Germany, Britain pledge $153 million to Amazon anti-deforestation program


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Much of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil. (Junaidrao/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 15, 2017

Germany and Great Britain have significantly increased their financial support to curb deforestation and expand environmental protection programs in Brazil.

Germany and Great Britain announced their pledges of $81 million and $72 million, respectively, to fight deforestation, much of it illegal, in the Amazon rainforest. The rainforest is recognized as a vital region for carbon absorption and a biodiversity hotspot.

Much of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil. Some $88 million of the new funds will go to provide financial incentives for landowners in two Brazilian states to maintain forest cover. The new program will also include the state of Mato Grosso, in an effort to curb ramped deforestation making way for the region’s busy soybean and livestock industries, according to a report from Reuters.

Although deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil decreased by 16 percent in the last year, it has not slowed to rates that would allow the country to meet the goals it set as a part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The two European countries announced their plans to increase financial support on Tuesday at the United Nations climate change summit taking place in Bonn, Germany.

Climate change to cause chocolate scare


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Cacao trees do best within about 20 degrees of the equator. (Rain/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 31, 2017

Trick-or-treaters will bound from door-to-door this evening hoping to take home one of the world’s sweetest treats: chocolate.

While Halloween may feel like business-as-usual tonight in Iowa, chocolate producers across the globe are feeling the heat of climate change.

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which can only be cultivated very close to the Earth’s equator. This part of the world provides little temperature variability, lots of humidity and rain, nitrogen-rich soils and protection from wind that cacao trees need to thrive. Most of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia.

If the climate change continues unabated, these regions of the world are expected to warm by  3.8°F before 2050. It’s not necessarily the heat that will hurt cacao trees, it’s a decrease in humidity. About two-thirds of the world’s chocolate comes from Western Africa, where precipitation is not increasing to offset the effects of a hotter climate and drought has been a major problem in recent years.

Kevin Rabinovitch, a spokesperson for Mars, Incorporated, told Yale’s Climate Connections, “As temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change, some of the current cocoa-producing regions may become less suitable for producing cocoa.”

Rising temperatures and less rainfall may push cocoa growing operations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana up some 800 feet in elevation in order to keep up with demand, according to NOAA.

For its part, Rabinovitch explained that Mars is taking steps to reduce carbon emissions from its products by 67 percent before 2050. Cacao farmers are adapting to drought and temperature spikes by selectively breeding more drought resistant crops and planting cacao trees under taller rainforest trees for shade cover.

Senator Ernst stands up to EPA head administrator about RFS


A man pumps biodiesel. (United Soybean Board)
Kasey Dresser | October 27, 2017

Within the last two weeks U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head administrator, Scott Pruitt, made plans to retract Obama’s Clean Power Plan. During his campaign, Trump promised to defend renewable fuel. However, upon election, Trump appointed several prominent figures from the oil industry. Last month Chuck Grassley stated that,”Big Oil and oil refineries are prevailing, despite assurances to the contrary.”

Ernst sent a letter to Pruitt reminding him of the “…pledges that were made to my constituents and to farmers across the country.”

Bill Wehrum is currently nominated to be the assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Pruitt and Wehrum expressed interest in lowering the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requirements. This got attention from several senators, particularly because supporting renewable fuel was one of the only agricultural promises Trump made during his campaign. Ernst blocked Wehrum’s nomination and expressed her concerns that they were only getting “evasive, squishy answers regarding the RFS.”

Instructed by Trump, Pruitt sent a letter to Ernst and 7 other Midwestern senators. The letter had a list of commitments towards renewable fuel stating the Renewable Volume Obligations levels would not be lowered. There was also a meeting held between Pruitt, Grassley, and 6 other senators. Wehrum’s nomination will proceed.

Pruitt concluded, “I reiterate my commitment to you and your constituents to act consistent with the text and spirit of the RFS.”

Tom Vilsack to deliver lecture next month


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Tom Vilsack currently leads the U.S. Dairy Export Council. (Iowa State University)
Jenna Ladd | October 25, 2017

Tom Vilsack will deliver a lecture at Iowa State University as a part of the National Affairs Series: “When American Values Are in Conflict” next month.

Vilsack served as Governor of Iowa from 1999 through 2007. His lecture, titled “Agriculture and Climate Change,” however, will center more around his work as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the Obama administration. As USDA Secretary, Vilsack helped to develop and manage programs related to rural electrification, community mental health and refinancing farm homes, to name a few. He also managed the federal school lunch program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Vilsack currently serves as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, “a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders.”

Additional details about the lecture can be found here.

What: “Agriculture and Climate Change” lecture by Tom Vilsack

Where: Iowa State University Memorial Union-Great Hall

When: Thursday, November 16 at 7:00 pm

Cost: free, open to public

Clean Water-Livable Communities conference next month in Fairfield


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Jenna Ladd | October 24, 2017

A statewide conference titled “Clean Water-Livable Communities” is scheduled to take place in Fairfield, Iowa on Thursday, November 9th from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

The conference will center around strategies to make clean water a top economic priority in Iowa. Four panel sessions are scheduled including: Iowa Water Overview; Robust, well-managed soils create clean water; Funding our clean water solutions; and Economic opportunities that result from clean water.

John Ikerd will be featured as the day’s keynote speaker. After receiving his PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri, Ikerd worked in traditional agriculture for about a decade before he shifted his focus to sustainable agriculture during the farm crisis of the 1980’s. Since then, the Missouri-native has published six books about sustainable agriculture and economics, including Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense and Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People Through Agriculture. Ikerd now lives in Fairfield, Iowa and co-teaches a Sustainable Economics course at Maharishi University of Management.

The conference is organized by the American Sustainable Business Council, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Southeast Iowa Food Hub and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. Tickets will be available soon at http://www.fairfieldacc.com/site/buy-tickets.html.

What: Statewide Conference Clean Water-Livable Communities

Where: Fairfield Arts and Convention Center, 200 N. Main Street, Fairfield, Iowa

When: Thursday, November 9th from  9:00 am to 4:00 pm

Cost: $35 for non-students, $20 for students (includes lunch)

On The Radio – Petition to strengthen regulation for livestock operations denied


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A confined dairy feeding lot in northeastern Iowa. (Iowa State Univesity)
Jenna Ladd | October 16, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how a recent attempt to strengthen regulatory standards for livestock facilities in Iowa was shut down by the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission. 

Transcript: A petition to make it more difficult to build animal feeding operations in the state of Iowa was recently denied by the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Under current law, applicants seeking to construct livestock facilities must meet only 50 percent of the state’s master matrix of rules and regulations pertaining to the structures. The petition, filed by two environmental groups, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, requested that applicants meet at least 86 percent of the matrix’s requirements.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources sided with the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and recommended against passing the petition, both groups said that the proposed changes would be too stringent. Proponents of the petition pointed out that just two percent of applicants are denied permission to construct livestock feeding operations in the state of Iowa.

The current animal feeding operation master matrix was developed fifteen years ago by state lawmakers.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Drainage districts have power to improve water quality


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One-third Iowa cropland is a part of a tile drainage system, which are regulated by drainage districts. (USGS)
Jenna Ladd | October 12, 2017

A new report out of a non-partisan Iowa City-based research center, Iowa Policy Project, states that drainage districts have the power to improve water quality in the state.

About one-third of cropland in Iowa is tiled for drainage. Agricultural drains channel water, which often carries heavy nitrate loads, from fields into local water waterways. Iowa’s nitrate runoff is a primary contributor to the growing Dead Zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Researchers Sarah Garvin, Michael Burkart and David Osterberg recommended using Iowa’s “quasi-governmental” drainage districts an agent of change. The report explains that the districts have the statutory authority to mitigate nitrate runoff by “requiring water quality monitoring and reporting, wetland conservation and restoration, and mandating the installation of bioreactor at discharge points to reduce nitrate loads.”

The report also points out that under statutory mandate, drainage should be “a public benefit and conducive to the public health, convenience and welfare.” Nitrate levels in water at or below the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 10 mg/L is considered safe for consumption. However, some new research suggests that nitrate levels below this can pose some health threats. In either case, the report reads,”Public health and welfare should be interpreted to mean keeping our waterways free of nitrate pollution.”

David Osterberg, lead energy and environment researcher at Iowa Policy Project, said, “It’s going to require managers of drainage districts to step up at a time when their county supervisors cannot, even if they wanted to, and at a time the state legislature has stood in the way of local authority on industrial agriculture.” He added, “In this case, with drainage districts, the authority to take some steps already exists.”

The executive summary and the full report can be found here.