Iowa corn harvest is two-thirds complete


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | October 27, 2022

59 percent of corn and 88 percent of soybeans have been harvested by Iowa farmers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture report on Oct. 24. Both crops are ahead of Iowa’s five-year average, with corn being eight days ahead and soybeans being 11 days ahead.

“Soybean harvest is beginning to wrap up and Iowa farmers and are making big strides toward finishing corn harvest,” said Mike Naig, the state’s agriculture secretary. “While the persistently dry conditions have helped push harvest progress along, moderate drought continues to spread statewide and is now covering nearly half of Iowa.”

Although Iowa’s drought is about the worst it has been in nine years, Iowa farmers had 6.7 days suitable for fieldwork during the week ending October 23,  according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. 

State Climatologist Justin Glisan said there was very little rainfall in the state this past week. “While several eastern Iowa stations reported trace amounts of rainfall, only a few National Weather Service co-op stations observed measurable totals,” Glisan said in the report. “Overall, statewide precipitation deficits were on the order of 0.40 inches to 0.60 inches.”

Northwest Iowa, Nebraska experience ‘exceptional’ drought


The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.

Grace Smith | September 15, 2022

A small portion of Iowa – 0.2 percent – is experiencing exceptional drought status per the Sept. 8 U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought that northwest Iowa is in stands as the worst category of dryness by the drought monitor. This is the first time Iowa has received an “exceptional drought” classification since 2013. 2.2 percent of the state sits in an extreme drought. 

In addition to the drought, good crop conditions decreased slightly, per a U.S. Department of Agriculture report Monday. 63 percent of corn and soybeans were rated good or excellent, a three percent decrease from the week before. 

Although Iowa is only seeing an exceptional drought rating in 0.2 percent of the state, 10.5 percent of Nebraska is experiencing the worst drought classification, about a four percent increase from Aug. 30. 27.7 percent of the state is in an extreme drought, about an eight percent increase from last week. 

Lincoln, Nebraska has received less than an inch of rain over the past two months and had its fifth driest August on record. 84 percent of the state has short or very short topsoil moisture, and Omaha officials have requested water restrictions. 

The National Weather Service’s forecast predicts a 20 to 40 percent chance of showers in Nebraska this weekend, which could present some relief.

Drought conditions in Iowa are projected to cut soybean harvest


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | September 6, 2022

Areas in Iowa are experiencing harsh drought conditions with little rain, per the U.S. Drought Monitor on Sept. 1. Iowa’s summer drought conditions spilling into September presents the problem of cutting soybean harvest later in the month. 

The report shows that 40.07 percent of Iowa experiencing a moderate drought, up 1.2 percent from last week. 19.27 of Iowa is dealing with severe drought conditions, and 2.08 percent of the state is in an extreme drought. The estimated population in Iowa undergoing drought is 1,040,243 people.

Along with drought affecting people, the heat is taking a toll on crops. On average, soybean yields are projected to drop to 58 bushels per acre this year, compared to 62 bushels in 2021, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Aug. 12. Harvest is expected to decrease 4.7 percent from 2021.

Despite the decline, Iowa is still projected to be named the second largest soybean producer by harvesting 592.8 million bushels in the fall; a decrease of 29.1 million from last year.Despite heavy rainfall last week up to four inches in areas across Iowa, portions of the state in the southeast received less than half an inch, and remain dry. Southeast Iowa has about 10 percent of adequate soil moisture for crops. To compare, in northeast Iowa, 90 percent of the soil has adequate water for crops.

Increased rainfall aids Iowa crops


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | July 14, 2022

Although this summer has been notably dry and hot, a derecho on July 5 and rainfall for the rest of that week resulted in improvement in the condition of some Iowa corn and soybean crops. The percentage of the corn crop rated good and excellent increased as of July 10 jumped to 81 percent from 77 percent the week before. Soybean crops increased by two percent, improving from 79 percent from 77 percent. 

Justin Glisan, a state climatologist, said the statewide weekly average precipitation was 1.01 inches above normal during the week of July 4, sitting at 2.12 inches.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Monday that 72 percent of topsoil was rated adequate and three percent sat rated very short. Subsoil moisture condition was rated 66 percent adequate and 22 percent short. 

Although some of Iowa’s crops are in better condition than before the rain, Ohio farmers are still concerned about the impact of the dry period on crops. As of July 10, soil in Ohio sits at 73 percent adequate and just 7 percent of soil contains surplus moisture. 

If droughts continue, crop size and quality can decrease, crop prices can increase, and crop cleaning practices may lessen with a lack of water.

New study finds U.S. Corn Belt unsuitable for growing corn by 2100


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | May 31, 2022

Environmental Research Letters published an Emory University study on May 16 that said the United States Corn Belt, states in the Midwest that mainly cultivate corn and soybean crops, will be unfitted to grow corn by 2100 because of climate change if current agricultural technology and practices continue to be utilized and relied on. 

To determine this outcome, Emily Burchfield, author of the study and assistant professor of Environmental Sciences at Emory, conducted a study with corn, wheat, soy, hay, and alfalfa. Burchfield formed and analyzed many series of models in different conditions to project the growth of crops. Burchfield used one model to test changes in planting with low, moderate, and high emission situations and found that corn, wheat, soy, and alfalfa will not be able to cultivate in the upper Midwest by 2100. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, corn makes up 92 million acres of land as of 2019, but, with climate change, there may be a shift in corn cultivation from the Midwest to the Eastern region. In a finding published by the Agricultural Water Management in March 2022, researchers said that on a ten-year average, rain fed crops are likely to decrease up to 40 bushels per acre, and irrigated yields may decline by 19 bushels per acre. Burchfield said that utilizing technology alone to grow crops and pushing away from laws of physics to understand natural processes will result in an “ecological collapse.” Burchfield also emphasized the importance of shifting away from relying on primary commodity crops like corn and soy.

Trump administration ethanol rules may help Iowa farmers


Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

Tyler Chalfant | October 10th, 2019

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture proposed new rules promoting ethanol consumption over petroleum. This move is considered primarily to be an economic strategy aimed at reducing the pressure placed on farmers by ongoing trade wars.

The plan would involve increasing biofuel sales above the current 15 billion gallons annually. It would also make 15 percent ethanol fuels more available at gas stations domestically as well as increase access to foreign markets. Iowa farmers say they have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due as U.S. trade policy has destabilized agriculture markets and EPA waivers have decreased demand for ethanol. 

Iowa is the nation’s leading producer of ethanol biofuels, and the industry supports nearly 43,000 jobs in the state. Elected officials from Iowa have criticized the Trump administration on previous moves perceived as harming the biofuel industry. In August, the EPA granted 31 waivers to oil refineries, exempting them from laws requiring them to blend biofuels into their gasoline. 

Since January 2017, the Trump administration has granted 85 biofuel waivers to small refineries. The new proposal claims that larger refineries will carry the extra burden by blending in ethanol for those exempted, although this is something that the EPA has not successfully enforced in the past. Farmers say that the new plan also lacks details on how these rules will be enforced going forward.

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.

Southeastern Iowa experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions


(Chris Fenimore, NOAA/NESDIS/NCEI)
(Chris Fenimore / NOAA/NESDIS/NCEI)

Nick Fetty | June 21, 2016

About 14 percent of Iowa experienced abnormal dryness during the early part of June and since then that percentage has nearly doubled.

Data from the Drought Mitigation Center show that Iowa’s southeast corner is the driest region in the state. This region includes much of the area south of Interstate 80 and east of Interstate 35.

Drought intensity is measured on a five-point scale from “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought” to “severe drought” to “extreme drought” and finally “exceptional drought.” The Hawkeye State has not experienced severe or extreme drought since 2012.

Dr. Deborah Bathke, a climatologist with the Lincoln, Nebraska-based Drought Mitigation Center, warmed that if the current weather conditions continue it may lead to a “flash drought.”

“If we continue to see these high temperatures and lack of precipitation, I can see us quickly evolving into what we like to call a ‘flash drought,’ which is when we have this rapid onset of high temperatures combined with a lack of precipitation that really starts to desiccate our soils and stunt our crop growth,” Dr. Bathke told Radio Iowa.

Soil conditions have also varied across Iowa with most of the northern third of the state experiencing “adequate to surplus” levels of moisture in topsoil compared to southeast Iowa where over 60 percent of topsoil moisture levels were rated “short to very short,” according to the most recent Iowa Crop Progress & Condition report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Despite the hot and dry conditions in southeast Iowa, the USDA report found that statewide just 4 percent of Iowa’s corn land is classified as “poor” or “very poor” while 3 percent of soybean land falls into those same categories.

Two rural Iowa communities receive USDA funding for water projects


(City of Coggon)

Nick Fetty | April 22, 2016

The Iowa towns of Coggon and Wiota are among 58 rural communities nationwide that will receive funding for water infrastructure projects, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in collaboration with Earth Day earlier this week.

USDA Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Program (WEP) will provide technical assistance and financing to develop drinking water and waste disposal systems for communities with fewer than 10,000 residents. WEP will provide $183 million in funding for 60 projects in 33 states.

Coggon – a town of 658 located in northern Linn County in Eastern Iowa – will receive $4,205,000 (a loan of $2,314,000 plus $1,891,000 in grant funding) to build a new wastewater treatment plant. The city’s current wastewater treatment was built more than 60 years ago and has been in need of an upgrade for about 20 years. The project aims to not only provide safe drinking water for Coggon residents but also to better treat discharged wasterwater and minimize harm to the environment and downstream communities.

Wiota – a town of 116 located in northern Cass County in Western Iowa – will receive $2 million (a loan of $434,000 plus $1,566,000 in grant funding) for a water system rehabilitation project. The proposed project includes constructing a replacement water distribution piping system and a new well as well as an additional water storage facility.

“Safe drinking water and sanitary waste disposal systems are vital not only to public health, but also to the economic vitality of small communities,” said Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack. “Helping rural communities build and upgrade their water infrastructure is one more way USDA strengthens rural areas. Building and maintaining water infrastructure creates jobs, boosts the economy, and provides rural families with safe, reliable water and wastewater facilities that improve the environment.”

In fiscal year 2015, Iowa received nearly $22 million from USDA Rural Development for water and waste disposal projects.

On The Radio – University of Iowa professor appointed to USDA task force


University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering Charles Stanier has been appointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Air Quality Task Force. (Brynne Schweigel/CGRER)
University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering Charles Stanier has been appointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force. (Brynne Schweigel/CGRER)

Nick Fetty | February 22, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering Charles Stanier, his research, and his recent appointment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force.

Transcript: University of Iowa professor appointed to USDA task force

A University of Iowa professor has been appointed to a federal task force on agricultural air quality.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Last month, Prof. Charles Stanier – an associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering – was appointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force. The task force promotes science-based solutions to resolve air quality challenges.

Many aspects of Prof. Stanier’s research and outreach focus on Midwestern air quality. His work can be characterized as having a distinct regional focus, with projects based in central Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa City, the Quad Cities, Dubuque, and Lake Michigan. His methods involve developing and improving computer simulations of air quality to examine the contributions of urban, natural, and agricultural pollution sources to regional air pollutants. His work on greenhouse gases, particularly reactive nitrogen species, also intersects with the work of the Task Force.

STANIER: “I’m really excited to join the task force both to contribute based on what we’ve learned in our research and to be exposed to all of the different research topics that are coming through the task force. The work of the task force is focused on greenhouse gases, on air quality for agricultural workers, on farms and production facilities, and then the impact that those facilities have on the wider community and regional air.”

Dr. Stanier is one of two Iowa delegates on the task force, with the other being Chris Peterson who serves on the Board of Directors for the Iowa Farmers Union.

For more information about Dr. Stanier and the Agricultural Air Quality Task Force, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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