Midwest researchers come together for research project


Doug Schnoebelen, left, explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Doug Schnoebelen explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. From left, Schnoebelen, Praveen Kumar, Thanos Papanicolaou, and Chris Wilson. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | July 30, 2015

Roughly 30 students, professors, and researchers from six different institutions met in Muscatine this week to discuss a collaborative research effort to improve land, water, and air quality in the Midwest.

This Midwestern project is part of a nation-wide project known as the Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) an effort by the National Science Foundation to “[study] the zone where rock meets life.” The Midwestern project is called the CZO-IML (Intensely Managed Landscapes) and focuses on watersheds and lands in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) in Muscatine hosted the IML-CZO conference which began Tuesday and ends today. This marked the second annual meeting for what will be a five year project.

“The first year was a lot of planning and field campaigns. The second year we’ve collected some data will be able to get that back to look at the results. We finally have some things to discuss, some real science,” said LACMRERS Director Doug Schnoebelen.

Schnoebelen, who also serves as a contributor for the IML-CZO project as well as a member of CGRER, said he hopes this research will be helpful not just for farmers and watershed managers but also for the general public.

“We’re hoping to look at an integrated approach and that’s what the Critical Zone is, being able to say something about water movement, soil conservation, transformation of carbon and energy in the environment. All of these things are really critical to the soil, the water, and the way we live.”

The conference brought together researchers from Indiana University, Northwestern University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, and University of Tennessee. Schnoebelen said this emphasis on collaboration over competition has been key to the success of the project. He added that he is also grateful the CZO chose to support a Midwestern research project since much of the CZO’s other research takes place on the coasts.

“I think it was important when the national team came out and they realized how managed our landscape was and how important this research really was. It’s not just flyover country in the Midwest, it’s a critical part of our economy for food and energy.”

Iowa aims for 1st place conference finish at RecycleMania 2015


Herky and several University of Iowa students march around campus to promote RecycleMania 2015. (UI Office of Sustainability)
Herky and other University of Iowa students march around campus to promote RecycleMania. (UI Office of Sustainability)

Nick Fetty | February 3, 2015

After placing second in the Big Ten last year, the University of Iowa is aiming to take the conference’s number one spot in the RecycleMania 2015 challenge.

RecycleMania 2015 kicked off on February 1 and will continue through March 28. The eight-week event aims to educate students and other members of the University of Iowa community about the importance of recycling. Participants are encouraged to fill out the RecycleMania Pledge and Quiz to be entered to win weekly prize packages including a RecycleMania mug, lunch container, tote bag, and New Pioneer Co-op snacks.

RecycleMania is part of a nationwide program that began in 2001 between Ohio University and Miami University (Ohio). Since its inception, millions of students from 727 colleges and universities have recycled and composted more than 650 million pounds of material during the tournament’s time-frame.

Competing schools are critiqued on amount of trash and recyclable items collected divided per capita as well as  “which schools have the best recycling rate as a percentage of total waste and which schools generate the least amount of combined trash and recycling.” Last year, Purdue University had the highest recycling rate in the Big Ten at 39.4 percent followed by Iowa with 34 percent. Iowa finished 5th in the conference in 2013.

Nearly 400 colleges and universities around the country are participating in this year’s event. The state of Iowa has three institutions in this year’s tournament: The University of Iowa, Loras College, and Wartburg College.

2015 Cover Crop Conference coming to West Des Monies


This farmer in South Dakota utilizes a cover crop combination of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish, and New York style turnip. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 27, 2015

The 2015 Iowa Cover Crops Conference will be held in West Des Moines on February 17 and 18.

The annual event is hosted by the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Conservation Districts of Iowa , and the Midwest Cover Crops Council. This year’s event will include a presentation from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey as well as farmers and other agribusiness professionals.

Cover crop usage in Iowa has gained momentum in recent years with just 10,000 acres planted in 2009 and more than 300,000 acres by 2013. Cover crops are one of the techniques outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy as a way of minimizing fertilizer runoff which pollutes waterways. Approximately 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone came from the Mississippi River.

A report by the international consulting firm Datu Research last year found that 23 percent of Iowa farmers reported utilizing cover crops. The report found that Iowa farmers are also practicing no-till and minimum tillage techniques as well as crop rotation, all of which can reduce runoff and improve soil health.

An ongoing study by researchers at the University of Illinois suggests that the use of cover crops does not increase yields but it does “increase the amount of sequestered soil organic carbon.” However, research by scientists at Purdue University has found that cover crops can improve corn stover yields which can be used as a biofuel.

The cost of next month’s event is $99 for those who register before February 16 and $125 for those who register onsite.

Journal features ISU research on agriculture and climate change


This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)
This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | December 11, 2014

The most recent issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation includes several articles by Iowa State University researchers focused on ways that climate change is affecting agriculture.

Researchers and graduate students in from Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project contributed to most of the articles in the recent issue. The project, known simply as the Sustainable Corn Project, is based at Iowa State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of the 20 reports in the recent journal issue, 14 were authored by researchers with the Sustainable Corn Project.

One of the reports analyzed the effects cover crops have on nitrous oxide emissions, concluding that cover crops increased nitorus oxide levels in 60 percent of published observations. The authors point out that certain variables could have affected the reaction between the cover crops and nitrous oxide emissions including “fertilizer N(itrogen) rate, soil incorporation, and the period of measurement and rainfall.”

The Sustainable Corn Project is a collaboration between 10 Midwestwen land-grant universities: Iowa State University, Lincoln University (MO), Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, South Dakota State University, University of Illinois,  University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, and University of Wisconsin. Roughly 160 scientists, engineers, educators, and students work with more than 200 farmers on this project.

University of Iowa hosts international conference about environmental contamination


Nick Fetty | August 19, 2014
Water pollution in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)
Water contamination in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)

Beginning today and continuing through Friday, the University of Iowa is hosting a conference to discuss emerging contaminants and their effect on the environment.

EmCon 2014: Fourth International Conference on Occurrence, Fate, Effects & Analysis of Emerging Contaminants in the Environment will feature speakers from all across the world, including a keynote speech from University of Iowa engineering professor and CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor. Representatives from various Big Ten schools (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin) as well as Iowa State, Stanford and several other educational and governmental entities are scheduled to give speeches or other presentations. The event “will focus on the most recent developments and findings concerning the source, occurrence, fate, effects, and analysis of emerging contaminants in the environment, providing an ideal venue for exchange of cutting-edge ideas and information in this rapidly evolving research area.”

The first conference, EmCon 2007, was held in York, United Kingdom and brought in more than 100 attendees from all around the world. EmCon 2009 was in Fort Collins, Colorado and EmCon 2011 was in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The National Hydraulic Engineering Conference 2014 is also taking place in Iowa City this week. This event will focus on “sustainability in the design of infrastructure in a rapidly changing environment.”

EmCon 2014 begins at 4 p.m. today and the full schedule of events is available here.

Purdue University study finds improved profitability, sustainability in cover crop technique


Nick Fetty | August 5, 2014
Shredded corn stover. (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center/Flickr)
Shredded corn stover. (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center/Flickr)

Farmers who use cover crops as a means of soil conservation can produce higher yields of corn stover which leads to increased profits, according to a recent study by researchers at Purdue University.

Cover crops such as crimson clover or annual ryegrass help to “blanket the soil” which allows farmers to sustainably yield an additional 1.8 tons of stover per acre compared to traditional methods, the research finds. This stover can then be used to produce biofuels among other uses. One study suggests that corn stover can “supply as much as 25 percent of the biofuel crop needed by 2030.” However, over-harvesting of corn stover has been known to strip the soil of important nutrients.

Cover crops not only help to produce biomass through corn stover but also have benefits for the soil including reduced erosion even in no-till soil, reduced nitrate leaching, increased soil organic matter, improved soil health, quality, and productivity, as well as fewer winter annual and early season weeds. These techniques can be beneficial for both corn-corn and corn-soybean crop rotations.

The study was a collaboration between researchers at the Purdue Extension as well as Praxic, an Ames, Iowa-based software company. To learn more about corn stover in Iowa, check out the 2013 Iowa Corn Sustainable Corn Stover Harvest guide.

Study: No-Till Farming Limits Greenhouse Gases


Credit: USDA

No-till farming does more than just improve soil quality and reduce erosion. It can help fight global warming too, a Purdue University study has found.

No-till fields in the study released 57 percent less nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas 310 more potent than carbon dioxide – than chisel-tilled fields and 40 percent less gas than fields tilled with moldboard plows.

The practice can also help save farmers money because it slows the breakdown of costly fertilizers in the soil.

Read the AP report.