Suicide rates for farmers exceed rates for all other occupations


More farmers are taking their lives than any other occupation in the country, University of Iowa researchers have discovered. (flickr/Daniel Brock)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 27, 2017

The rate of suicide among farmers is drastically higher than any other occupation, according to a study done by University of Iowa researchers.

From 1992 to 2010, 230 American farmers committed suicide at an annual rate ranging from 0.36 per 100,000 to 0.92 per 100,000. Comparatively, no other occupation exceeded 0.19 suicides per 100,000 workers for any year during this same period.

Co-author of the study Corinne Peek-Asa, a professor in the UI College of Public Health, said in a UI press release that financial issues related to economic or weather conditions can contribute to the suicide rate, as well as other stressors like physical pain from labor, societal isolation, and inaccessible healthcare. Peek-Asa also said a farmer’s job is a large part of his or her identity, and he or she may take failure extremely personally.

“They struggle with their ability to carve out the role they see for themselves as farmers,” Peek-Asa said in the release. “They can’t take care of their family; they feel like they have fewer and fewer options and can’t dig themselves out. Eventually, suicide becomes an option.”

The number of farmer suicides has significantly declined since the farming crisis of the 1980s, when grain trade with the Soviet Union halted and millions of farms went under. Over 1,000 farmers took their lives that decade.

Although the suicide rate has declined since the 1980s crisis, another agricultural disaster could be on the horizon. As the effects of climate change set in through increased temperatures and precipitation, farmers could soon face serious setbacks.

In a press release issued after President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “We cannot sustain a viable food system if climate change is left unchecked … Increasingly unpredictable and destructive weather [will] wreak havoc on family farm operations, future generations, and food prices and availability for years to come.”

Iowa’s biggest solar power operation is under construction


Dubuque will soon be home to the largest solar power operation in Iowa. (zak zak/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 21, 2017

Construction for the biggest solar power operation in the state is underway.

Alliant Energy is building 15,600 solar panels on 21 acres near Dubuque to produce enough energy to power 727 Iowa homes every year. The $10 million project should be up and running by August.

The energy company is working with the city of Dubuque and the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation to establish the operation. Another smaller solar site will be constructed closer to downtown Dubuque, and will have an educational component for visitors. The city of Dubuque has been a leader in sustainability in Iowa, and is a member of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities through the University of Iowa.

Alliant, which serves customers in Iowa and Wisconsin, already owns several renewable energy operations, including other solar projects, four wind farms, and a few hydroelectric dams.

“We see the cost of solar going down and the efficiency going up, and we anticipate more and more customers who demand renewable energy,” Alliant’s vice president of generation operations Terry Kouba said to the Associated Press. “Alliant will invest in more solar projects in the future, and we will look back at this Dubuque project and say, ‘This is where it began.'”

 

With May data in, 2017 is on its way to becoming the hottest year ever


May 2017 was the third hottest May on record. (Lima Andruška/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 20, 2017

May 2017 ranked among the hottest months on record, new data shows.

This May was the third-hottest May ever, coming in behind May 2016 and May 2015, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Global oceanic temperatures were also third highest on record for any month of May.

The month also ranked No. 18 for warmest months ever, based on deviation from average temperatures, among all months in the NASA database.

The high spring temperatures were not felt so strongly in Iowa. High temperatures throughout the month averaged 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Des Moines — more than 3 degrees lower than the average high for the month of May in the capital city, according to data from AccuWeather.

2017 is well on its way to being the hottest year on record — a title currently held by 2016, and previously held by 2015 and 2014. January, February, and March of this year all took top 10 positions for the warmest months ever, and April is currently tied with May for No. 18.

Rising global temperatures can have grave environmental effects, such as rising sea levels and more intense natural disasters, like forest fires, hurricanes, and droughts, according to NASA. Closer to home, effects on the Midwest include more flooding events of greater magnitude, and other disturbances that can lead to crop failures and reduced yields, according to the National Climate Assessment.

Cover crop planting on the rise, but still used by just a small fraction of Iowa farmers


Iowa farmers planted 600,000 acres of cover crops last year. (flickr/CAFNR)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 14, 2017

Iowa farmers planted 600,000 acres of cover crops last fall. This is an increase of over 60,000 acres, but covers just 2.6 percent of the 23.4 million acres of corn and soybean crops in the state.

Various state and federal conservation programs provided funding for 353,000 of these acres, including a cost-share program through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, as part of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative to meet the needs of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Cover crops provide land with a vegetative cover during the months that crops are not actively growing, between the harvest and replanting. This helps to reduce the amount of nutrients that are washed into Iowa’s water bodies from agricultural lands, ultimately protecting the water quality. According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, cover crops can reduce the amount of nitrates leaching from the soil by 35 percent, and they are the the most effective practice for retaining nitrogen in the soil.

Washington County leads the state with the most acres of cover crops planted, followed by Cedar and Iowa counties, Wallaces Farmer reports.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey told Wallaces Farmer that he is encouraged by the increase in the practice.

“It’s obvious with the interest we’ve seen over the past few years that farmers are seeing the benefits that cover crops provide,” Northey said to Wallaces Farmer. “Cover crops are an important tool to help improve water quality and soil health in Iowa, and it is great to see an increasing number of farmers use this practice.”

Iowa City and Johnson County stick by Paris Agreement


Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton reaffirmed the city’s commitment to climate action by signing two letters backing the Paris agreement. (flickr/Steve Shupe)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 13, 2017

Local governments continue to stand up against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton recently signed two letters stating the city’s intention to uphold the principles of the Paris Accord — one from the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, and the other by the Climate Mayors, which was signed by 292 other mayors in the U.S. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution stating a similar objective at their meeting last week.

“We hope other counties will sign on as well,” Mike Carberry, vice chair of the supervisors, said to The Daily Iowan. “Since the president and the country aren’t going to show leadership, then local governments have to do it — cities, counties, maybe even states.”

Earlier this month, Trump announced his intent to ditch the agreement between 195 countries to reduce emissions to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

Both Iowa City and Johnson County have a reputation of being particularly progressive, especially in terms of environmental action. Johnson County has built several Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings, increased its dependence on solar power, and implemented recycling and waste reduction practices. Iowa City set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas output by 80 percent by 2050, established a committee aimed at climate action, and improved access to recycling and composting.

“In terms of the U.S. as a whole does, does it matter what Iowa City does?” Throgmorton said to The Daily Iowan. “No, I don’t think it matters, but if you combine all these cities in the United States … that adds up. It feels very powerful to me to know that what we’re doing is being done in affiliation with so many cities and mayors around the world … It gives me a sense of working for the common good together with millions of people.”

The mayors of Des Moines and Dubuque signed similar statements earlier this month.

Report argues a federal conservation program needs improvement


 

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to take portions of land out of production for 10-year contracts. (flickr/cjuneau)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 9, 2017

A new report argues that a federal program is not doing enough to prevent environmental degradation from agriculture.

The federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays farmers to stop planting portions of their land to allow the land to regenerate. By doing this, the impact of agriculture on environmental issues such as contaminated drinking water and destruction of fish and wildlife habitat can be greatly reduced.

However, the contract between the farmer and the CRP only lasts 10 years, so once the contract is expired, often the farmer will replant the land and the conservation efforts made will be lost, and the taxpayer money used to invest in these practices will have gone to waste. A new report by the Environmental Working Group argues that permanent or long-term solutions should be prioritized for the sake of both the environment and the taxpayers.

In Iowa, 750,000 acres of land formerly protected under the CRP have been brought back into production, with a loss of nearly $760 million for Iowa taxpayers in environmental benefits, the Des Moines Register reports.

“We need these critical water-quality practices to be sustained,” Craig Cox, the environmental group’s senior vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources, said to The Des Moines Register. “Otherwise, we’re just spinning our wheels.”