewater into a rural area that led directly to underground tile lines that fed into a creek leading to the Des Moines River. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources fined the company $5,500 for the discharge.

The initial report to the DNR was made in July 2021 and the fluids were traced back to Ecosystems, Inc., in Ottumwa. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, 48,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater from Osceola was hauled to the area in semitrailer truckloads. While it is unclear how many gallons were released on the property, the wastewater went into South Avery Creek. The creek flows to the Des Moines River, which is a drinking water cite for more than 25,000 Iowans in Ottumwa.

The DNR’s investigation showed there was no known effect on the drinking water and there was no fish kill caused by the wastewater. The discharge was diluted by several inches of rain that fell before it was dumped. Such dumping is in violation with Iowa law and the company agreed to pay the fine.

Hundreds killed as flooding inflicts ‘untold havoc’ in South Africa


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Simone Garza | April 18, 2022

On April 13, nearly two feet of rain from a sluggishly severe thunderstorm killed about 400 people in South Africa. The storm started on April 9 and continued through April 12. 

A flash flood is an unexpected local flood caused by large amounts of rain. Floods can also heighten the transfer rate of waterborne infections, like hepatitis A, dengue fever, and West Nile fever. Flash floods can destroy crops, minimize livestock, and carry pollutants. 

The Province of KwaZulu-Natal reported over 240 schools were affected by the flood. Officials said more than 6,000 shacks and houses were either damaged or destroyed.The excessive amount of rainfall caused large amounts of mud, debris, and trees to collapse into sensitive communities. With over 900 cell phone towers down, communication within this district was challenging.

Although the rainfall has finished, residents that live in ground level regions have been encouraged to relocate to elevated areas due to the potential risk of rivers increasing. 

AccuWeather Lead International Forecaster Jason Nicholls, said the erratic rainfall accumulated a storm close to the southeastern coast of South Africa. Forecasters do not see an optimistic outcome as the search of survivors continues. 

“Many of the same areas could have another round of heavy rain and flooding through this weekend,” Nicholls said. Although the rain is unlikely to pass levels of the previous system, Nicholls said the possibility of extra rain will be threatening due to unsteady ground.