Iowa Farmers Join Initiatives that Pay Them to Reduce Carbon Emissions


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | June 22, 2020

An increasing number of Iowa Farmers have begun growing cover crops as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

Carbon farming involves growing cover crops, like cereal rye, in alternating rows with crops like soybeans and refraining from tilling fields. These practices increase the level of nutrients in the soil, help prevent erosion, and can help sequester more carbon in the ground.

While carbon farming is not hugely profitable now, many farmers are getting paid to participate in these initiatives. It can help farmers who are currently struggling with low corn and soybean prices reach profitability, and it leaves them with healthier soil and a more sustainable way to farm, according to a Hawk Eye article.

Sequestering carbon in the soil also comes with a number of environmental benefits. The stored carbon in the ground is cut off from contact with the atmosphere where it would combine with oxygen to create carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. By reducing erosion, it also improves the health of Iowa’s rivers, lakes, streams and wildlife.

Corn and Soybean Production May Move out of Iowa in Coming Years Due to Warming Temperatures in the Midwest


(Image Via Flickr)

Nicole Welle |May 7th, 2020

The production of corn and soybeans makes up a huge part of Iowa’s economy, but studies show that warming in the Midwest caused by climate change may cause the ideal growing conditions for the crops to move north into Minnesota and the Dakotas in the next 50 years.

Researchers at Penn State University studied county-level crop-yield data from 18 states compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service over approximately a 30-year period. The team also studied weather patterns and the relationships between climate and corn and soybean yield over that same time period.

Their findings showed that this northward shift has already begun and is likely to continue if there is no intervention. This may be concerning to Iowans who rely on the production of these crops for their livelihood. However, the current changes are happening gradually, so farmers would have adequate time to adapt over the coming decades, according to Armen Kemanian, a researcher at Penn State.

Iowa farmers would have to begin growing a different variety of crops or switch to a system that involves growing two crops a year once corn and soybeans are no longer a viable option. The new crops would also need to have a lower sensitivity to extreme temperatures and changes in humidity to thrive in an environment with more extreme fluctuations in temperature caused by climate change.

Scientists Discover a New Method to Make Wheat More Climate Resilient


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | May 5th, 2020

Researchers have recently been able to develop a more heat resistant bread wheat through amino acid substitution. 

In a recent study, a single amino acid associated with Rubisco, an essential plant enzyme involved in photosynthesis, was substituted and was able to extend the temperature optimum for wheat by 5˚C.  The researchers suggest that their technique could be used to adapt crops to improve their resilience in a changing climate.

Rubisco is an energy producing enzyme plants use to collect carbon from the atmosphere, which is then used to create organic sugars.  It is thought that Rubisco is the most abundant enzyme on earth as it is found in most plants that use photosynthesis.  Previous work has shown that these enzymes are susceptible to climate change and could be negatively influenced as temperatures increase. 

In Iowa, climate change is projected to increase high heat events which will increase heat stress on agricultural crops such as wheat. By exploring methods for reducing heat stress, researchers are able to provide novel solutions for mitigating the adverse effects climate change may have on agriculture.

Terrestrial Insect Populations Have Decreased Over The Past Couple of Decades


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 28th, 2020

Terrestrial insect populations are declining, according to a study released this month. 

Researchers analyzed over 150 insect surveys to clarify concerns about declining insect populations and found that terrestrial insect populations decreased by 9% per decade, while freshwater insect populations increased by 11% per decade.  The researchers placed emphasis on the fact that data were scarce from land areas with high urban and agricultural use, which suggests that the actual rate is higher than a 9% decline per decade.

Insect population decline has been the topic of recent research which warns of a catastrophic decrease in insect populations across the globe.  Since the 1970’s, it is estimated that the abundance of insects has declined by around 50%.  Insects are an essential component of our globe’s ecosystems and the decline in populations signals an unseen risk to the environment.

In Iowa, one trend that is likely to contribute to the decline in insect populations is the extensive use of pesticides such as neonicitinoids, which are a key suspect for the decline in many insect species such as bees.  Iowa has seen an increase in the amount of neonicitinoids applied since 2004 as they have been proven to be an effective insecticide if applied as a seed coating.  With the continuing trend of increased pesticide use in Iowa it is unlikely insect populations will halt their decrease in our state anytime soon.

USDA approves hemp farming in Iowa


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Nutritional hemp seeds will soon be grown in Iowa (via flickr). 

Julia Poska | April 6, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Iowa’s hemp production plan last week. The move opens the door for Iowa farmers to begin growing the crop, often praised for its environmental advantages.

Hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant that contains very low levels of the psychoactive compound THC, which is more highly concentrated in marijuana.

Proponents of hemp often promote the crop based on its environmental footprint. Hemp grows well nearly everywhere with relatively low water, pesticide and fertilizer demands in comparison to other cash crops.

The national rise in hemp growing has been largely fueled by demand for CBD, a compound increasingly used in foods and personal care products for its alleged calming properties. The various parts of the hemp plant can produce a wide range of other products, as well, however.

Hemp seeds and milk provide plant-based protein. Hemp resin can produce petroleum-free plastic. Hemp fiber can make paper with a smaller environmental footprint than wood paper and textiles with a smaller footprint than cotton.

Industrial hemp cultivation and products are not legal everywhere however, posing regulatory challenges for those wishing to trade the crop.

The new Iowa law should become official Wednesday, when it’s scheduled to be published on the Iowa Administrative Bulletin, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. The USDA  indicated that Iowa farmers would be allowed to grow 40 acres of hemp, with THC levels below 0.3 percent.

 

Iowa lawmakers, advocates reach compromise on controversial solar bill


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The Solar Act would promote the viability of private solar panel ownership in Iowa (via flickr). 

Julia Poska | March 10, 2020

Iowa legislators have reached a compromise on last year’s controversial “Sunshine Tax” bill. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Friday that both legislative chambers have unanimously approved bill versions of the“Solar Act,” which are awaiting Gov. Reynolds’ approval.

According to the dispatch, the act would allow owners of home, business or farm solar arrays to continue selling excess energy to utility companies at the retail rate. Last spring, a controversial bill proposed an extra $300 annual fee for solar customers who sell excess energy, meant to cover the cost of using the electric grid. Critics said the fee would make it much harder for private owners to pay off their investment into solar, essentially killing the largely private solar industry in Iowa.

The new version also orders an independent cost-benefit analysis of solar power in Iowa, meant to make sure all parties pay their fair share. Following the study, the Iowa Utilities Board would make a recommendation for reasonable billing methods. Existing solar owners would be immune to recomended changes in billing methods.

EnvIowa Podcast: Talking insect ecology with Dr. Andrew Forbes


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Dr. Andrew Forbes, contributed photo.

Julia Poska | February 17, 2020

Today’s installment of the EnvIowa podcast features an interview recorded Feb. 7 with Dr. Andrew Forbes, an evolutionary ecologist at in University of Iowa biology department. Forbes chats about the ecological importance of parasitic insects and shares insights about other creepy crawlies like emerald ash borers and periodical cicadas.

Listen to learn more about his work on insect diversity and speciation.

Listen here!

 

AP story showcases tension in Iowa over factory farming


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Large animal feeding operations (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | February 13, 2020

A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years. 

That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.

Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.

  1. The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
  2. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered thousands of previously undocumented animal feeding operations in 2017.  Some point to this case as proof of under-regulation, but state regulators said the discoveries indicated a well-functioning system.
  3. Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
  4. Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.

 

How to adapt to climate change​ in Iowa


 

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Jerry Schnoor (right) reading the 2019 Climate Statement at the Cedar Rapids Press Conference

 

Kasey Dresser| February 7, 2020

CGRER’s Co-director Jerry Schnoor sat down with Iowa Public Radio to discuss what life with climate action would like and how Iowans can adapt their own lives with impending climate changes. We have already seen severe flooding and intense preciptations, but what’s next?  You can listen to learn more here.

Permission to sell Iowa water to arid west requested, denied


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The Jordan Aquifer (formally the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer) underlies most of Iowa and much of the Midwest (via USGS).

Julia Poska | February 6, 2020

Last week, northeast Iowa’s Pattison Sand Co. requested a state permit to sell 2 billion gallons of Jordan Aquifer water annually to water-poor states in the western U.S.

The company, which primarily mines sand for fracking operations, did not identify the arid states to which it would ship water, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. Pattison said it intended to increase withdrawals from wells it already owns and ship the water west via a company called Water Train.

The unprecedented request sparked concern among stakeholders throughout the state, including lawmakers, utilities and environmentalists. The Jordan Aquifer, pictured above, is a major source of groundwater throughout Iowa and in parts of six other Midwestern states.

Expanding agriculture, ethanol production and municipal populations have created increasing demand on the Jordan, while recharge in some areas takes thousands of years.

In northeast Iowa, where Pattison mines outside of Clayton, the aquifer sits near the surface, allowing for easy access and recharge. One state geologist told the Des Moines Register that the northeast Iowa part of the aquifer could likely provide 2 billion gallons. Another told the Capital Dispatch more study would “definitely” be needed to determine impacts elsewhere in the state.

Iowa announced Wednesday intent to reject Pattison’s request, citing “negative impact on the long-term availability of Iowa’s water resources,” the Register reported. Pattison may submit “clarifying comments” before Feb. 14.