Climate change forces corn farmers to adapt

Corn is doing fine now, but may be in trouble in the near future (/img)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 18th, 2018

The recently released U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment projects warmer winters, longer periods of pest infestations, and droughts. These environmental changes will inevitably make farming difficult, and will likely lower corn, soybean, and wheat yields.

Despite these scary projections, corn farmers in the Midwest are currently adjusting their planting practices to suit the changing weather patterns, something that has actually been increasing yields. Stalks are being planted closer together, a practice that helps the soil beneath hold more water. Summer heat causes transpiration, where plants pull water up from the soil through their stalks and release it through stomata–small pores in their leaves. This process works much like sweating, and cools down the weather enough to keep hot summer days bearable, creating an ideal atmosphere for more yields.

This benefit may only be temporary, however–as the effects climate change amps up, corn loses some of its natural resilience.

The ancient grain has proved especially responsive to development and research that’s helped breed resistance to pests and temperature changes, lending farmers a level of control over planting and harvest times that their ancestors would have never benefitted from. Despite the incredible resilience of corn, there are still looming issues that threaten to make corn yields take a nose dive.

Weather that peaks too high or brings too early a frost can greatly damage harvests. These unpredictable weather patterns may become too difficult for farmers to combat, and the current temporary boon in crop harvests may eventually slow down.


Climate change and our water supply

Increased rainfall and irregular weather patterns could impact our water supply (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 12, 2018

Environmental changes have had a direct impact on the quality of our water supply. As droughts change the amount of usable water in many parts of the world, other places are dealing with water pollution that threatens to permanently impact our freshwater supply.

Increased sediment and contaminants caused by heavier rains are part of the problem, as these deposits can cloud water, encourage the growth of harmful bacteria, and make freshwater less safe to drink, overworking water treatment plants. This kind of sediment and containment clouding is referred to as “turbidity”.

Droughts and a projected decrease in precipitation is another issue, and countries at risk of water shortages are expected to increase from 10% to over 30% in 2050.

As agriculture expands, so does the demand for water; in the United States, irrigation accounts for over 80% of consumptive water usage, consumptive indicating that the water used is likely not returned to its original source.

The best way to combat water pollution and dwindling water resources is to adapt more environmentally friendly irrigation practices and utilize methods to improve the stability of ground soil, so that contaminants are not washed into bodies of water during storms.

Changing weather could affect Iowa crops

Corn yields could fall as the Midwestern climate becomes more extreme (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 5th, 2018

A recently released Fourth National Climate Statement touched on the various environmental threats we currently face. The Midwest, as a major producer of food for the rest of the country, faces some serious threats to its window of crop planting. Predicted for the future are summer droughts and heavy spring rain, rendering the soil in the Midwest unhealthy and significantly narrowing the planting window. Corn production could drop about 25% by mid-century, a huge concern for rural farmers whose income is inexplicably tied to their crops and yield.

Some side effects of climate change can benefit farmers, leading to warmer winters and a later frost. But the tides are gradually changing, and the slowly increasing number of storms and flooding will likely end up drowning a good amount of crops, not helping them grow.

As the pressure from these extreme weather patterns mounts, farmers in Iowa find themselves in a position of forced adaptation, using terraces, cover crops, and no-till methods to work with Mother Nature and continue growing as many crops as they can.


Shielded truth: the National Climate Assessment

2009 Wildfire in Yosemite National Park
Heat spikes and wildfires are just some of the threats to our globe (/img)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 28th, 2018

The National Climate Assessment, released every few years, is typically not made public on one of America’s busiest shopping days.

And yet that’s precisely what happened over this holiday season.

Sparked by the Global Change Research Act in 1990, these assessments help track environmental changes in the US on a regular bases, providing Congress and the Administration with a clear idea of the threats our planet currently continues to be under.

This year, the assessment–a full 29 chapters–covers everything from the gradually increasing global temperatures to the forest fires devastating California.

A lot of facts presented in this report, all peer-reviewed and carefully collected, seem to contradict much of rhetoric coming out of the current Administration. And that’s very much why the assessment, which must, by law, be released, was forced to make its notes public on one of the few days where most of America would be turned towards shopping sites and mall sales.

There are decades of research backing up claims of climate change and global warming. The Earth is, on average, a temperature or two hotter, a tiny change that’s had a monstrous effect on local and global weather patterns.

Knowledge is our greatest weapon, and burying the truth under Black Friday deals is not going to help us win the battle against environmental damage.

The Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has always tried to provide factual and useful information about the environment to the residents of Iowa with the Iowa Climate Statement.

Read the statement

Watch the video

The benefits of sustainable irrigation

Increased irrigation could help feed billions globally (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 14th, 2018

Irrigation, a controlled method of watering crops using pipes, canels, and other systems, has long been used to boost harvests and food production. But irrigating crops is an expensive process, and a lack of fresh water and weaker, underfunded infrastructure makes this method often inaccessible to many less developed regions.

Lorenzo Rosa from the University of California, Berkeley is determined to make a case for increased irrigation globally. By biophysically examining cropland across several nations and determining the water consumption of these areas, they were able to deduce that global irrigation could increase by 48%, as there is enough freshwater to contribute an additional 408 cubic km of water per year to different croplands.

Many crops globally are rain-fed, and relying only on rain can be shaky at best. Lorenzo’s team estimates that by increasing global irrigation, the extra water could help grow enough crops to feed an additional 2.8 billion people–and that is certainly a cause worth pressing.

Clothing’s role in sustainability and the environment

We need sustainable business models for fashion now more than ever (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 13th, 2018

Cheap, mass-produced clothing is an absolutely booming industry, with many significant players in the fast fashion business raking in millions every year. But clothing comes at a cost, and as more brands are making moves towards a sustainable market, these costs become more glaringly obvious.

Fashion produces a lot of waste. About 10% of global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry, and tons of microfibers are released into oceans and other water sources every year from washing clothing made with plastic or otherwise synthetic fibers.

The textile workers that create fast and cheap clothing are almost always underpaid, and frequently work in dangerous conditions.

There are some movements towards more sustainable business models for clothing producers. Everlane’s ReNew, a recently launched clothing line, creates fashionable streetwear, coats, and jackets from recycled plastic. But there’s still a considerable way to go before most companies reach this level of sustainability.

Many sustainable brands are expensive and often inaccessible to many individuals who want to help the environment, but cannot afford anything luxury. For those that wish to do their part in reducing the waste the fashion industry can produce, buying second-hand from consignment or resale shops has always been a great option.