Iowa farmers concerned about land requirements for solar energy

Solar panels near farmland (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | January 22, 2020

The Iowa Farm Bureau is urging state legislators to regulate siting of wind and solar operations this session, citing concerns about conflicting land use.

The Des Moines Register reported earlier this month that Farm Bureau legislative preview videos said generating 3,000 megawatts of solar power through 20 proposed projects in Iowa “could potentially take thousands of acres out of production.”

Kerri Johannsen, the Iowa Environmental Council’s energy director, told the Register that generating 10% of Iowa’s power through solar panels would require 13,000 acres, or 0.4% of Iowa’s farmland.

Bill Cherrier, CEO of Central Iowa Power Cooperative (which has a few solar projects in the works) said solar projects are usually cited on “subprime” land for farming. Environmental groups said they would be open to regulation, as long as they did not restrict the state’s transition to renewable energy in the future.

An article this week from clean energy website Clean Technica suggested Iowa farmers consider “agrovolatics,” or integration of renewable energy and crops. The author cited European studies and projects that demonstrated increased productivity of land through the practice.


Iowa farm groups concerned about new EPA water rules

The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 29, 2015

Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over new clean water rules unveiled Wednesday by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

Leaders of several Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over the new rules – outlined in a nearly 300-page document – citing that would “infringe on their land rights and saddle them with higher costs.” Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill said the new rules fail to address concerns farmers expressed when the first draft of the new Clean Water Act regulations was released last.

“The permitting process is very cumbersome, awkward and expensive,” Hill said in an interview with Radio Iowa. “And, according to what we read in this new rule, farmers will be required to get permits for things they’ve never been required to get permits for before.”

At the national level, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and roughly 225 other organizations have teamed up to oppose the new rule. Some congressional republicans as well as farm state democrats have also voiced concerns about the new rule, including Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

Despite the criticism, the rule has been applauded by groups such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Sierra Club, Environment America,  and the Natural Resources Defense Council which called the rule “‘a significant fix’ for tens of millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of streams that contribute to the drinking water for 117 million Americans.”

The new rule is part of the 1972 Clean Water Act which gave the federal government authority to limit pollution in major major water bodies, such as the Mississippi River, as well as streams and rivers that drain into the larger water. The most revision to the rule applies to about 60 percent of the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.

Water quality a top issue at 2014 Iowa Farm Bureau convention

Wetlands (such as this one) have been used in Iowa as a way to reduce the amount of nutrient runoff that pollutes Iowa's waterways. (Green Fire Productions/Flickr)
Wetlands such as this one have been used in Iowa as a way to reduce the amount of nutrient runoff that pollutes Iowa’s waterways. (Green Fire Productions/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 4, 2014

Water quality was a major focus at the annual Iowa Farm Bureau convention which took place in Des Moines this week.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Annual Meeting 2014: Seeds of Growth included two days of educational seminars, panel discussions, and a concert by country music artist and Iowa-native Jason Brown. Another highlight of the event was a keynote speech from British author and journalist Mark Lynas who has recently come out in support genetically-modified organisms or GMOs after previously opposing the controversial practice.

The convention – which took place Tuesday and Wednesday – came on the heels of a request from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey for $7.5 million to go toward the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. Northey said the funding will be used over the next two years for a soil conservation cost share program.

To combat the issue of water pollution caused by nutrient runoff from crop fields, researchers at Iowa State University have recently been experimenting with using strips of prairie land to mitigate soil runoff. The researchers found that converting just 10 percent of cropland into prairie can reduce 95 percent of soil and sediment from running off. It also allows fields to retain 90 percent of phosphorus and 85 percent of nitrogen.

The Iowa Farm Bureau has been around since 1918 and is currently active in all 99 counties in Iowa.

Register editorial calls for agricultural reform

Photo by cwwycoff1; Flickr
Photo by cwwycoff1; Flickr

A recent editorial in the Des Moines Register highlights the need for state-wide agricultural reform in the context of escalating environmental issues. The column criticizes Iowa’s political leadership and agricultural groups for failing to institute the necessary rules and regulations to protect the environment. Continue reading