On The Radio – USDA, EPA aim to curb food waste


food recovery
(Food Recovery Hierarchy/Environmental Protection Agency)
Jenna Ladd | July 18, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers a call to action released by the USDA and EPA to reduce food waste nationwide. 

Transcript: USDA and EPA announce food waste reduction goal

The United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have announced the first food waste reduction goals in U.S. history.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Released on July 1st, the U.S. 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal: A Call to Action by Stakeholders seeks to galvanize farmers, food manufacturers, grocers, consumers, and policy makers to reduce food waste by 50 percent before 2030. The initiative outlines best practices as identified by stakeholders including the creation of markets for aesthetically unappealing produce, implementation of community composting systems, and the development of new food storage technology that would prevent spoilage. The document is the direct result of a Food Recovery Summit that was held last November in Charleston, South Carolina.

Iowa City Recycling Coordinator Jen Jordan organizes the commercial composting program at the Iowa City Landfill.

Jordan: “Fifteen percent of what goes into the Iowa City landfill is food waste so the city is definitely on board with efforts to help individuals and businesses reduce food waste, and not only to save the food waste from going to the landfill but to save money as well.”

Participation in the national 50% reduction goal is voluntary, but states like Massachusetts and Vermont have already instituted commercial food waste bans. Food waste makes up a majority of U.S. landfills and quickly generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. EPA notes that food loss reduction would help to mitigate climate change, address food insecurity, and save producers money.

For more information about food waste reduction in the U.S., visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus dot org.

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

Study finds consumers, retailers waste about half the produce grown in the U.S.


(Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr)
(Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 15, 2016

New research suggests that as much as half of the food produce in the United States is wasted.

“demand for unattainable perfection” in the appearance of fruits and vegetables is largely to blame for the vast amount of wasted food. Fruits and vegetables are often led in the field to rot, fed to livestock, or shipped directly to landfills when deemed unsellable because of cosmetic imperfections. According to government data, about 60 million tons of produce, worth about $160 billion, is wasted by American retailers and consumers annually. Globally, about 1.6 billion tons, valued at about $1 trillion, is wasted each year.

Despite these findings, researchers recognize that there is currently no clear way to account for food loss in U.S. However, the World Resources Institute and other thinktanks are developing methods to more accurately account for food waste. Wasteful food production practices are detrimental to efforts to fight global hunger and climate change.

Last year U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack called for a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. However, one expert argues that Vilsack’s goal could have a negative effect on food economics. Roger Gordon – founder of the Food Cowboy – told The Guardian that a 50 percent reduction in food waste could reduce the profit margin of produce at grocery stores by half. He added that fresh produce accounts for about 15 percent of supermarket profits.

The University of Northern Iowa’s Iowa Waste Reduction Center was established in 1988 with the intention of helping businesses reduce food waste in the Hawkeye State. In 2013, the center released a report entitled “Iowa Food Waste Reduction Program Market Analysis.”

On The Radio – Iowa ranks 14th nationally on local food index


Locavore Index Index graphic 2016 final
(Strolling of the Heifers)
Jenna Ladd | July 11, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers the state of Iowa’s slip from the top on the national local food index.

Transcript: Iowa ranks 14th nationally on local food index

The local food scene in Hawkeye State has slipped over the past four years according to a report by a Vermont-based food advocacy organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Strolling of the Heifers – a Vermont-based, non-profit food advocacy organization released its annual “Locavore Index” last month. The index uses several factors to measure the strength of a state’s local foods scene, including number of farmers markets, number of community supported agriculture – or CSA – programs, and direct-to-the-public food sales revenue from farms.

Iowa ranked 14th on the 2016 index, a slip of one spot from the state’s 13th place finish in 2015. The Hawkeye State has gradually slipped event year since the Locavore Index was first released in 2012, when Iowa finished second.

For more information and for a complete list of the 2016 rankings and for information on farmers markets near you, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

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

Manure spill affects nearly two miles of creek in northwest Iowa


A creek that runs through Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
A creek that runs through Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 7, 2016

Approximately 2,500 fish were killed after a manure spill in northwest Iowa last week.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported that the spill occurred on June 30 when Doug Streit, an O’Brien County hog farmer, was transferring manure from one tank to another. A broken hose led to an estimated 5,000 gallons of manure spilling onto the ground but Streit quickly dammed the area above Barry Creek to prevent further spillage.

The spill contaminated nearly two miles of creek and mostly affected smaller fish like minnows, shiners, stonerollers and chubs. The site was cleaned up the following day using a pump and other equipment. Iowa DNR officials said they do not expect the spill to affect Waterman Creek downstream but will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate enforcement action as necessary.

Manure spills can cause a slew of public health and environmental concerns. Not only can manure spills contaminate surface waters – such as creeks, rivers, and lakes – but manure can also seep its way into the ground and penetrate aquifers. Increased nitrate levels in waterways caused by manure spills can lead to blue-baby syndrome in infants. Elevated levels of nitrate and other compounds can also lead to fish kills and other ecological impacts.

According to the Iowa DNR’s Hazardous Material Release Database, nearly 350 spills have been reported since the start of the year. Iowa DNR encourages farmers, landowners, and anyone else from the public to report manure spills or suspected spills. Information on how to report spills and other resources are available on the Iowa DNR website.

First growing season for downtown Iowa City rooftop garden


IMG_0776
Seedlings begin in a smaller, raised hydroponic bed. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
IMG_0783
PVC pipes deliver nutrient-rich water that will flow through root systems in lieu of soil. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | July 6, 2016

An Iowa City business owner has begun growing hydroponic vegetables on his downtown rooftop.

Mark Ginsberg, owner of a jewelry design studio and store called M.C. Ginsberg, has around 35 square-feet of hydroponic plants growing atop his business. Hydroponic gardens are systems in which plants can grow without soil, receiving the bulk of their nutrients from natural fertilizers in water like worm or fish waste. This nutrient rich water flows under plants and through root systems to sustain plant growth. Chad Treloar, Ginsberg’s construction lead for the project, built the garden with inexpensive, easy to acquire materials like PVC pipe, wood, and food-grade tubs.

In an interview with the Gazette, Ginsberg said that it would be possible to turn all urban Iowa City rooftops into food growing operations like his. He will harvest cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes first; he plans to give his bounty away to local restaurants and bars. In the coming years, MC Ginsberg’s garden will aim to sell its produce, depending on vegetable quality and yield dependability. Local restaurants seem eager to support the project, Oasis Falafel has already asked for all of the MC Ginsberg cilantro harvest.

In the long-term, Ginsberg is working to make hydroponic garden designs available to other downtown business owners. He aims to create a system that would allow owners to input rooftop dimensions and receive a cheap plan for hydroponic garden construction in return. He expects he could make these plans available for as little as 99 cents.

Green-roofs like these offer advantages to growers like runoff delay and stormwater management, improved air quality, and healthy foods with a small carbon footprint.

Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said the district is looking to back more projects like Ginsberg’s as a part of their larger sustainability focus for the downtown area.

Southeastern Iowa experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions


(Chris Fenimore, NOAA/NESDIS/NCEI)
(Chris Fenimore / NOAA/NESDIS/NCEI)
Nick Fetty | June 21, 2016

About 14 percent of Iowa experienced abnormal dryness during the early part of June and since then that percentage has nearly doubled.

Data from the Drought Mitigation Center show that Iowa’s southeast corner is the driest region in the state. This region includes much of the area south of Interstate 80 and east of Interstate 35.

Drought intensity is measured on a five-point scale from “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought” to “severe drought” to “extreme drought” and finally “exceptional drought.” The Hawkeye State has not experienced severe or extreme drought since 2012.

Dr. Deborah Bathke, a climatologist with the Lincoln, Nebraska-based Drought Mitigation Center, warmed that if the current weather conditions continue it may lead to a “flash drought.”

“If we continue to see these high temperatures and lack of precipitation, I can see us quickly evolving into what we like to call a ‘flash drought,’ which is when we have this rapid onset of high temperatures combined with a lack of precipitation that really starts to desiccate our soils and stunt our crop growth,” Dr. Bathke told Radio Iowa.

Soil conditions have also varied across Iowa with most of the northern third of the state experiencing “adequate to surplus” levels of moisture in topsoil compared to southeast Iowa where over 60 percent of topsoil moisture levels were rated “short to very short,” according to the most recent Iowa Crop Progress & Condition report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Despite the hot and dry conditions in southeast Iowa, the USDA report found that statewide just 4 percent of Iowa’s corn land is classified as “poor” or “very poor” while 3 percent of soybean land falls into those same categories.

ISU researchers studying wasps to combat invasive soybean pest


An Iowa State University researcher is studying ways to combat soybean aphids, such as those pictured here. (Matt Kaiser/Iowa State University News Service)
An Iowa State University research team is studying ways to combat soybean aphids, such as those pictured here. (Matt Kaiser/Iowa State University News Service)
Nick Fetty | June 14, 2016

Researchers at Iowa State University are studying a stingless wasp species as a way to combat agricultural pests such as the soybean aphid.

Aphids began posing a serious threat to Iowa soybeans around 2000. Since that time the invasive insects have reduced crop yields by 40 percent during outbreaks and have led to a 130 percent increase in insecticide use on affected fields. The aphids are native to Asia and are suspected of being brought to the United States by travellers transporting plants.

The researchers are studying the Aphelinus glycinis, a stingless wasp that serves as a predator to aphids, at ISU-affiliated research farms this summer. Not only will the researchers be studying the effectiveness of the Aphelinus glycinis in reducing aphid populations but they will also study ways  the Aphelinus glycinis responds to the environment and affects Iowa’s ecosystem.

The research team consists of Matt Kaiser, a pre-doctoral associate in ISU’s Department of Entomology; Matthew O’Neal an associate professor in the Department of Entomology; and Keith Hopper, research entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The idea of introducing one species as a way to reduce the population of an invasive species is a concept known as “biological control.”

“If there’s a pest causing harm to humans or the environment, you can find other organisms that reduce that harm by suppressing the pest’s population. That’s what we refer to as biological control,” Kaiser said.

The use of stingless wasps to combat invasive species is currently being tried by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to combat the spread of the invasive emerald ash borer in wooded areas near Fairfield. Similar biological controls were credited as helping to save California’s citrus fruit industry in the late 1980s.