ISU research complicates cover crops


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Cover crops hold onto soil and carbon during the off-season (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska| November 13, 2019

Though cover cropping has proven advantageous for soil and water conservation in Iowa, the practice’s benefits to atmospheric quality may be negligible, new research from Iowa State University found.

When farm fields are left bare during the winter and spring, wind and water transport soil and nutrients off the land and into streams and rivers, degrading both the field and water quality. Exposed soil typically releases carbon into the atmosphere at increased rates compared to planted areas, contributing significantly to climate change.

Cover cropping involves planting alternative crops like rye or clover to cover and nourish the land throughout the off-season. The conservation practice holds soil in place, pulls atmospheric carbon into plant material and adds carbon back into soil upon decomposition. Sequestering carbon in plants and soil is key to combatting climate change.

That carbon may not remain in the soil for long, however. The new study, published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy,  found that the added soil carbon stimulates microbes in the soil that emit carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as they digest the organic matter.

The research — conducted by ISU assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology Steven Hall and grad student Chenglong Ye —  highlights the need for a variety of solutions for the planet’s numerous natural resource problems. While cover crops are a proven protectors against water pollution, we will need to implement other strategies to make farming carbon neutral, too.

Midwest agriculture sector hit by climate change


By Julia Shanahan | October 18th, 2019

The FED central bank released a report this week reviewing the economic strength of various sectors and regions and concluded the agriculture industry is still not doing well economically — a lot of which can be attributed to climate change.

The report said that adverse weather effects has impacted farming conditions, market prices, and has disrupted trade. The Midwest has been hit particularly hard, and the FED reported that midwest sources have concerns about the outcome of this year’s harvest. Iowa experienced heavy flooding in the spring, which damaged grain and farmland. Because Iowa also experienced a period of dry weather over the summer months, some farmers were able to bounce back.

This summer, economic experts at the USDA issued a report that said increasing crop losses will drive up the prices of crop insurance, with climate change being a leading factor in crop loss. There are several government cost-share programs that work to mitigate risk in agriculture, and the average annual cost of these programs amounts to $12 billion using data from the last decade. As severe weather becomes more frequent, the amount of federal dollars is expected to increase.

The report says that all anticipated climate scenarios are expected to lower yields of corn, soybeans, and wheat — but yield volatility is not always impacted by severe weather. In a scenario that greenhouse gas emissions increase at a high rate, the cost of today’s Federal Crop Insurance Program is expected to increase 22 percent.

Iowa Climate Statement 2019: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe


Kasey Dresser and Tyler Chalfant | October 7, 2019

Just weeks after July 2019 became the hottest month in 140 years of recordkeeping, 216 science faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities have endorsed the ninth annual Iowa Climate Statement 2019: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe.

The statement, released on September 18, warns Iowans and Midwesterners of sobering extreme heat projections for the region. Based on the most up‐to‐date scientific sources, the statement makes clear the urgency of preparing for dangerously hot summers in the coming decades.

Betsy Stone, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Iowa, reads this year’s statement in the video above. Access the full written statement here.

 

Fast food chains experiment with meatless patties


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By Julia Shanahan | September 27th, 2019

Fast food chains across North America are experimenting with meatless patties amid a growing concern about environmental repercussions imposed by the meat industry.

McDonald’s will begin selling plant-based patties at select locations in Canada next week, a plant, lettuce, and tomato patty known as Beyond Meat. Tim Hortons, KFC, and Dunkin Brands have also experimented with Beyond Meat patties. According to a report from Reuters, since Beyond Meat was listed on the stock market in May, its shares have roughly tripled in value.

McDonald’s announcement comes after Burger King rolled out its own version of a plant-based burger, coined the Impossible Whopper.

A recent UN report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined the meat industry’s effects on the changing climate. According to the report, 4 percent of the food sold by weight in the U.S. is beef, which accounts for 36 percent of food-related emissions. The report adds that cattle is the leading source in livestock emissions, amounting to an estimate of 65-77 percent.

The report warned that if nothing is reformed in industrial agriculture, emissions from this production could increase 30-40 percent by 2050. In an analysis from Greenpeace, 23 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are a result of agriculture and land use.


Iowa remains the country’s leading producers of pork and large hog operations continue to rapidly increase. Waste management and water quality has been an ongoing issue for the farm state as a result of large farm operations.

2019 Iowa Climate Statement released this Wednesday!


Kasey Dresser| September 16, 2019

Just weeks after July 2019 became the hottest month on record, 212 faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities endorsed the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe

The statement released this Wednesday, September 18th, warns Iowans and Midwesterners of formidable extreme heat projections for the region. Tune in for the release of this year’s statement on The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research Facebook Page at 2pm. 

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has released annual climate statements since 2011. These statements, vetted by hundreds of Iowa’s top experts, place pivotal climate change research into an Iowa-specific context, encouraging preparedness and resilience in the face of the climate crisis.

 

Invasive pests contributing to climate change


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By Julia Shanahan | September 6th, 2019

A study from Purdue University says 15 different kinds of invasive bugs and insects kill so many trees each year, it’s equivalent to 5 million car emissions. 

The report said that while not all dead trees immediately release carbon, part of the dead biomass will eventually make its way into the atmosphere. It says that the large amount of dying trees suppresses the hope of those forests taking enough carbon out of the atmosphere to combat climate change.

Purdue professors and members of the U.S. Forest Service found that of the 15 invasive pests, “nine are pathogens, four are sap-feeders, one is a wood-borer and one is a foliage-feeder.”

The annual loss of biomass from invasive species is 0.04 percent, but the authors of the report warn that number has potential to grow. The report also says that the researchers did not account for losses in urban areas, so the percentage is likely higher.

It said that mitigating future invasions will also affect the changing climate, because currently, the invasive species are significantly contributing to the increase in greenhouse emissions. 

The Amazon is on fire due to the world’s high demand for beef


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By Julia Shanahan | August 30th, 2019

The ongoing fire in the Amazon rainforest can be attributed to the world’s high demand for beef.

Brazil is one of the world’s leading exporters of beef and cattle, and with an increasing demand for meat, farmers are pushed to set fire to the rainforest in order to clear land. That land is also used to grow soy to feed chickens and pigs. While this practice is illegal, it is rarely enforced, according to a report from the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

In the report, it says beef exports make up 2.33 percent of Brazil’s economy, and the country exports 20 percent of the beef it produces, using the remaining 80 percent to feed the country of 200 million people. The demand for beef in Brazil increases by ten percent every year, along with the need for more farmland. There are 232 million heads of cattle in Brazil — one per each Brazilian resident.

While the need for agriculture expansion caused the fire, beef production comes with its own environmental risks as well. In the CU report, it says one pound of beef requires about 298 square feet of land and 800 liters of water, and an average cow produces about 400 pounds of meat. So, one cow requires 84,000 jugs of water and about two football fields worth of farmland. Additionally, one-third of all freshwater on earth is used for livestock.

The report says that an immediate solution to threat in the Amazon is to reduce the demand for meat, naming China and the EU as some of Brazil’s top customers. The report encouraged those countries to import some of their beef from other countries to lessen the impact on Brazil. Local beef consumption in Brazil needs to be curbed as well.