Editorial calls for more emphasis on land management to reduce carbon emissions


Corn and hay grow on these rolling hills in Clayton County, Iowa (Todd Ehlers/Flickr)
Corn and hay grow on these rolling hills in Clayton County, Iowa (Todd Ehlers/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 25, 2015

An Iowa City writer recently published an editorial in The New York Times outlining ways that Iowa is reducing and will continue to reduce carbon emissions.

Jeff Biggers – a writer-in-residence for the UI’s Office of Sustainability and founder of the Climate Narrative Project – points out efforts Iowa is currently taking to reduce its carbon footprint such as using wind power to generate roughly 30 percent of the state’s electricity needs as well as the WACO school district which soon hopes to generate 90 percent of its electricity from solar.

Biggers also discussed specific ways that an agriculturally-focused state such as Iowa can keep its carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere. He points out that land misuse accounts for 30 percent of carbon emissions, a potential talking point for world leaders attending the COP 21 conference which begins later this month.

“Far too few climate change negotiators took notice of an important proposal called the Four Per Thousand Initiative, which France’s Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry introduced earlier this year. This proposal simply calls for a voluntary action plan to improve organic matter content and promote soil carbon sequestration in soil though a transition to agro-ecology, agro-forestry, conservation agriculture, and landscape management. According to France’s estimates, a “.4 percent annual growth rate for the soil carbon stock would make it possible to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2.”

Earlier this week, Biggers appeared on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River to discuss soil carbon sequestration and other environmental issues with fellow author Courtney White who recently published Two Percent Solutions for the Planet.

“We’re looking at soil carbon sequestration efforts through regenerative agriculture, through organic farming, through a whole host of activities that are happening now in the rural areas that really give me a lot of hope in terms of the climate change issue.”

CGRER 25th Anniversary Profiles: Rick Cruse


Dr. Richard. M Cruse is a professor in the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University. (Iowa State University)
Dr. Richard. M Cruse is a professor in the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University. (Iowa State University)

Nick Fetty | August 21, 2015

Rick Cruse, a professor in the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University, has been involved with CGRER for the past six years. Much of Cruse’s research focuses on soil and agriculture, specifically erosion and tillage. While the University of Iowa and Iowa State University are rivals on the field, court, and mat, Cruse said he’s been happy to see the two entities come together for collaborations such as CGRER.

“I don’t know if it’s brought on by tight budgets but nonetheless the link between the strengths that the two institutions bring together has a synergistic effect and that synergy is really critical,” he said.

In addition to bridging the gap between the two public universities, Cruse also attempts to bridge the gap between academics and the general public through community education and outreach efforts. He works with the Soil and Water Conservation Club, a student organization at Iowa State, on a publication they call “Getting into Soil and Water.”

“This annual statement explains various water- and soil-related issues that are relevant to the people in Iowa,” he said.

Cruse said that while he serves an advisory role, students are responsible for much of the writing, editing, and designing of the publication. In addition to CGRER‘s research component, Cruse said the center has also been key in developing synergies between researchers and policy-makers.

“Often times we struggle linking what we do in science with the legislature, with people that make policy decisions. The link with State Senator Joe Bolkcom and other connections provides an avenue we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

This article is part of a series of stories profiling CGRER members in commemoration of the center’s 25th anniversary this October.

On the Radio: New carbon reduction incentives for farmers


Carl Wycoff / Flickr
Carl Wycoff / Flickr
June 1, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new set of incentives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could help farmers combat global warming. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: USDA to give incentives for farmers

A new set of incentives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture may give farmers even more reasons to combat global warming.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In an effort to reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration, the USDA has released new programs to persuade agricultural producers to generate renewable energy in their operations. The initiatives, carried out under the 2014 farm bill, are voluntary, but could lead to a 120 million metric ton reduction of greenhouse gases from the ag sector per year. Agriculture is one of the leading greenhouse gas emitting sectors in Iowa.

The programs will incentivize several GHG-lowering practices, like cover crops, lagoon covers (to manage methane emissions), tree planting and independent energy generation. These practices could coincide with Iowa’s existing nutrient reduction strategy.

For more information about incentive-based programs, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2015/04/0109.xml

“Why should I care what happens downstream?” Why topsoil preservation matters


An example of healthy soil in Iowa (Natural Resources Conservation Service / Flickr)
An example of healthy soil in Iowa (Natural Resources Conservation Service / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | March 18, 2015

Starting tonight, Iowans will have their say on the proposed relaxing of topsoil preservation rules for newly constructed sites.

In hearings over the last year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has considered comments from home developers and homebuilders who wish to amend a current rule regarding topsoil conservation. While the current rule requires companies to maintain or replace at least 4 inches of topsoil on new construction sites, the industry is asking to be able to choose for themselves how much soil – if any – is to be replaced on such lots. Homeowners and conservationists have come out in defense of the current rule, which preserves soil health and prevents the headaches of flooding and runoff from land lacking in topsoil, while saving homeowners the added expense of adding the soil themselves.

At one of the initial hearings on the rule, however, a contractor is reported to have asked, “Why should I care what happens downstream?” For some, the benefits of topsoil preservation seem far off, and not worth the added $3,500-$6,000 in replacement costs per lot the industry estimates. However, all Iowans would feel the effects of relaxed soil conservation rules. Here are a few reasons topsoil matters:

  • Healthy topsoil is Iowa’s first and best defense against excessive flooding. When topsoil is removed from a lot, the land can’t hold nearly as much moisture. As a result, water from storms and snow melts simply runs off, causing increased flash flood concerns. During warm seasons, standing water on stripped land can also attract mosquitos and disease-carrying organisms.
  • In addition to moisture, land with healthy topsoil holds fertilizer better than land without it. This means that when storms come, landowners are at less risk for nutrient runoff, preventing them from incurring the added cost of applying additional fertilizers. This is also good for our rivers and streams, which are already inundated with excessive nitrates and phosphorus from nutrient runoff.
  • Healthy topsoil is an absolute necessity for growing grass, trees and gardens. Without it, homeowners will often have to haul in their own topsoil, adding unexpected costs to their home purchase which could have been folded into their mortgage in the first place (and probably at a much lower rate).
  • Topsoil protects Iowa’s water quality and reduces costs for water utilities. The Des Moines Water Works, which is suing three Iowa counties over nutrient runoff disputes, spent over half a million dollars in nutrient replacement this winter.

The Iowa DNR will hear comments regarding the proposed rule change at public hearings starting Wednesday, March 18, at the Cedar Rapids City Services Center. The DNR will also conduct hearings on March 25 in Davenport and March 27 in Des Moines. Iowans can give written comments by mail to Joe Griffin, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 502 E. Ninth St., Des Moines, IA 50319-0034. They can also send comments by email to joe.griffin@dnr.iowa.gov .

 

On the Radio: Soil conservation gains popularity among farmers


An Iowa farm in early Summer (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
An Iowa farm in early Summer (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
January 26, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent report that shows Iowa farmers are increasingly turning to environmentally friendly soil conservation practices. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Soil Conservation

Cover crops, crop rotation, and other soil conservation practices are gaining in popularity with Iowa farmers, according to a recent report.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The international consulting firm Datu Research released the 53-page report in December which found that 23 percent of those surveyed reported that they planted cover crops on their farms. Eighty percent of respondents said they alternate their fields between corn and soybeans each year while 70 percent of farmers said they practice minimum or conservation tilling practices.

These techniques improve soil health and help to regulate moisture content. This allows soil to retain more nitrate and phosphorus, saving farmers on fertilizer costs while also reducing nutrient runoff which is a major cause of water pollution in Iowa.

Agricultural runoff accounts for approximately 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus that enters the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River.

For more information about this report this IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

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

On the Radio: Cover Crops Work


 

Photo by NRCS Soil Health; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the success of cover crop practices in conservation farming. Listen to the audio below or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Some push for higher priority of soil protection


Photo by NRCS Soil Health; Flickr

Senior Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, Dennis Keeney wrote an opinion article in the Des Moines Register last week outlining that soil being one of the most important resources of Iowa’s agriculture, is also one of the most neglected resources. Continue reading

Sediment buildup accelerating in Iowa


Photo by docentjoyce, Flickr.
Photo by docentjoyce, Flickr.

An Iowa State University study has found that sediment buildup in Iowa’s lakes is accelerating.

This is occurring despite soil conservation efforts in the state.

According to the study, the sediment is building nearly six times as quickly as it did back in 1900.

Read more here.