A new study from an international team of researchers found that diversifying crops, “enhances biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility, and water regulation without compromising crop yields.”
Midwestern agriculture is heavily reliant on soybeans and corn. Diversification practices include crop rotations, planting prairie strips along and within fields, creating wildlife habitats near fields, reducing tillage, and using organic matter to enrich soil.
These practices can improve water quality, pollination, pest regulation, nutrient turnover, and reduce sequestered carbon in the soil, according to AG Daily.
Showing that these practices might increase crop yields might encourage farmers to take up these practices Matt Liebman, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State, said in AG Daily.
Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore, a professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology Management at Iowa State University along with researchers from Penn State and Roeslein Alternative Energy, received a $10 million grant to develop new ways to produce renewable natural gas from biomass and manure, according to a news release from Iowa State University.
The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture will help power an agricultural science initiative called the Consortium for Cultivating Human and natural regenerative Enterprise.
Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore will lead the consortium with hopes that the research will improve water quality, wildlife habitats, soil erosion, nutrient runoff and flooding, according to the The Gazette.
A new study from Iowa State University has revealed patterns that can help predict plant performance along with providing information on plant adaptation in different environments. The significance of this study stems from the researcher’s ability to apply analysis techniques on available datasets instead of producing new data, according to a news release from Iowa State.
The researchers at Iowa State University focused on analyzing existing data from 174 rice plants across nine different environments across Asia. The study revealed that temperatures early in growth affected the flowering time for the rice plants. Paired with genetic data, scientists were able to predict flowering times for various rice species in differing environments.
This study can help farmers predict how other crop varieties will perform in different environments, helping growers minimize risk and gain a sense of stability. Better predictions for plant growth allow farmers to use resources more efficiently and minimize waste.
The city of Dubuque, IA formed a partnership with the Department of Natural Resources to work with upstream farmers to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the water, according to the Des Moines Register.
The agreement establishes the first use of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Exchange, a strategy that relies on the cooperation and incentivization of farmers to reduce phosphorous and nitrate levels in the water. Farmers and the city of Dubuque will invest in cover crops, wetlands, and other conservation practices that improve water quality.
The Register reported that the city of Dubuque, IA is faced with investing $11 million toward improving water quality through upgrading its wastewater treatment facility to meet new state water quality goals. The city hopes this agreement will reduce the cost of improving water quality by reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous at the source; reducing the burden on cities in paying for and improving water quality.
This agreement is the first of its kind and could provide a blueprint for other Iowa municipalities to collaborate with farmers in their regions to reduce erosion and chemical runoffs. Four other Iowa cities and towns are interested in replicating Dubuque’s deal with their local farmers, according to the Register.
The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research is excited to announce the revival and reimagination of our EnvIowa podcast. This weekly podcast will feature 10- to 20-minute interviews with Iowa environmental experts, mainly our own member scientists.
While these researchers are certainly well versed in the complicated jargon of their disciplines, our interviews aim to make their ideas accessible to a general audience. Questions focus not only on the research itself, but how the experts believe it can be applied to solve environmental challenges.
Today’s installment features an interview recorded January 28 with Dr. Silvia Secchi, an interdisciplinary economist and geographer at the University of Iowa. Listen to learn more about Dr. Secchi’s fascinating research on human/environmental interactions in the Mississippi River watershed and how agriculture in particular plays a role within the larger system.
A Politicoreport from last week offered insight into a confidential meeting on fighting climate change with agriculture six months prior. The meeting, hosted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance in Maryland, “represented a change” from farmers’ historic attitudes on climate, according to reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich.
The article explained that farmers have been long-resistant to discuss or adapt to climate change for several reasons, including the left-wing association of the issue (American rural communities are largely Conservative) and that farmers are often blamed for a number of environmental issues. But severe flooding and unyielding wet conditions this growing season, however, left a record number of American farmland unplanted in 2019, leading to huge financial losses for farmers. The article suggests that unfavorable weather in recent seasons may be raising farmers’ alarm.
At the June meeting, government, business and non-profit leaders in ag spoke and listened, brainstorming and sharing solutions. The host organization premiered a 5-minute video on the topic, released on Youtubein August, titled “30 Harvests” to represent the amount of time remaining to make transformative change in the industry.
The article referenced a number of farm industry climate action examples from around the country, including a climate-smart agriculture meeting at Iowa State University last month. Bottemiller Evich interviewed several Iowa farmers as well, including Ray Gaesser of Corning, who advocates for both his conservative political beliefs and sequestering carbon through row crop farming.
“Everybody I talk to, including farmers, they say ‘yeah we need to talk about this,” Gaesser told Politico. “We need to find ways to adapt to what’s going on. We’re seeing things we’re not used to seeing.”
A report released Thursday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that climate change will make crops scarcer and less nutritious. Even as the global population rises, the number of people without enough to eat has been shrinking in recent decades, but rising temperatures, increased flooding, and more extreme weather patterns could reverse that progress.
Staple crops like wheat have been found to offer less protein, iron, and other important nutrients when grown at high carbon dioxide levels. A study earlier this year found that the world is already losing 35 trillion calories from crops each year. That amounts to about 1% of all food calories, or enough to feed 50 million people.
The effects of climate change vary by region, however, with the greatest loss of food production happening in Europe, Southern Africa, South Asia, and Australia. While Illinois has seen an 8% production in corn yield, Iowa has actually seen gains in production due to climate change, according to Deepak Ray, a senior scientist with the University of Minnesota.
A part of the problem is that food production contributes to the very process that is harming it. Depending on the accounting method, the industry contributes somewhere between a quarter and a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. That footprint can be reduced by farming in ways that are better for the land, including limiting the use of fertilizers and planting crops that add carbon to the soil, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.
The study analyzed U.S. Department of Agriculture data from more than 800 counties across North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas from 1968 through 2013. Collectively, they found that climate change caused about 25 percent of crop yield variance during that time. While temperature and precipitation changes were responsibile for 52 percent of crop fluctuations in some counties, they did not have any effect in others.
Similarly, the three crops that were studied: corn, soy and sorghum, all responded to the changing climate differently. Corn is more likely than the other two to be impacted by rising temperatures. When corn plants are not irrigated, yields are twice as likely to be harmed by increased temperatures. However, irrigated corn seemed to do relatively well in these conditions. Irrigated soy and sorghum plants were much less likely than non-irrigated plants to be negatively impacted by precipitation and temperature shifts too.
Suat Irmak and Meetpal Kukal are the study’s authors. They say that their work makes the case for continued climate change studies which consider different climate variables, crop types and growing conditions.
“I hope we are successful in getting across the message that there are changes in temperature and precipitation, (but) those changes are different over time and location, and they are having different impacts on our agricultural productivity,” Dr. Irmak said to the University of Nebraska. “That can help high-level advisers, decision-makers and policymakers to identify locations where those impacts are greatest so that resource allocation or re-allocation can make (fields) even more productive.”
During the second half of the 20th century, corn production in the midwest increased by 400 percent and soybean yields doubled due to more intensive agricultural practices. The study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that the midwest also saw significantly more precipitation and lower temperatures during the summer months over the same period of time. They concluded that the changes were not merely correlated, but that the land use change actually caused the regional climate changes.
The authors explain that each time plants take in carbon dioxide, they release moisture into the atmosphere through pore-like structures called stoma. With more plentiful and robust plants due to intensive agriculture, the amount of moisture corn and soy crops collectively release into the atmosphere has increased in the midwest since the 1950’s. This extra moisture, the study found, has caused summer air to cool and more precipitation to fall. In the last fifty years, average summertime rainfall in the midwest has increased by 15 percent and average summer temperatures have dropped by 0.5 degrees Celsius.
Roger Pielke Sr., a senior researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder commented on the study, he said, “This is a really important, excellent study. The leadership of the climate science community has not yet accepted that human land management is at least as important on regional and local climate as the addition of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by human activities.”
Since completing the study, the researchers have developed a formula that accounts for the causative relationship between plants and regional climate changes that can be entered into U.S. regional climate models. It correctly predicted those changes that have been observed in the midwest over the last 50 years.
The study opens the door for further research into land use changes and how they can affect local climate.