On The Radio- Farmers are profiting from environmental conservation


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Kasey Dresser | October 7, 2018

This weeks segment talks about an incentive for farmers to be more environmentally friendly. 

Transcript:

Farmers are finding profitable ways to help the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Agriculture practices are creating environmental challenges for our water, air and soil.

Public concern about the environment has led to increased adoption of conservation efforts. However, many conservation methods are costly.  A new study from the Environmental Defense Fund is providing more options for farmers to find profitable ways to help the environment.

One of the main ways that farmers are able to improve the health of their land is through the use of cover crops. Cover crops keep topsoil intact and improve the health of crops overall. Other methods include diversifying crop rotation and switching to more environmentally friendly herbicides.

These conservation practices come with an initial expense, but have proven to be cost effective overall for many farmers in the Midwest.

Three participating farmers provided a transparent look into their financial gain since implementing these conservation methods. While they experienced some profit, they all expect greater gains in the future as they gain more experience.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

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

Farm conservation on the line in 2018 Farm Bill


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At risk USDA conservation programs include provisions to promote sustainable stewardship of forest and pasture on farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | September 28, 2018

Farmers nationwide are waiting anxiously for the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, a crucial piece of legislation that authorizes U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and funding for research in agriculture and food.

The current bill expires Sept. 30. If congress can not settle on a new bill by then, funding for those conservation, nutrition, and rural development programs, among others, could be lost for a time.

A conference committee of both House of Representatives and Senate representatives are currently working out the differences between the draft bills proposed by each chamber in June. The Senate draft is widely regarded as friendlier to conservation.

One of the House’s most controversial proposals is to cut the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which provides contractual support for people who actively mange agricultural land or forest for conservation on their property.

The House bill proposes folding the CSP’s “best features” into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a similar program that covers some cost for conservation practices on farms.

Critics say this move would eliminate the advanced  conservation practices the CSP promotes, and totally cuts funding for working lands. They believe the CSP is necessary because it allows for long-term conservation efforts, whereas EQIP deals with one-time practice establishments.

Conservation practices like cover cropping and on-farm forestry ease the stress agriculture can put on our natural resources, but they can be expensive for farmers. USDA programs provide critical resources to ensure eco-friendly farms can still turn profit.

Groups like the Nature Conservancy and Natural Association of Conservation Districts are actively advocating for the conference committee to maintain or increase conservation funding in their final version of the bill.

 

 

 

 

The Land Institute Prairie Festival


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Tall Bluestem Praire Grass Against Thunderstorm (L Fischer/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | September 24, 2018

The 2018 Prairie Festival will be held this week, September 28-30. The festival is held in Salina, Kansas. This is a yearly festival put on by the Land Institute, an environmental organization that aims to increase agricultural production without decreasing environmental sustainability.

The festival will host agricultural scholars, scientists, environmental justice advocates, and artists from all over the country. There will be in depth tours and workshops for plant breeding and ecology work.

If you cannot make it down to Kansas, they will also post several video displays online.

This is the link to last year’s videos.

How to curb Iowa flooding according to an agricultural engineer


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Sandbags like these are not an adequate solution to Iowa’s flood problem, Kamyar Enshayan warned (flickr).

Julia Poska| September 21, 2018

In an effort to call Iowa to action, Kamyar Enshayan, director of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education, called on his expertise as an environmentalist and agricultural engineer for a Des Moines Register OpEd earlier this week.

Enshayan warned Iowans that flooding will only get worse as the climate changes and gave those upstream three pieces of advice to protect their downstream statesmen.

First, he said we should hand floodplains back to nature. He called for an end to construction and development along riverbanks, arguing that the ecosystem services floodplains provide are more valuable than riverside property.

Natural floodplains improve water quality, provide great wildlife habitat, offer natural flood protection and reduce flood disaster and recovery costs according to the Nature Conservancy. 

Second, we need to make Iowa more “spongy” with sustainable cropping and biodiversity solutions. Enshayan suggested increasing crop diversity in longer rotations to promote healthy soil. Deep-rooted native prairie plants and natural wetland ecosystems will also help contain water.

Finally, he said we must get to the root of the problem and reduce carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. He pointed to methane-emitting landfills and Iowa’s continued dependence on coal as areas for potential improvement.

Enshayan addressed policy makers at the end of the piece, saying they should listen to scientists and engineers like himself to proactively protect people and resources.

“Sand bagging is not enough, not a lasting solution, and does not address upstream problems,” he said.  “Let’s work on lasting solutions.”

 

Soil could hold key to climate adaptation


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A plant begins and ends its life in the soil, which could be the key to climate adaptation (Flickr). 

Julia Poska| September 20, 2018

Climate change models predict decreased crop yields as temperatures rise, but new research from Michigan State University says our soil can save us.

If yields go down, the amount of carbon returned to the soil will too, creating a feedback loop that would only accelerate crop loss.  The study, published in Agriculture and Environmental Letters, found that certain soil management and conservation practices can compensate for crop loss by keeping carbon in the soil.

Practices like cover cropping and conservation tillage, encouraged by the researchers, benefit the environment in other ways as well. Especially in Corn Belt states along the Mississippi River, these practices are encouraged to keep soil nutrients out of the water.

Lead scientist Bruno Basso said soil may be our most important resource for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change in an MSU media release about the study. “The soil that we’ll deal with in 2050 is surely to be different than it is now, so recognizing how to manage it today -along with adaptation strategies for tomorrow — is critical,” he said.

 

On The Radio- Soil Conservation Mapping


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Kasey Dresser | September 10, 2018

This weeks segment talks about how Iowa is the country leader in soil conservation mapping.

Transcript:

Iowa is now one of the country’s leaders in soil conservation mapping.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa officials have recently completed a map of the conservation efforts in the state. This map identifies the six different methods of soil conservation used in Iowa—including terraces, ponds, grassed waterways, sediment control basins, and more. The map shows where practices are deployed and how they are funded.

The map also acts as a visual for determining how different areas of Iowa are being funded for their conservation efforts, and whether that funding is public or private.

Iowa is the first state to conduct such a thorough analysis of its conservation practices statewide. The project took three years and was a joint effort between Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Researchers used something called LiDAR—laser imaging software—and years of aerial photographs to compile the conservation map.

Iowa State University is currently performing additional research to build a newer map, one that also shows the reduction of sediment and phosphorous buildup in Iowa’s waterways.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

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

 

On the Radio- The benefits of rotational grazing


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Rooter Ranch in Texas uses the rotational grazing method. (USDA/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 2, 2018

This week’s segment gives insight into rotational grazing and how it can benefit farmers.

Transcript:

Iowa farmers may be able to use conservation grazing as a way to help encourage prairie growth.

The is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Wendy Johnson, a farmer in Charles City, likes her livestock to graze in free range patterns to improve both the quality of life for the animals and the health of the pasture. She often allows two or more different types of animals to engage in multi species grazing, a method that allows livestock to graze as they please, and fertilize the land with their waste.

Will Harris, a farmer in Bluffton, Georgia, expanded his business exponentially using careful planning and a similar free range method. After observing the grazing patterns of different livestock, he realized that these patterns could be applied to the prairie as well.

According to the Grazing Animals Project, conservation grazing involves using a mix of different livestock that enjoy eating different types of plants. This method helps control species of plants that over dominate the prairie, and encourages the growth of smaller, less dominant plant types. Johnson and Harris both hope that their method of rotational grazing will be more widely implemented by other small farmers in Iowa.

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

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