Climate change hurts ag

Extreme weather wrought by climate change is depleting Iowa’s agricultural productivity and challenges our ability to remain an ag leader into the future, according to 155 scientists from 36 Iowa colleges and universities. “Our climate has disrupted agricultural production during the past two years and is projected to become even more harmful in coming decades as our climate continues to warm and change,” said Gene Takle, Director of the ISU Climate Science Program at Iowa State University. “Iowa’s soils and agriculture remain our most important economic resources, but these resources are threatened by climate change.”

Buena Vista County suffered the most severe erosion of any place in the state this spring when an 11-inch rain caused some areas to lose up to 20 tons per acre on sloped land.

This is of acute concern to Dr. Rick Cruse, director of the Iowater Center at Iowa State University. He says that corn yields are not reaching their potential because of chronic soil loss in northwest and north central Iowa. Meanwhile, he predicts higher commodity prices because of fewer acres in production, stunted yields, growing populations and improving diets in developing nations. Iowa farmers will continue to go all-out to produce as much as possible as they react to market signals.

Many of us think we are just in a natural cycle that produces 500-year floods every 10 years or so. The signators to the climate change statement connote a sense of urgency, especially when it comes to soil loss.

We consider it “acceptable” to lose five tons per acre per year. Under the best of circumstances, nature only can build topsoil at about a half-inch per year in this region.

Erosion will occur at even higher rates, and even on relatively flat ground, as rains get wilder every spring on ground that is tilled right past the ditch.

Around 1,500 farmers across Iowa have engaged in new state conservation measures funded last year by the legislature. Buena Vista and Sac counties have that many farmers. So we can see that there is no groundswell to protect what we have from extreme weather.

State and federal conservation officials are pushing hard to get farmers to plant cover crops in the fall. That’s a start, but it does not address the volumes of water racing over fields each spring. We need more wetlands to slow water down. We need more buffers near rivers. We need to clean the multiple feet of mud from our natural lakes so that they can store water. We need more grazing and livestock management. And, we need to figure out new cropping patterns that can hold soil in place year-round. In the soybean-corn culture that has existed essentially since World War II, just over 60 years, we have seen erosion rates increase exponentially — especially since 1980.

It should be the focus of the entire state: How can we maintain our rich soil base for future generations? No question may be more important to the future of Iowa or, for that matter, the world.

City should back off

The City of Storm Lake has taken an exemplary approach in trying to keep our lake clean — for starters, by running the dredging operation, plus so many other efforts to filter storm water and the like. That’s why the city should re-examine its effort with the Iowa League of Municipalities to gain exemptions from the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Act.

The league hired a Washington, DC, law firm to “negotiate” with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to gain certain exemptions from more stringent regulations. Storm Lake should embrace the new regulations and figure out how to meet them despite whatever the cost might be. We are a hotspot on the Raccoon River, and our sewer effluent should go into Outlet Creek pure as driven snow.

Iowa continues to avoid costs associated with our pollution of surface waters. It is time to own up to our problems.

Negotiations, as it were, will only delay the inevitable.

Plus, we can’t count how many times the agri-industrial complex has accused the cities of being the real problem in the pollution of the Raccoon River. Hiring a DC law firm will only underscore the specious argument that urban areas are the Iowa pollution problem. They are a part of the problem.

The bigger issue is agricultural runoff. For farm operators, nutrient reduction goals are completely voluntary. That’s why our lakes and drainage ditches will continue to fill in. That’s why the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico keeps growing.

It’s not fair that ag runoff gets a free pass while cities must comply with rules. But that’s the way it goes in Iowa. Storm Lake must get with the program and comply with every provision of the nutrient strategy until our effluent is in fact safe to allow in the state’s surface waters. Storm Lake should get out of this lawsuit-in-the-making (which it will lose) and get on with cleaning up its sewage.