Iowa

Fewer Regulations Heighten Cities’ Concerns Over Water Quality, Cost To Clean It Up

Nov 3, 2017
Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

There’s a city council election in Des Moines soon, and voters have questions about the rivers where the city draws its water supply.

“Is (the water) safe to drink? Is it safe to consume?” candidate Michael Kiernan says he’s been asked.

Clovis Withdraws From USDA Nomination In Wake of Ties To 2016 Election Investigation

Nov 2, 2017
Courtesy of Iowans for Sam Clovis

Updated 12:30 p.m. Nov. 2 — Sam Clovis, who ran President Donald Trump's campaign in Iowa, has withdrawn his nomination to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientist position. Clovis was linked this week to the federal investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Clovis sent Trump a letter, dated Nov. 1, that says the political climate "has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position" during his Nov. 9 Senate confirmation hearing.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) waits to welcome a new appointee to the agency. The event was also supposed to include the appointment of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey (left), but his nomination is blocked in the Senate.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

An event Monday planned to mark two Midwestern political appointees joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture was partly spoiled by a political dispute over biofuels.  

Protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard is a priority for officials from corn-producing states, as shown by this sign at an RFS rally in Iowa a few years ago.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Republican and Democratic senators from top corn- and ethanol-producing states say their pressure helped prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from changing rules governing renewable fuel production.

But at least one senator, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, says President Trump was their ace in the hole against an EPA chief who has deep ties to the oil and gas industry.

Eric Thalken works down a row of organic corn, pulling back the husks. "There's a mindset that organic is ugly and low yielding and it just doesn't have to be," Thalken says.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Burkey Farms in southeast Nebraska looked into the future a couple of years ago and didn’t like what it saw — a continuation of depressed prices for conventional corn and soybeans. So, the families who run the farm together started discussing how the operation would make money if they couldn’t earn more from their crops.  

Their conversation took a turn toward organics, a $40 billion industry and growing, especially in Iowa and Colorado.

These sunflowers grow on research fields in Ames, Iowa, which is a state with almost no commodity sunflower production. But places like Kansas, North Dakota, Colorado, Minnesota, Wyoming and Texas, sunflowers are a commonly rotated row crop.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that'll be increasingly important to farmers are wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel. 

Residents of Pretty Prairie, Kansas, are under pressure from regulators to reduce nitrate levels in their water.
Alex Smith / For Harvest Public Media

A new report suggests the Environmental Protection Agency should consider lowering the legal limit in drinking water for nitrates, a chemical often connected to fertilizer use.

People who drink water with elevated, but not illegal, levels of nitrates could be at an increased risk of kidney, ovarian and bladder cancer, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group asserts. But a University of Iowa researcher who studies nitrate contamination says the connection to cancer is inconsistent and other chemicals may be involved.

Weed Killer Dicamba Eyed In Oak Tree Damage Across Iowa, Illinois And Tennessee

Oct 11, 2017
Lou Nelms, a retired biologist, stands next to an oak tree in Atlanta, Illinois, that may have been damaged by herbicide drift.
Darrell Hoemann / The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

As soybean and cotton farmers across the Midwest and South continue to see their crops ravaged from the weed killer dicamba, new complaints have pointed to the herbicide as a factor in widespread damage to oak trees.

Monsanto and BASF, two of agriculture’s largest seed and pesticide providers, released versions of the dicamba this growing season. The new versions came several months after Monsanto released its latest cotton and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist dicamba in 2016. Since then, farmers across the Midwest and South have blamed drift from dicamba for ruining millions of acres of soybeans and cotton produced by older versions of seeds.

Now, complaints have emerged that the misuse of dicamba may be responsible for damage to oak trees in Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee.

Emerging prairie strips on Iowa farms.
Christopher Gannon / Courtesy Iowa State University

A new study says small patches of native prairie plants provide a range of conservation benefits to Iowa’s landscape and could reduce water pollution from farm fields.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Galen Fick milks 50 Brown Swiss cows every day on his farm in Boyden, Iowa, where his family has been in the dairy business for generations. Life as a dairy farmer has gotten harder and harder, he says, especially in the past two years.

 

“Our inputs have gone up so much, not the feed part of it but everything else,” he says, pointing to veterinary care and, especially, labor. “For us to make that profit, [it] makes it very tough.”

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