Pioneer of Sustainable Aquatic Foods Wins Des Moines-based World Food Prize


Via Finn Thilsted

Elizabeth Miglin May 13, 2021

Researcher Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted became the first woman of Asian heritage to win the $250,000 World Food Prize on Tuesday. Her research established the nutritional importance of commonly found fish and has improved the diets, health, and sustainable farming practices of millions across the Global South according to the Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and United Nations Nutrition Chairwoman Naoko Yamamoto were all present at the virtual announcement. “As our global population grows, we will need diverse sources of low-emission, high-nutrition foods like aquaculture,” said Secretary Vilsack. “It is going to be crucial in feeding the world while reducing our impact on the climate…”  

Thilsted’s work resulted in breakthroughs in raising nutrient-rich small fish in an inexpensive and local way. By farming small and large fish species together in rice fields, fish consumption and production was able to be increased by as much as five times. This approach has helped Bangladesh become the fifth-largest aquaculture producer in the world and has supported 18 million people according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Her findings are helping lead the United Nations’ work to build equitable and sustainable food systems in order to address food security and nutrition. 

The Majority of Iowa is Experiencing Abnormal Dryness


Josie Taylor | May 3, 2021

According to the Iowa drought monitor, 74.5 percent of Iowa is abnormally dry, with extreme drought conditions in northwest Iowa. Last week only 40.8 percent was in drought. Iowa is expected to be in a drought until the early part of crop season, but possibly longer. 

State climatologist Justin Glisan clarified in an interview that the majority of Iowa is not in what is classified as a drought, but it is something to keep an eye out for this summer. 

This drought is vastly different than last year, which had flooding and storms. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said that he has visited farms that are still recovering from heavy flooding from two years ago, and are now being affected by dryness. Much of Iowa is still recovering from last summer’s derecho as well. 

Glisan also warned that if moisture levels don’t improve, “we could see some physiological issues with corn and soybeans”. Iowa farmers continue to suffer during the crop season, and current predictions show northwest Iowa may not get the rain they need soon. 

ISU Poll Suggests Few Farmers Agree With Scientists That Climate Change is Mostly Caused By Humans


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 27th, 2021

In a 2020 poll conducted at Iowa State University (ISU), only a small percentage of respondents agreed with a statement saying that climate change is caused mostly by human actions.

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll surveys what issues farmers in Iowa and the Midwest find important.  Of all respondents, only 18% agreed with the statement that “climate change is occurring, and it is caused mostly by human activities.” In comparison, 40% of respondents agreed with the statement that “Climate change is occurring, and it is caused more or less equally by natural changes in the environment and human activities” which is an increase from 36% in 2013.  While there appears to be a difference between farmer’s opinions and the scientific consensus that climate change is mostly caused by human activity, the increase in those who think that humans are potentially influencing the climate is promising for changes to public perception.

Participants also agreed more that extreme weather events will become more frequent, and that they are concerned about the ways climate change may influence their farms.  Particularly after severe storm events, like last August’s derecho, and after prolonged periods of drought that have affected much of Iowa, an increased concern about severe storms or the effects of climate change on farms is unsurprising.

Climate change is expected to have a negative effect on agriculture because of reduced rainfall totals, and the increased frequency of weather extremes (colder cold weather, and warmer warm weather). Farms and farmers will be able to adapt to climate change, but there is more that can be done, whether by planting cover crops to prevent soil erosion, or by planting crops that will help fix carbon in our soils.

Controversial Manure Management Plan Approved By Iowa DNR


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 6th, 2021

Supreme Beef, a cattle operation stationed in northeastern Iowa, has had their proposed Manure Management Plan (MMP) approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The approval comes after a long series of hearings for the MMP that has faced scrutiny for the risk the plan poses to some of Iowa’s cleanest waters.  In particular, critics emphasized how unlikely it was that the cattle operation would evenly spread manure in the proposed 30 mile radius and that over application on farms closer to the feedlots could potentially pollute surface and groundwaters in the area. 

Northeastern Iowa is particularly susceptible to groundwater pollution from runoff and infiltration because of the porous karst topography found in the area.  Environmentalists who opposed the plan focused on Bloody Run Creek, a popular spot for fishing tourism because of the brown trout that can be found there, as an example of a pristine water that could be harmed by the IDNR’s decision. If the Creek was harmed Iowan’s could lose out on fishing tourism and the loss of one of the few “high quality” waters present in the state.

The Iowa Environmental Council has spoken out against the IDNR’s decision to approve the plan in a statement that took aim at the preferential treatment agriculture receives over environmental concerns.  

Climate Change Could Lead to Six-Month Summers by the Year 2100


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | March 22, 2021

A new study found that summers in the Northern Hemisphere could last up to six months by the end of the 21st century if global warming continues at its current pace.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that climate change is causing summers to increase in length over time. Researchers analyzed daily climate data from 1952 to 2011 to find the start and end of each season, and they discovered that global warming caused summers to increase from 78 to 95 days over the 60-year period. They then used the data to create a model to predict the length of future seasons, according to an NBC News article.

Climate scientists found that if global warming continues at the current rate, summers will last for six months by 2100, while winters will only last for two. This shift would negatively impact a wide range of areas, including human health, the environment and agricultural production. Scott Sheridan, a climate scientist at Kent State University, warned that shifting seasons would impact many plants’ and animals’ life cycles.

“If seasons start changing, everything isn’t going to change perfectly in sync,” Sheridan said in a statement to NBC. “If we take an example of flowers coming out of the ground, those flowers could come out but bees aren’t there to pollinate yet or they’re already past their peak.”

Plants coming out of the ground earlier than normal could have serious implications for farmers who rely on a regular planting season. In fact, a “false spring” in March of 2014 caused peach and cherry crops to spring from the ground early, only to be destroyed when temperatures plummeted again in April. Events like this will become more common as climate change continues to alter Earth’s seasons, and they may force us to rethink our methods of food production in the near future.

Drought Conditions Likely To Continue Into Crop Season


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | March 9th, 2021

Experts are concerned that the drought conditions currently affecting Iowa are likely to continue into the coming crop season.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor approximately 11% of Iowa is experiencing drought conditions and most of the affected counties are in northwestern Iowa where dry conditions have persisted for most of the year.  There is hope that spring snowmelt could address some of the moisture deficit, particularly if the snow melts slowly which would allow the soil to absorb the water.  Experts believe that reliable spring rainfall could help make up for dry conditions, however, Iowa is predicted to have less spring precipitation than normal because of persistent La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

Northwestern Iowa has recently experienced tough conditions as two years of dry soils have followed the heavy flooding in the area back in 2019.  Drought conditions can induce stress in crops which may lead to damage and reduced yields for both soybeans and corn.  After a year of uncertain crop markets, another year of drought is likely bring added difficulty for Iowan farmers.

High Quality Waters At Risk From Proposed Manure Plan


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Thomas Robinson | March 2nd, 2021

A proposed plan for a manure application has come under scrutiny for the potential harm it could cause in some of Iowa’s high quality waters.

Supreme Beef, a cattle company in northeastern Iowa, has applied to spread cow manure in a 30 mile area around their operation near Monona IA.  Critics have warned that the plan may threaten water quality in the region, and pose a risk to the brown trout, a popular Iowa fishing attraction.  The plan proposed by Supreme Beef has been targeted for the likelihood for manure overapplication as well as a failure to include required conservation practices.

The area where manure would be spread is close to the headwaters of Bloody Run Creek, an area where brown trout reproduce, which presents a threat to water quality because of northeastern Iowa’s karst topography.  Karst topography is characterized by easy groundwater flow, which means that any manure seepage or contamination from the surface could easily influence the water quality of the region. Iowan’s in the area have needed to address similar issues previously, particularly for private well owners.

Currently the DNR is accepting written comments for the plan until March 8th before they will issue a decision for Supreme Beef’s manure application.

Iowa Business Interests Face Off Over Proposed Ethanol Mandate


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Thomas Robinson | February 16th, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed a new ethanol fuel mandate which would increase the sale of renewable fuels at Iowa gas stations and shift existing tax credits to support higher percentage renewable fuels.

The proposed rule, House Study Bill 185, would mandate that all gasoline sold in Iowa must include 10% ethanol and that all diesel fuel must include 5-11% biodiesel depending on the time of year.  Gas stations would also be allowed only one non-renewable pump, and, would also be required to install new equipment that could handle higher percentages of biofuels.  The potential equipment upgrade has pitted fuel business interests against the governor as the required upgrades could potentially cost up to $1 billion dollars.

Fuel interests in Iowa, like FUELIowa and the Iowa Motor Truck Association, warn that the proposal may increase consumer fuel costs and drive truckers to not purchase fuel in Iowa.  On the other side, biofuel interests, such as the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, favor the proposal as it is projected to increase biofuel grants by around $7 million per year.  Competing interests between these two groups over a vital Iowa industry suggests that there will be heated discussions when subcommittee hearings for the bill begin on Wednesday.

Iowa GOP Senators Move to Cut Tax Exemptions for Forest Reserves


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Nicole Welle | February 15, 2021

GOP members of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee voted last week to advance a bill that would reduce tax breaks for Iowa forest reserves.

Currently, landowners qualify for a 100% tax break on land made up of forests as small as two acres. The new bill would reduce the forest reserve tax break to 75% of the property value, require a minimum of 10 acres to qualify and place a five-year limit on exemptions. GOP senators who introduced the bill argued that it could prevent landowners from cheating the system, but Democrats criticized its timing as Iowa fights chronic water pollution and continues to recover from the derecho that destroyed 25% of the state’s trees last August, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids criticized Republicans for pushing a bill that could interfere with derecho recovery. Lawmakers have made little effort to help landowners recover, and increased taxes would only add to the burden of recovery costs, Hogg said. Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott also opposed the bill, saying that Iowa’s limited forest helps reduce water pollution and supports the state’s wood industry.

Iowa’s woodlands currently support a $4 billion forest industry. Because woodland owners have to wait until a tree is mature enough to cut it down, the tax breaks help alleviate the costs of growing and maintaining their trees in between harvests. Without the current exemption, some woodland owners could be forced to replace some of their trees with row crops. This crop conversion could accelerate soil erosion and increase water pollution in the state, according to the Des Moines Register.

If passed by the Senate, the bill’s language would require the Iowa DNR, rather than the agriculture department, to verify that land qualifies as a reserve. However, the bill does not allocate extra money to the DNR, and the state did not conduct a financial study to estimate the added cost.

Drought Conditions Remain in Western Iowa Despite Extra Snowfall in January


Graphic of Iowa map showing drought conditions
Via U.S. Drought Monitor

Nicole Welle | February 11, 2021

Precipitation levels were slightly higher than usual last month, but the added snowfall failed to improve drought conditions in western Iowa.

2020 was an extremely dry year for the state of Iowa, and many parts of the state have not yet recovered. In January, precipitation was 0.35 inches above average for that time of the year. However, it also averaged 4 degrees warmer than usual, and the Iowa DNR reported that at least half of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions. At the end of the month, a small section of northwest Iowa was in extreme drought, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

DNR officials warned that the shallow soils underneath the snowfall in western Iowa are dry enough to potentially push drought conditions into the spring. This could be problematic for farmers as they go into planting season. Even if precipitation levels continue to meet or exceed averages over the next few months, snowmelt likely won’t be able to improve soil conditions very quickly since groundwater is already frozen in place.

The U.S. drought monitor reported that 52% of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, but it is still a significant improvement from three months ago when it was at 64%. State and Federal officials will host a virtual public meeting to discuss the conditions in western Iowa further on January 13.