Iowa’s prime corn yields likely gone


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 11, 2022

Iowa State University agronomist Mark Licht says Iowa corn farmers are unlikely to see high yields this planting season.

Cold and rainy temperatures delayed planting in the spring months in 2022. As farmers look to finish up planting, Licht told Iowa Capital Dispatch the next few months are expected to be drier than normal. The two challenges present a likelihood that crop yields of Iowa corn will be low this year compared to recent seasons.

“I don’t mean that we can’t still have above-trend-line yields, I just don’t think that we’re going to see the record-breaking yields that we’ve seen in the last couple years,” he said. “I think we’ve maybe taken the top end off of it. How much is yet to be determined.”

At the beginning of the second week of May, Iowa farmers were two weeks behind the average planting schedule to the past five years. It was the slowest planting pace in nearly a decade. Only 14 percent of seed corn was in the ground on Sunday, as April weather made it particularly difficult to plant potentially successful seedlings. Research on corn yield from Iowa State University shows the most successful corn crops are planted before middle May.

Iowa farms have three weeks left in the planting season before yields get considerably lower in June.

Climate change linked to fewer bugs, study finds


Via Flickr

Simone Garza | April 25, 2022

A new study shows insects that are vital for supporting food chains and pollinating plants are declining in population.

On April 20, Nature journal reported factors like agriculture and global warming are affecting a wide variety of insects. Regions that were documented with climate change and redeveloped for agriculture, including the use of monoculture of pesticides, had less than 50 percent of insects. An average slightly over 25 percent of species were also found.

The study included collected data from 264 formerly published biodiversity studies. The studies had about 18,000 species, like grasshoppers, butterflies, beetles and bees. Insects such as Ladybugs and Praying Mantis, can limit plant pests

Other insects, like ants and caterpillars, can provide vitamins, minerals and protein.

David Wagner, a University of Connecticut entomologist who is not connected to the study, said insects tether everything together.

“If you remove the insects from the planet, basically life as we know it would grind to a halt. We would not have as much soil manufacture,” Wagner said. “There would be no bird life. There would be little food produced on land. We would lose many of our fruits and agricultural crops.”  Wagner has done previous research on decreasing insect populations, reporting that one percent to two percent of insects are decrying due to invasive species, herbicides, insecticides and mild pollution.

Pesticides can affect reproduction of pollinators on memory-loss and navigation. Pesticides can also contaminate the environment, like water and soil, becoming an unsafe host to birds, fish, and untargeted plants.

The 2022 Bird Flu May Be Less Impactful than 2015, According to Vilsack


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | April 7, 2022

The effects of the deadly and highly contagious bird flu outbreaks in the United States are expected to be less than those of 2015, when more than 50 million birds were culled, according to Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

“In terms of the nature of the outbreaks, the size of the operations that have been impacted, the number of states that are dealing with backyard operations as opposed to commercial-sized operations, would strongly suggest that when this is all said and done it’s going to be significantly less than what we experienced in 2014-15,” Vilsack said on Tuesday in a call with reporters. 

Vilsack said stricter security measures at poultry facilities and heightened containment efforts after virus detections have reduced the potential for infections and the risk of transporting the virus from one facility to another

Chloe Carson, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, is not as confident because it is still early in the migration season. Carson said no site-to-site infections have been detected in Iowa.  

On February 9th the University of Iowa is hosting its Decarb2040 Seminar


The Old Capitol Building on the University of Iowa Campus.
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | February 8, 2022

The University of Iowa Decarb2040 Seminar will be held virtually on February 9th from 12-1 PM. It will feature guest speakers Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Alejandro Plastina, and Ron Rosmann. 

Mahdi Al-Kaisi is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University. Alejandro Plastina is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University. Ron Rosmann is a master farmer in Harlan. 

The seminar will talk about the benefits the state of Iowa and individual farmers will receive from expanding carbon markets and other opportunities to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions through various management practices. They will present a question and answer session that will discuss the opportunities and barriers to the adoption of climate-friendly farm practices. The speakers will address topics including:

  • Climate-smart agriculture practices and carbon capture.
  • Lessening CO2 emissions through crop rotations, fertilizer practices, and other cropping and livestock system decisions.
  • Economic opportunities in removing carbon from the atmosphere. 

You can register for the event at https://bit.ly/3KmLIF4

The USDA Plans to Send $1.4 Billion Into Rural Communities


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | February 3, 2022

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, announced Wednesday that the USDA is investing $1.4 billion into rural economies. They are doing this through job training, business loans and the expansion of technical assistance.

Eight programs will give out 751 awards across 49 states. Vilsack believes these programs will help create wealth in rural communities.

“The rural economy, which plays an important role in our national economy, has historically lagged behind the urban and suburban counterparts,” he said, “That’s why it’s important for us to focus on building back that rural economy better.”

The grants and loans will assist with many needs such as housing, the expansion of small businesses and family farms, and providing capital for new small businesses owners. 

One of the programs, the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, allocated $8.4 million in grant awards and $1.7 million in loans.  In Iowa, the Pella Cooperative Electric Association received a $300,000 grant from that program to replenish the association’s revolving loan fund. That money will help fund the construction of a women’s housing and health care facility. 

Several universities also received those grants, such as The Ohio State University, which received nearly $200,000, and the governing body at the University of Nebraska, which was awarded $200,000. 

Common Crops Around the World are Being Impacted by Climate Change


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | January 27, 2022

Climate change is hurting many crops, including some people’s favorite food. Research has shown for a long time that coffee is the most susceptible crop to climate change. A new study found that avocados and cashews are also being impacted by rising temperatures. 

In some of the countries that currently are reliant on cashews as a key cash crop the news is harmful. India loses significant areas of suitability, while Benin loses half its suitable areas under the lowest modeled increase in temperature. These countries’ economies rely on this crop. 

For avocados, the picture is complicated, especially in the biggest producing countries. Mexico, the world’s largest producer, sees a major increase in suitable lands, up over 80%. However, Peru, another major grower, loses around half its suitable areas under the same climate model.

While the rise in temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns might make some areas more suitable, the researchers are concerned that a major shift to develop these crops in new regions might see more forests converted to farmland or a rise of invasive species.

Although this study focused on coffee, cashews and avocados, climate change is impacting all farmers. Climate change is causing both extreme drought and extreme precipitation. Both of those have great impact on growing crops.

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


Via Flickr.

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


Via Flickr

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


Via Flickr

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


Via Flickr

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.