Iowa farmers face low yields, low prices


Half of the state is in a drought, putting farmers at-risk for serious losses this harvest season. (flickr/TumblingRun)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 16, 2017

Nearly half of the state is in a drought this summer, and Iowa farmers are struggling to make ends meet.

A Des Moines Register report showed thousands of Iowa farmers are not seeing enough rain this summer, while crop prices remain low and farm income continues to trend downward. Corn and soybean prices are down 10 percent from July, and this year, farm income is expected to fall $62 billion nationwide.

“The drought isn’t widespread enough to push up prices,” Charles Brown, an Iowa State University farm management specialist said to the Register. “It’s the worst-case scenario — low prices and low yields.”

Some farmers have crop insurance to cover their losses, but often, it’s not enough. Many rely on savings to get them through after a tough year.

The drought is also drying up pastures, eliminating a dependable food source for cattle. Some farmers use hay to supplement the animals’ diets. And if a farmer’s crop has a low yield unworthy of harvesting, the farmer may choose to chop it into animal feed instead of trying to sell it.

There is still time for rainfall to improve the outlook for Iowa farmers’ crops this season, however, some are losing hope.

“People get frustrated. They throw up their hands and don’t do anything,” Brown said to the Register. “But now isn’t the time to procrastinate. [Farmers] need to get a plan together.”

Wetland project aims to reduce nutrient flow to Des Moines


Storm Lake, Iowa constructed a wetland to help curb flooding and reduce nutrient flow into the Raccoon River. (flickr/Ravenblack7575)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 15, 2017

Storm Lake, Iowa has completed a project to improve its water quality. Eight more projects are in the works to continue this effort.

Storm Lake, in Buena Vista County, was one of several communities involved in the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit in January. The water utility attempted to sue Buena Vista county and two other northern Iowa counties for allowing nitrate pollution in the water, which flows downstream to the Des Moines area. The Iowa Supreme Court did not side with the water utility, but the lawsuit brought attention to the issue, and Storm Lake is addressing it.

In May, the community constructed a $175,000 wetland, and last week, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg joined Storm Lake leaders in celebrating the step towards healthier water.

“Storm Lake has been very active over the past several years in working with storm water to improve water quality and to slow down the flow to reduce flooding in our neighborhoods, as well as reduce the nutrient loading that’s in the water,” Jon Kruse, mayor of Storm Lake, said to KWWL.

The wetland naturally removes nutrients from the water, reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing down the Raccoon River to Des Moines, and to the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. Nutrient removal from water can be complicated, and high levels of nutrients can cause algal blooms in water bodies, leading to low oxygen levels which are dangerous for aquatic life. Storm Lake has also had issues with flooding in the past, and this wetland should help reduce that.

End-of-summer means more fish kills statewide


The end of the summer is when fish are most vulnerable to changes in their environment, so even a small amount of pollution can cause major fish kills in Iowa’s waterways. (flickr/AgriLife Today)

The state Department of Natural Resources warns Iowans to consider how fish are affected when using chemicals and fertilizers.

The end of the summer is when fish are most vulnerable — temperatures are high, and dying and decaying plant life reduce dissolved oxygen in the water. Fish and other aquatic wildlife are stressed, meaning pollution can lead to more fish kills.

In 2016, the DNR reported 15 fish kills, 11 of which occurred in the latter part of the summer, after July 15. In the last two weeks, the DNR has investigated four fish kills around the state.

The DNR reminds farmers and homeowners that what they put on their fields or lawns will wash into waterways, where it could harm wildlife. Even a small amount of a chemical can cause serious damage.

“We have received several reports of small summer fish kills at many lakes, ponds, and a few streams throughout Iowa,” said Chris Larson, fisheries supervisor for the DNR in southwest Iowa, in a press release. “We have also had some fish kills caused by pollutants.”

Rarely, however, will all of the fish in a single body of water die at once. Usually the ecosystem can bounce back from a fish kill and balance its population again within a few years.

Farmers and homeowners can prevent pollution-caused fish kills by not applying chemical fertilizer or manure before it rains, and following disposal instructions on pesticide labels.

Federal report says climate change is real and human-caused


The White House is reviewing a federal report regarding climate change. The report says climate change is happening, and humans are causing it, though it is uncertain what the Trump administration will do with this information. (flickr/Diego Cambiaso)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 10, 2017

A draft report under review at the White House says climate change is “extremely likely,” and over half of the world’s recent temperature rise has been caused by human activity.

The report, called the Climate Science Special Report, was authored by numerous federal employees and representatives from universities and private organizations. It highlights several climate-change-related phenomena, such as sea level rise, extreme weather events, glacial melting, and global temperature rise.

Members of the Trump administration have often claimed the cause of climate change is uncertain, and cannot be directly linked to human activity. However, this report claims with high confidence that most of the observed climate changes over the last half century have been caused by humans, and very little of the change is natural.

Even if humans were to stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately, the report says, the Earth would still warm at least another 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the additional amount of greenhouse gases emitted globally, and on the sensitivity of Earth’s climate to those emissions,” the report says.

The Washington Post says it is still unclear what the Trump administration will do with this information. The administration may choose to disregard the report completely, like the 2000 Climate Science Special Report, which was deemed flawed under the Bush Administration, and was not cited in future reports.  

 

CGRER unveils 2017 Climate Statement focused on humidity


From left to right: Gene Takle, director of the Iowa State University Climate Science Program; Betsy Stone, associate professor in the University of Iowa Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering; and David Courard-Hauri, director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Drake University, speak at a press conference for the 2017 Iowa Climate Statement. Takle, Stone, and Courard-Hauri contributed to the statement, which focuses on how increased humidity is a side effect of climate change. (CGRER/Joe Bolkcom)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 9, 2017

Iowa has experienced a serious increase in humidity since 1971, according to leading climate scientists in the state.

This increase of 8 percent to 23 percent, varying for different cities across the state, can be attributed to climate change.

“Absolute humidity, which is typically measured by dew point temperature, has increased statewide from 1971 to 2017. Measurements show Dubuque had the largest increase in humidity, a springtime increase of 23 percent,” said Gene Takle, director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University.

The 2017 Iowa Climate Statement, which was released by the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research today, describes the impact this high humidity has on people, animals, crops, and infrastructure. The statement was signed by 190 science faculty and researchers from 39 Iowa colleges and universities.

These impacts are far greater than just discomfort. High humidity leads to hazardous health conditions for workers, worsened asthma conditions, higher costs of air conditioning, more waterlogged soil, and stress on crops, livestock, and pets.

The statement calls Iowans to recognize the damaging effects of increased humidity, and to understand more must be done to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Cedar Rapids solar project sees success


A program in Cedar Rapids offers affordable solar power for homeowners. (flickr/Acid Pix)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 2, 2017

A Cedar Rapids solar power program hit its first target to provide affordable solar power to interested residents.

Solarize Cedar Rapidsa group-buy program, allows Linn County residents to come together to purchase solar cell equipment in large quantities to reduce the cost for everyone.

Participants will receive their first rebate soon, as the program just surpassed its first target — 50 kilowatts of investments. The participating residents will each receive a 5-cent rebate per watt. Each watt initially costs $2.45, which is much lower than any individual would be able to get on the market.

If the program reaches three more targets — 150 kW, 250 kW, and 350 kW — participants can see an additional 15-cent-per-watt rebate on their investment.

The program began in June, and will continue to accept new participants through the end of September. Several information meetings, called “Solar Power Hours,” will be held over the next few weeks.

Although this program is the first of its kind in Iowa, dozens of group-buy solar power efforts have been successful nationwide, in cities such as Chicago, Madison, and Portland. The City of Cedar Rapids and Linn County stand behind the project, as well as several other local groups and organizations.

“Solar … prices have been coming down … and now that it’s become much more mainstream. We want people’s experiences with solar to be as streamlined as possible,” Eric Holthaus, Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator, said to The Gazette.

Details on how to sign up can be found here.

Report shows electricity industry knew 50 years ago fossil fuels could harm climate


A report by the Energy and Policy Institute found that the electricity industry has known since 1968 that burning fossil fuels can lead to global warming. (flickr/Walter Keller)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 1, 2017

An energy watchdog group revealed through documents that the U.S. electricity industry was informed in 1968 that burning fossil fuels could cause climate change. The Energy and Policy Institute attests the industry doubted the science behind the idea, and continued to burn fossil fuels to produce electricity.

The documents showed at a 1968 convention for the Edison Electric Institute, Lyndon Johnson’s science advisor alerted the institute that carbon emissions could “trigger catastrophic effects.”

The full report, titled Utilities Knew: Documenting Electric Utilities’ Early Knowledge and Ongoing Deception on Climate Change from 1968-2017, details the rise of climate research during this time period, and cases of denial and public misinformation by the utilities.

Many electric utilities across the nation supported climate research in the 1970s and 1980s. Around this same time, scientists began to warn that fossil fuels may not be a long-term option to produce electricity.

The report found evidence that some major utilities, such as Pacific Gas & Electric and American Electric Power, worked in 1989 to incite doubt and deny certain causes of climate change.

The Edison Electric Institute declined to comment on the Energy and Policy Institute’s findings to Reuters, but Jeff Ostermayer, a spokesperson for the Institute, told the online publication that as of 2016, the electric industry has reduced carbon emissions by 25 percent since 2005. The institute is an association of electric companies from all 50 states serving 220 million Americans.