Tom Vilsack to deliver lecture next month


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Tom Vilsack currently leads the U.S. Dairy Export Council. (Iowa State University)
Jenna Ladd | October 25, 2017

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

When: Thursday, November 16 at 7:00 pm

Cost: free, open to public

USDA awards two Iowa businesses innovation research grants


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Two Iowa firms recently received agricultural research grants from the USDA as a part of a national program. (Brain Abeling/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 8, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded two Iowa companies with small business innovation and research grants.

In total, $7.4 million dollars was granted to 76 businesses in 35 states. Former Iowa Governor and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the grants are meant to provide support for innovative agricultural research and bolster rural communities. Vilsack said,”This program basically focuses on ag innovation, the innovation that can impact and affect production of crops and livestock or the protection of crops and livestock.” He added, “An idea, a thought basically then is developed and the assistance we provide here will allow that idea and thought to potentially get up to scale, to get commercial-sized and to get out in the marketplace.”

Both of the Iowa companies are receiving $100,000 from the grant program for work on specific projects. The first, Accelerated Ag Technologies of Urbandale will use the funds to help develop reliable maize pollen preservation techniques. Vilsack said that this research is linked to corn production. An Ames company will recieve the second $100,000. Vilsack said, “Gross-Wen Technologies of Ames is working on developing a new biobased product from wastewater that will essentially result in a slow-release, algae-based fertilizer.”

In an interview, Vilsack said, “we cannot underestimate the role that small business innovation has played in bringing jobs back to their hometowns.” He added that these businesses are crucial, especially while much of rural America is still recovering from one of the worst economic recessions the U.S. has seen.

USDA awards Iowa more than $1M for job growth and economic development


U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 22, 2016

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will award more than $1 million for job growth and economic development efforts in Iowa.

Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative was awarded a $300,000 grant so the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development can construct a facility in the Spirit Lake Industrial Park and attract new businesses to the area. Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association will receive a loan of $780,000 to help All States Ag Parts purchase machinery, equipment and inventory for business expansion and relocation to a new building. The investment is expected to create 51 jobs.

The funding is part of more than $9 million in grants and loans for 15 projects dispersed across 12 states. Other states to receive funding include Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. The funding is part of USDA’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program which offers “zero-interest loans and grants to utilities that lend funds to local businesses for projects to create and retain employment.”

“Small businesses are the cornerstone of the rural economy,” said Vilsack, who is among the finalists for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton’s vice president pick. “During the Obama Administration, USDA’s investments have directly helped more than 100,000 small business get off the ground or expand, and the projects announced today will help 15 more rural communities see job growth and economic development.”

Funding for each project is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan or grant agreement.

Study finds consumers, retailers waste about half the produce grown in the U.S.


(Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr)
(Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 15, 2016

New research suggests that as much as half of the food produce in the United States is wasted.

“demand for unattainable perfection” in the appearance of fruits and vegetables is largely to blame for the vast amount of wasted food. Fruits and vegetables are often led in the field to rot, fed to livestock, or shipped directly to landfills when deemed unsellable because of cosmetic imperfections. According to government data, about 60 million tons of produce, worth about $160 billion, is wasted by American retailers and consumers annually. Globally, about 1.6 billion tons, valued at about $1 trillion, is wasted each year.

Despite these findings, researchers recognize that there is currently no clear way to account for food loss in U.S. However, the World Resources Institute and other thinktanks are developing methods to more accurately account for food waste. Wasteful food production practices are detrimental to efforts to fight global hunger and climate change.

Last year U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack called for a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. However, one expert argues that Vilsack’s goal could have a negative effect on food economics. Roger Gordon – founder of the Food Cowboy – told The Guardian that a 50 percent reduction in food waste could reduce the profit margin of produce at grocery stores by half. He added that fresh produce accounts for about 15 percent of supermarket profits.

The University of Northern Iowa’s Iowa Waste Reduction Center was established in 1988 with the intention of helping businesses reduce food waste in the Hawkeye State. In 2013, the center released a report entitled “Iowa Food Waste Reduction Program Market Analysis.”

On The Radio – USDA announces new initiative for Iowa farmers


U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack speaks during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | February 8, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at an initiative by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide farmers and livestock producers with more funding for conservation efforts.

Transcript: USDA announces new initiative for Iowa farmers

Iowa farmers and livestock producers could receive additional funding to implement soil and water conservation practices thanks to a recent initiative by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In January, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will expand access to its conservation programs to include an additional 85,000 acres of sensitive lands in Iowa. Additionally, the initiative will provide more funding for technical assistance and capital improvements and encourage state partners to identify priorities for an improved “watershed-based strategy” for nutrient management.

USDA has invested more than 2-point-2-billion-dollars in Iowa conservation efforts and has helped to enroll more than 4-point-5-million-acres of Iowa working lands in USDA conservation programs since 2009. USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program has led to a reduction of 260 million pounds of nitrogen and 534 million pounds of phosphorus in the Mississippi River Basin between 2008 and 2013.

In addition to protecting farmland, the initiative also encourages the restoration of wetlands and other natural habitats. The initiative also aims to strengthen cooperation between public and private entities working together on conservation efforts.

For more information about this initiative, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Proposal would use school funding to improve water quality


Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | January 6, 2016

A recent proposal by Iowa governor Terry Branstad would use funding from Iowa’s 1-percent school building sales tax to improve water quality in the state.

The proposal would extend the sales tax – set to expire in 2029 – to 2049. The extension is expected to provide $20.7 billion for schools and $4.6 billion to improve water quality. The proposal by the Republican governor has been backed by former Iowa governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a Democrat.

“It’s so important to every, single Iowan,” Vilsack said during a press conference. “If this doesn’t get resolved, these farmers wont know what to do, they’re bankers wont know what to lend, they wont be interested in buying equipment…the local schools obviously wont benefit. I mean, there’s a tremendous need for immediate action here.”

The 1-percent sales tax – which was approved in 2008 – brings in about $400 million each year to be used for school infrastructure projects. The governor’s proposal comes by on the heels of a lawsuit between Iowa’s largest water utility and three counties north of Des Moines. Representatives with the Des Moines Water Works claim that authorities in the northern Iowa counties of Buena Vista, Calhoun, and Sac are not doing enough to prevent nitrate runoff from farm fields which is forcing the water utility to operate costly equipment to remove additional nitrates from drinking water.

Opponents of the governor’s proposal feel that it will not do enough to reduce farm chemical runoff. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has also expressed concerns about the measure.

The funding proposal must be approved by the Iowa legislative before going into effect. Iowa’s 2016 legislate session begins January 11.

Bird flu damages estimated at $1 billion for Iowa, Minn


Iowa leads the nation in egg production. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Iowa leads the nation in egg production. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 19, 2015

Estimates released Monday show that the recent bird flu outbreak is expected to cause a $1 billion loss in the economies of two of the countries biggest poultry producers: Iowa and Minnesota.

The Hawkeye State alone has lost about 20 million egg-laying chickens, more than one third of the state’s total, and economic losses are estimated around $600 million. These loses affect “feed suppliers, trucking companies, and processing plants.” Thus far the outbreak has been reported in 15 different states and cases reported in Iowa and Minnesota are expected to increase.

Poultry producers and landfill operators are now struggling with ways to dispose of the contaminated bird caucuses which number around 26 million. Landfill operators in northwest Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota – among the country’s hardest hit regions – have turned away the dead birds out of contamination fears. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Iowa governor Terry Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and other top officials have urged landfills to begin accepting birds caucuses before improper disposal leads to odors, flies, and other problems. It may be a year or longer before poultry producers are able to fully recover from this setback.

“They are not going to come back all at once. It’s going to take one to two years for these layer facilities to be back into full production, it’s a gradual process,” said Maro Ibarburu, a business analyst at the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, during an interview with the Associated Press.

Vilsack announces new plan for farmers to address climate change


Tom Vilsack has served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture since 2009. Prior to that he served two terms as the governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | April 24, 2015

During an event at Michigan State University on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack unveiled a plan in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will team up with agricultural producers to address threats associated with climate change.

The new plan builds upon the the Climate Hubs – created by the USDA last year – and aims to “utilize voluntary, incentive-based conservation, forestry, and energy programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration and expand renewable energy production in the agricultural and forestry sectors.” USDA officials hope this effort will reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) per year by 2025. This new plan is expected to help the U.S. reach its 2025 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels, as announced by President Obama last year.

“American farmers and ranchers are leaders when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and improving efficiency in their operations. That’s why U.S. agricultural emissions are lower than the global average,” Vilsack said in a press release. “We can build on this success in a way that combats climate change and strengthens the American agriculture economy. Through incentive-based initiatives, we can partner with producers to significantly reduce carbon emissions while improving yields, increasing farm operation’s energy efficiency, and helping farmers and ranchers earn revenue from clean energy production.”

The ag industry accounts for approximately 9 percent of carbon emissions nationwide. This figure is below the global average but Vilsack says there’s still room for improvement.

Thursday’s event was part of a busy week for the former Iowa governor who was in Beltsville, Maryland on Wednesday to flip the switch and “symbolically activate USDA’s first solar array project in the National Capital Region” in commemoration of Earth Day.

 

 

USDA announces funds for biomass research and production


Switchgrass is an example of a biomass source grown and harvested in Iowa. (Noble Foundation/Flickr)
Switchgrass is an example of a biomass material grown and harvested in Iowa. (Noble Foundation/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 27, 2015

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday that up to $8.7 million in funding will be available for bioenergy research and education efforts. The announcement was made during the Growth Energy Executive Leadership Conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

Additionally, funding will go toward publishing the final rule for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) which aims to provide incentives for farmers and forest landowners interested in growing and harvesting biomass to be used as renewable energy. The final rule is expected to be published in today’s edition of the Federal Register. BCAP provides up to $25 million annually in financial assistance for owners and operators of agricultural and non-industrial private forest land.

“USDA’s support for innovative bioenergy research and education supports rural economic development, reduces carbon pollution and helps decrease our dependence on foreign energy,” Vilsack said in a press release. “These investments will keep America moving toward a clean energy economy and offer new jobs and opportunities in rural communities.”

Those interested in grants for research and education can apply through the USDA’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative. Past organizations and agencies to receive funding through this grant include Quad County Corn Cooperative in Galva, Iowa; Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in Findlay, Ohio; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Materials that can be used as biomass include wood chips, corn, corn stalks, soybeans, switchgrass, straw, animal waste and food-processing by-products. Research examining the potential of biomass in Iowa and abroad dates back to the mid-1990s.

Iowa awarded $5M+ for water quality improvement projects


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(USDAgov/Flickr)

 

Nick Fetty | January 15, 2015

The federal government has awarded more than $5 million as part of a conservation project that aims to clean up waterways in the Hawkeye State.

The state of Iowa will receive $3.5 million for the project while the city of Cedar Rapids will get $2.1 million. The funding is part of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s $370 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program. An additional $400 million is expected to be leveraged by other groups participating in the program. The program aims to “cut down on fertilizer runoff, expand bird nesting areas, and restore native grasslands” in an effort to improve water quality across the country.

This project brings together a wide variety of partners from private companies to universities to local and tribal governments and gives these entities the opportunity to develop their own unique plans. In addition to the conservation efforts, this program is also expected to create jobs.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation efforts,” Vilsack said in a press release. “These partnerships empower communities to set priorities and lead the way on conservation efforts important for their region. They also encourage private sector investment so we can make an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own.”

This funding comes on the heels of announcement by Des Moines Water Works to pursue a lawsuit against three Iowa counties for failing to manage nitrate levels in the Raccoon River.