According to the Iowa drought monitor, 74.5 percent of Iowa is abnormally dry, with extreme drought conditions in northwest Iowa. Last week only 40.8 percent was in drought. Iowa is expected to be in a drought until the early part of crop season, but possibly longer.
State climatologist Justin Glisan clarified in an interview that the majority of Iowa is not in what is classified as a drought, but it is something to keep an eye out for this summer.
This drought is vastly different than last year, which had flooding and storms. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said that he has visited farms that are still recovering from heavy flooding from two years ago, and are now being affected by dryness. Much of Iowa is still recovering from last summer’s derecho as well.
Glisan also warned that if moisture levels don’t improve, “we could see some physiological issues with corn and soybeans”. Iowa farmers continue to suffer during the crop season, and current predictions show northwest Iowa may not get the rain they need soon.
Governor Kim Reynolds plans to revive her stalled Invest in Iowa plan during the legislative session next year, but experts warn that tax money going towards voluntary farm-based projects to improve Iowa’s water quality is not enough to make a difference.
Gov. Reynolds introduced the Invest in Iowa plan as a way to improve Iowa’s business climate and boost the state’s image. The plan would raise Iowa’s sales tax to fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, lower income taxes, provide mental health funding and improve water quality, according to an article in The Gazette.
The funds for improving water quality would go towards incentive-based farm projects aimed at reducing fertilizer runoff into Iowa’s waterways. However, the plan does not include any accountability measures to ensure that funded projects are actually successful. University of Iowa professor Larry Weber, a co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center and former director of the IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering Institute, said in a panel that adding restrictions is crucial to the plan’s success. He also noted that Iowa’s nitrate load has doubled over the last 20 years even though the state has payed farmers $600 million over that time period for conservation projects.
On top of adding restrictions, many environmental experts also believe the state needs to reduce the rate of agricultural intensification, ensure farmers volunteering for these programs are educated and understand the problem, discourage the overuse of manure and commercial fertilizers and rethink the state’s system for siting livestock confinement operations. Livestock confinements are a big contributor to water pollution, but they are quickly increasing in number in Iowa’s watersheds.
Iowa’s water quality problem is a complex issue that requires multiple solutions. However, these additional solutions would require changes in law that would get a lot of pushback from powerful ag interests that sell seed, feed and fertilizer, so experts like Larry Weber fear that Iowa’s water quality will continue to decline under Gov. Reynolds’ plan.
The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) received the U.S. Water Alliance 2020 U.S. Water Prize.
The U.S. Water Alliance selected ISA for its solutions that benefit both farmers and the environment. ISA promotes farming practices that help build stronger soils and achieve cleaner water, and the ISA Center for Farming Innovation conducts watershed analyses to help find solutions, according to a KIWAradio article.
Agricultural runoff is the leading source of pollutants in Iowa’s lakes and waterways. Agricultural activities that cause non-point source pollution include plowing too often or at the wrong time, and the improper application of pesticides, irrigation water and fertilizer, according to the EPA. ISA works to educate Iowa farmers about these issues and help them switch to more sustainable practices.
“A special thank you goes out to our farmers leaders who provide oversight and guidance in these efforts,” said Roger Wolf, ISA director of innovation and integrated solutions. “And, of course, our farmer champions and participants in these water quality initiatives. We are unable to do this work without your participation and engagement.”
A new study from Duke University, University of Wyoming, and The University of Rhode Island found that rural voters in the American West are in favor of environmental protection and conservation, even when these protections may adversely affect economic growth, according to The University of Wyoming.
The study surveyed 1,800 voters nationwide and found that 73% of rural western voters said that conservation issues were very or pretty important to them personally. Rural voters are less comfortable with government oversight on regulations than urban voters despite political affiliation.
The attitudes of rural western voters on environmental issues are similar to rural voters across the United States, which is why this study highlights the significance of this demographic. The study found that western farmers trust the information of farmers and ranchers along with the information from university scientists.
“Environmentalists, conservation groups, and policymakers should engage with rural voters and rural stakeholders in developing environmental policies that impact rural communities,” the study said. “Policymakers should focus on bolstering scientific outreach through universities, cooperative extension, and new ways to connect rural America to the nation’s top scientists.”
This week’s segment gives insight into rotational grazing and how it can benefit farmers.
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.
As final exams loom closer, many students may find themselves relying a little too heavily on coffee to get them by. But what is the relationship between the black midnight oil and biodiversity?
There are two distinct coffee plants that produce the stuff that fills students’ mugs: coffee arabica and coffee robusta. Arabica plants provide fuel for the coffee connoisseur as its flavor is know for being smoother, richer and more nuanced than coffee robusta. The two plants require different growing conditions, too. Arabica does well in areas that are partly shaded by surrounding canopy while robusta grows better in cleared out areas with more sun.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison sought to determine whether there was a difference in impacts on biodiversity between the two plants. They collected bird species biodiversity data from coffee plantations in Western Gnats, India between 2013 and 2015. Some of the plantations grew arabica coffee while others grew robusta. Those areas producing arabica had roughly 95 percent canopy tree cover, and those areas growing robusta had 80 percent canopy tree cover. Shockingly, however, this had little effect on bird biodiversity. The difference between the number of species each of the areas supported was not significant.
“An encouraging result of the study is that coffee production in the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot, can be a win-win for birds and farmer,” said lead author Charlotte Chang to SIERRA magazine.
The story is not the same on a global scale, however. It has become increasingly popular for coffee farmers in South America and other parts of Asia to clear-cut forests around coffee plantations to make harvesting easier and increase plant productivity.
Researchers suggest that coffee consumers take more time to consider in what conditions their cup of joe was grown. If coffee is labeled Rainforest Alliance Certified or Bird Friendly, it is likely have had less of a negative impact on land use and biodiversity.
More than seventy percent of hops, which give some beers their bitter flavor, are produced in Washington state, specifically in the Yakima Basin. NOAA National Centers for Environment Information reports that in 2015, that area of Washington faced severe drought conditions from June through August. In fact, hop’s whole growing season in Washington that year was uncommonly warm. The state still managed to produce nearly 60 million pounds of hops, but yields for certain varieties of the grain were much lower than expected. The warmer weather in that region is expected to continue hurting hop production, specifically European varieties that are grown there.
Brewing beer also requires great quantities of water. Drought conditions in many parts of California have made beer production difficult and costly. For taste, brewers prefer to use river and lake water, but as river flows reduce and reservoirs run dry, many breweries have had to switch to groundwater. Groundwater is typically mineral-rich and can give beer a funny taste. Some brewers have likened it to “brewing with Alka-Seltzer.”
In 2015, top breweries released a statement detailing the way climate change affects production,
“Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250% over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snow pack.”
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which can only be cultivated very close to the Earth’s equator. This part of the world provides little temperature variability, lots of humidity and rain, nitrogen-rich soils and protection from wind that cacao trees need to thrive. Most of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia.
If the climate change continues unabated, these regions of the world are expected to warm by 3.8°F before 2050. It’s not necessarily the heat that will hurt cacao trees, it’s a decrease in humidity. About two-thirds of the world’s chocolate comes from Western Africa, where precipitation is not increasing to offset the effects of a hotter climate and drought has been a major problem in recent years.
Kevin Rabinovitch, a spokesperson for Mars, Incorporated, told Yale’s Climate Connections, “As temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change, some of the current cocoa-producing regions may become less suitable for producing cocoa.”
Rising temperatures and less rainfall may push cocoa growing operations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana up some 800 feet in elevation in order to keep up with demand, according to NOAA.
For its part, Rabinovitch explained that Mars is taking steps to reduce carbon emissions from its products by 67 percent before 2050. Cacao farmers are adapting to drought and temperature spikes by selectively breeding more drought resistant crops and planting cacao trees under taller rainforest trees for shade cover.
Tom Vilsack will deliver a lecture at Iowa State University as a part of the National Affairs Series: “When American Values Are in Conflict” next month.
Vilsack served as Governor of Iowa from 1999 through 2007. His lecture, titled “Agriculture and Climate Change,” however, will center more around his work as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the Obama administration. As USDA Secretary, Vilsack helped to develop and manage programs related to rural electrification, community mental health and refinancing farm homes, to name a few. He also managed the federal school lunch program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Vilsack currently serves as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, “a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders.”
Additional details about the lecture can be found here.
What: “Agriculture and Climate Change” lecture by Tom Vilsack
Where: Iowa State University Memorial Union-Great Hall