Reconciliation bill focuses on enhancing research, fighting climate change in agriculture section


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 14, 2021

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee is planning to use a section of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill to fund investments in urban agriculture and boosting the department’s programs to address climate change.

The bill sets aside $66 billion for agricultural measures, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. This funding also plans to provide funding for historically Black land grant colleges. The focus on climate change prevention intends to look at threats in farming and continue to work on decreasing environmental harms from agricultural practices.

$7 billion was set aside by the committee to fund general research and education programs regarding the advancement of agricultural and food systems in the United States.

Outside of agriculture funding, the package could provide $40 billion to help combat forest fires on public and private land if passed. Currently, wildfires in California are raging on and threatening various species in the state’s forests.

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, who represents Iowa’s 3rd district, also worked on inserting a provision in the reconciliation package to focus on biofuel expansions. The current investment is $1 billion.

Iowa Group Turns the Water Pollution Issue into a Clickable Map


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Josie Taylor | September 2, 2021

The Environmental Working Group has developed a clickable map that describes some of Iowa’s most pressing pollution problems in fine detail. 

This map, called “water atlas” shows that Iowa is being polluted by manure and commercial fertilizers. This is something that affects every Iowan. These pollute Iowa’s waters, which makes tap water more expensive for residents. 

The Environmental Working Group map details fertilization statewide and the nitrate and phosphorus pollution associated with the practices in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. As many already know, these states are agriculture hot spots. 

Soren Rundquist, the organization’s director of spatial analysis, said the idea for this interactive map was to make data points easily accessible for Iowans, so they could understand what is going on. 

Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan has declared the Des Moines River “essentially unusable” for tap water at times due to algae toxins from farm runoff. 

Water Works drew national attention when it sued upstream drainage districts to force them to address pollution, but a federal judge threw the case out. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of Iowans supported the lawsuit. 

Iowans clearly want safe drinking, and the Iowa Environmental Working Group has made it easier to understand what is going on.

Climate Change Could Lead to Six-Month Summers by the Year 2100


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Nicole Welle | March 22, 2021

A new study found that summers in the Northern Hemisphere could last up to six months by the end of the 21st century if global warming continues at its current pace.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that climate change is causing summers to increase in length over time. Researchers analyzed daily climate data from 1952 to 2011 to find the start and end of each season, and they discovered that global warming caused summers to increase from 78 to 95 days over the 60-year period. They then used the data to create a model to predict the length of future seasons, according to an NBC News article.

Climate scientists found that if global warming continues at the current rate, summers will last for six months by 2100, while winters will only last for two. This shift would negatively impact a wide range of areas, including human health, the environment and agricultural production. Scott Sheridan, a climate scientist at Kent State University, warned that shifting seasons would impact many plants’ and animals’ life cycles.

“If seasons start changing, everything isn’t going to change perfectly in sync,” Sheridan said in a statement to NBC. “If we take an example of flowers coming out of the ground, those flowers could come out but bees aren’t there to pollinate yet or they’re already past their peak.”

Plants coming out of the ground earlier than normal could have serious implications for farmers who rely on a regular planting season. In fact, a “false spring” in March of 2014 caused peach and cherry crops to spring from the ground early, only to be destroyed when temperatures plummeted again in April. Events like this will become more common as climate change continues to alter Earth’s seasons, and they may force us to rethink our methods of food production in the near future.

Diversifying Crops Benefits Environment and Farmers


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Maxwell Bernstein | November 13, 2020

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.  

$10 Million Dollar Grant will Fund Research to Turn Waste into Fuel


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Maxwell Bernstein | July 29, 2020

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

New Methods for Analyzing Existing Datasets Provide Tools for Predicting Plant Performance


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Maxwell Bernstein | May 29, 2020

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 Partners With Farmers to Improve Water Quality


Maxwell Bernstein| April 10, 2020

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.  

EnvIowa Podcast Revived: Talking human/environment systems with Silvia Secchi


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Dr. Secchi in the CGRER offices. Photo by Julia Poska, Jan. 2020. 

Julia Poska| February 3, 2019

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.

Listen here!

 

 

Ag industry making progress on climate


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Photo via Flickr

Julia Poska| December 13, 2019

Politico report 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.”

Climate change threatens food production


Tyler Chalfant | August 14th, 2019

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.