On the Radio: Climate change puts corn yields at higher risk


Ears of corn ready to be eaten. ( Michael Dorausch/Flickr)
Corn, the United States’ biggest cash crop, is facing threats from multiple fronts. (Michael Dorausch/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new study which highlights the risks facing Iowa’s corn crops caused by changing environmental conditions. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Corn risk

The effects of climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices on corn production spell disaster for more than just farmers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Corn is the United States’ biggest cash crop, essential to products including meat, cereal, soda and ethanol.
This is why sustainable business consortium Ceres suggests that corn’s entire supply chain should be taking action to address changing environmental conditions.

Ceres recently released a report that provides guidelines for farmers, companies and investors seeking to preserve resources and increase long-term yields.

The study cites pollution from agricultural runoff, along with recent droughts and water shortages across the country that are predicted to increase. Ceres contends that these factors are combining to form a sizeable threat to the corn industry.

For more information about the Ceres study, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.npr.org/2014/06/12/321218265/study-climate-change-is-a-growing-threat-to-corn-production
http://www.ceres.org/issues/water/agriculture/the-cost-of-corn
http://www.ceres.org/about-us/who-we-are

Iowa fields are eroding at an unsustainable rate, study says


Agricultural runoff in Iowa (Lynn Betts/Flickr)
Agricultural runoff in Iowa (Lynn Betts/Flickr)

The rate of soil runoff from Iowa fields may be many times higher than previous estimates, according to a recent study.

The report, released by Environmental Working Group, shows that Iowa fields are eroding at unacceptable rates, depleting Iowa’s rich topsoil and sending sediment and chemicals into streams and rivers. Between 2002 and 2010, many fields consistently lost more than the sustainable rate of five tons of soil per acre from storms and other erosion events. A single storm in May of 2007 eroded up to 100 tons of soil per acre.

Much of the soil is carried away by gullies that are increasingly appearing in Iowa fields. These low channels are a telltale sign of high erosion, and are often refilled with soil only to be emptied again with the next storm.

High erosion creates high agricultural and environmental risks by carrying away Iowa’s rich topsoil and by polluting waterways with sediment and chemicals. An effective means of curbing this is to plant grass and trees along the edges of fields and in areas where gullies are likely to form. A series of buffers implemented in various fields reduced sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus by more than 90 percent in 2009.

Iowa grocery shoppers have varied views on GMOs


 

The produce section of a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa (Douglas Porter/Flickr)
The produce section of a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa (Douglas Porter/Flickr)

The use of genetically modified organisms ranks low in the list of factors Iowans consider when buying groceries, according to a new survey from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

The study, conducted online by Harris Poll, surveyed around 500 Iowans who buy groceries, focusing on the factors that influence packaged food purchases. It found that while 95 percent of Iowa’s corn is genetically modified, only 18 percent of consumers said a GMO label would cause them to choose one product over another, falling well behind “Natural” (30%) and “Organic” (25%) and just ahead of “Gluten free” (13%), according to a Des Moines Register infographic. Taste and price were listed among the most important factors behind packaged food purchases.

The study found confusion around the usefulness of GMO labels on packaged products. While 36 percent of those surveyed believe a non-GMO label denotes a safer product, 32 percent think the label is meaningless. Faced with the option of paying more for food with a GMO-free label, 38 percent opted for the lower price, while 26 percent preferred the non-GMO product and 36 percent were unsure.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that genetically modified plants must meet the same safety requirements for human consumption as traditionally bred plants, the World Health Organization has highlighted some environmental concerns of the technology, like decreased crop rotation, harm to beneficial insects and the potential for new plant pathogens.