Japanese beetles invading gardens and vineyards


Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | July 26th, 2019

Japanese beetles are invading vineyards in Iowa in unexpected numbers, according to a report from The Des Moines Register.

The report said that about 50 to 60 percent of Iowa vineyards are spraying pesticides to prevent or combat Japanese beetles. The beetles like to chew on vines, grapes, and fruit trees, but are damaging flower beds in gardens and eating the foliage from trees and shrubs. 

The beetles lay their eggs underground, where the larvae can cause grass to wilt and turn brown. They are among one of the major pests in the Midwest, and cause great damage to crops each year. The bugs feed mostly on corn and soybean crops – two major crops in Iowa.

The beetle first arrived to the United States in the early 1900s. According to the Des Moines Register report, the Japanese beetle colony experienced a collapse in the winter of 2013-14, but have since been able to rebuild.

These beetles like to attack plants in groups, making damage more severe even though their life cycle is only 40 days. Spraying insecticides and being mindful of what you plant and where you plant it are some ways to prevent these beetles from eating up your garden. You can look at this list of the best and worst plants for Japanese beetles. 

New report shows Iowa’s slow progress in meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals


By Julia Shanahan | July 19th, 2019

In a report from the Iowa Environmental Council, it will take about 900 years to meet wetland goals and 30,000 years to implement enough bioreactors to treat the number of acres set out it in the 2013 Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The Nutrient Reduction Strategy was implemented in Iowa in 2013 with the goal of reducing the amount of nitrate and phosphorus runoff in waterways, and then eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The state hopes to cut nutrient runoff by 45 percent through voluntary programs and conservation practices.

In 2018, Iowa had about 880,000 acres of cover crops planted – a way to reduce soil erosion and prevent nutrient runoff. However, the NRS says Iowa needs about 12.6 million acres of cover crops, and the Iowa Environmental Council estimates it will take another 93 years until the state reaches that goal. The average rate of cover crop installation has decreased since the NRS implementation in 2013, but increased in 2018 by about 16 percent.

The NRS also aims to treat 7.7 million acres of wetlands – or see a 45 percent decrease in nutrient pollution – and as of 2017, about 104,000 acres were treated. The Environmental Council estimates it will take 913 years for the state to reach that goal at Iowa’s rate of adoption.

Bioreactors, which cost about $10,000 to $15,000 to install, only cover 1,250 acres of the state. Iowa’s strategy aims for bioreactors to treat 6,000 acres of the state.

Scientists predict the 2019 Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” to be one the largest


Gulf of Mexico. Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia, Flickr.

By Julia Shanahan | July 12th, 2019

The 2019 Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” will be the second-largest recorded, scientists from Louisiana State University announced this week.

The “dead zone” – an oxygen-depleted area of water in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nitrogen and phosphorus – will cover 8,717 square-miles as of this summer. Unusually high river discharge from the Mississippi River in May contributed to the growth of the dead zone. Oxygen depletion, or hypoxia, also threatens marine life, including fish, shrimp, and crabs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also predicted the dead zone to reach record-highs. In 2017, the dead zone reached about 8,776 square-feet, as reported by the NOAA.  LSU scientists predict the 2019 hypoxic area to be about the size of New Hampshire.

The NOAA also attributed the growth in the annual dead zone to the record rainfall and flooding that happened in the spring months. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated a total of 156,000 metric tons of nitrate and 25,300 metric tons of phosphorus were carried from the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico in May alone.

Iowa experienced record flooding from the Missouri River in the spring, which contributed to the nutrient runoff in the Mississippi River. Iowa remains a major contributor to the annual Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

Low oxygen levels appeared about 50 years ago when farming intensified in the Midwest, according to the press release from LSU. In the last few decades, there has not been a reduction in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus from the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Farms no longer have to report air emissions caused by animal waste


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By Julia Shanahan | July 5th, 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that will exempt farms from reporting air emissions caused by animal waste. 

Reporting will still be required for the release of animal waste into water. This exemption is in the form of an amendment to EPCRA section 304, where its main purpose is to alert emergency responders of dangerous emissions, like chemical leaks, so they can potentially evacuate a community or alert locals to seek shelter. In a news release, the EPA said this final rule will ensure that “emergency planners and local responders receive reports that focus on these kinds of emergencies.”

This new rule also applies to decomposing animal waste. All other hazardous emissions above a recommended threshold will still need to be reported. 

Animal waste emissions into the air can increase the risk for respiratory health issues like asthma, and also contribute to climate change. A 2013 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Association said that 7.1 gigatons of CO2 emissions can be attributed to the global livestock sector annually.

Iowa is the country’s leading producer of animal and human waste. The Iowa Environmental Focus reported on research engineer Chris Jones’ March study that calculated how many people each livestock group accounted for in terms of the amount of waste it produces, and called it Iowa’s “real population.”

While Iowa has a population of just over 3 million people, this is what Jones found in his March study and lists in his blog:

  • Iowa hogs: equivalent to 83.7 million people
  • Dairy cattle: 8.6 million people
  • Beef cattle: 25 million people
  • Laying chickens: 15 million people
  • Turkeys: 900,000 people

Nitrate levels in drinking water linked to increase risks for cancers


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | June 20th, 2019

The Environmental Working Group released a study outlining a link between the amount of nitrates someone consumes through tap water to a higher risk of cancer. Nitrate pollution in U.S. drinking water potentially caused 12,594 cases of cancer in a year, according to the study.

The study attributed the large amount of nitrates in drinking water to agricultural runoff that contains fertilizer and manure. The EWG estimates it would cost about $1.5 billion a year in medical costs to treat those cases. Of those 12,594 cases, 54-82 percent are colorectal cancer cases. Additionally, the risk for bladder and ovarian cancers are increased in postmenapausal women.   

The current federal limit for the amount of nitrates legally allowed in drinking water is 10 parts per million, but as outlined in the study, other serious health risks have been linked to nitrate-polluted water that is only one-tenth under the federal limit. Scientists from the EWG estimate that in order for there to be no adverse health risks, the nitrate level in drinking water should be 0.14 milligrams, which is 70 times lower than the EPA’s legal limit.

In Iowa, nitrate pollution remains a threat to tap water and well water in rural and urban cities across the farm state. The Iowa Department of Public Health tested 1,700 private wells and found 19 percent of them were at or above the legal limit for nitrates. In 2014 and 2015, the average nitrate levels in 45 Iowa public water systems were at least 5 milligrams – enough to increase someone’s risk of cancer.

More recently in 2018, the Des Moines River and combined Cedar-Iowa Rivers produced the nitrate equivalent of 56 million people. The total amount of nitrates in Iowa rivers in 2018 was 626 million pounds, and treated in sewer discharge amounted to 123 million people, or as blogger and IIHR Research Engineer Chris Jones compares to the population of Japan.

Year-round E15 available for consumer access


By Julia Shanahan | June 13th, 2019

President Donald Trump recently approved the sale of year-round ethanol for consumer access – a move that was applauded by Iowa’s Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

In a joint press release from Grassley, Ernst, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, they commended Trump for “keeping his promise” to Iowa farmers.

“[Trump’s] directive to EPA to finalize a rule allowing year-round sales of E15 will allow for an open marketplace with more fuel options, encourage competition and drive down fuel costs — all while improving the environment,” said the June 11 press release.

Trump made an Iowa campaign stop on June 11 in Council Bluffs and West Des Moines, where he touted his approval of year-round E15 to farmers and manufacturers in Council Bluffs. E15 is championed as something that could boost Iowa’s economy because of the use of corn in its manufacturing.

E15, a gasoline blend with 15 percent ethanol, burns cleaner than standard fuel and can be used in all 2001 and newer vehicles. Burning ethanol does result in the emission of greenhouse gas, but when the combustion of ethanol is made from corn or sugarcane, it’s considered atmospheric neutral, because the biomass grows and absorbs CO2.

As of March 2019, Iowa’s ethanol industry has accounted for 43,697 jobs and $4.7 million in GDP, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. In 2018, there was 4.35 billion gallon of ethanol production.

In a 2016 editorial from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, a professor of food and agriculture policy wrote that increasing corn production in the Midwest for ethanol use has repercussions on the environment, and questioned the profitably of the ethanol industry. He referenced ethanol production taking off in the mid-2000s and corn prices reaching record highs in 2007.


However, the USDA cites other contributing factors to the high corn prices, including the depreciating U.S. dollar, bad weather, and policy responses on imports and exports of commodities.

On The Radio- Praire can aid farming


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(flickr/L Fischer)

Kasey Dresser| May 13, 2019

This weeks segment looks at a study from Iowa State researching prairie strips on farm fields.

Transcript:

New research will test the impacts of prairie strips on farm fields over time.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Planting strips of native prairie on farms can limit erosion and provide habitat for wildlife, but how much time passes before those benefits take hold? Will the benefits remain if that land is re-planted with corn or soy?

Iowa State University researchers received an over $700,000 grant to study those questions over the next three years. To do it, they’ll plant some existing row crop areas in Iowa and Missouri with prairie plants, and vice versa.

The researchers will use buried tea bags to measure biological activity in the soil. Bags that decay more quickly indicate higher, healthier rates of decomposition. They will also create and test a computer model of statewide topsoil depth to understand how prairie strips affect erosion in surrounding areas.

Most fields have spots that produce low yields and might do better as prairie. Researchers will also weigh lost crop revenue against the economic benefits of converting those areas to prairie.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.