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.

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.

On The Radio – Iowa experienced unusually warm and wet conditions in 2015


Storm clouds roll through Polk County south of near Elkhart in November 2015. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Storm clouds roll through Polk County south of near Elkhart in November 2015. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | February 1, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at unusually high temperatures and precipitation levels that Iowa experienced at the end of 2015.

Transcript: Warm fall and winter

While global temperatures continued to set records, Iowa experienced an unusually warm and exceedingly wet winter in 2015.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that between August 31 and December 31, only 25 days recorded below average temperatures in Iowa. Temps during that period were 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, the warmest for that period since 1931.

Iowa also experienced by far its wettest December ever in both rain and snow, with a single storm system in mid-December shattering the records set by most winter months since record keeping started in 1873. Grundy Center’s 8.2 inches of precipitation dwarfed its previous December record of 3.7 inches set in 1982, while Des Moines’ 5.4 inches broke its previous record of 3.7 inches set in 1931. This continued a trend of unpredictability in weather patterns – which even included the first ever recorded tornado warnings in December. The heavy precipitation contributed to devastating flooding downstream from Missouri to Texas.

For more information about Iowa weather, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

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 | January 28, 2016

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 (AAQTF).

Stanier – who is member of the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research and also an associate research engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering – will serve a two-year on AAQTF beginning in 2016 and ending in 2018. AAQTF is composed of 35 members from 20 different states representing a wide range of fields from academia and government to agriculture and industry.

AAQTF aims to promote USDA research efforts and also identify cost-effective ways to improve air quality in the agricultural industry. Additionally, AAQTF aims to better coordinate activities and resources among USDA agencies and other federal partners including the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Agricultural Air Quality Task Force is another example of USDA’s continued commitment to developing science-based solutions and conservation measures that not only reduce the agriculture industry’s environmental impact, but in many ways enhance our natural resources through improved agricultural practices,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Bringing together a variety of perspectives and scientific insights to this task force will help reach solutions to resolve air quality challenges.”

Hongwei Xin, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, served as an Iowa representative on AAQTF prior to Stanier’s appointment. Stanier along with Chris Peterson – who serves on the Board of Directors for the Iowa Farmers Union – are the two Iowa representatives currently on the task force.

AAQTF was formed by Congress in 1996 to address agricultural air quality issues.