Recognizing the obvious

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Not that much is new in the National Climate Assessment released by the White House over Thanksgiving weekend hoping that few of us would notice. But the chapters on the Midwest and agriculture broke some new ground by acknowledging that agricultural productivity will decline over the next 30 years to 1980s levels without major advances in technology.

This is something we have been warning about since the 2014 National Climate Assessment. Drs. Gene Takle, Jerry Hatfield and Rick Cruse, all faculty members at Iowa State University, have been preaching the perils of wilder weather on agriculture for many years — at least 25, in the case of Takle, a climate modeler who shares a Nobel Prize. Cruse has been evangelizing for soil conservation all over Iowa. Cruse has been trying to get people to hear that Iowa crops are losing protein and value because of degraded soil wrought by climate change and the disc. No agronomist has studied the Raccoon River watershed more than Hatfield, and nobody has proposed more common-sense solutions for its management.

They have been speaking with an urgency that is not felt universally in Iowa.

It is one thing to lose soil or put up with five-inch and seven-inch rains the same week in autumn so long as you can finally get the crop out safely. It is another thing to realize that we are losing our bounty through soil depletion and climate change. But that is what the 2018 National Climate Assessment makes abundantly clear. Warming temperatures and wetter nights alone assure that growing corn will be more difficult in the next 20 years. Combine it with massive losses of soil from the Des Moines lobe, the richest spot on Earth, and you have a combination that the seed geneticists and ag engineers might not be able to tackle, not even with the chemist. The assessment of the scientists gathered by the Trump Administration is that we need more cover crops, better resiliency, more water-storage capacity in the soil and groundwater, and we need to hope a silver bullet fires from a lab at Johnston or Slater to maintain our crop and land values.

The report notes that we do have the understanding to cope and even thrive amid a changing climate. Adaptation is slow; cover crops are used on less than one-half of a percent of the cropland in the Des Moines Lobe.

Floods will be regular and more severe. Aquifer pockets in cattle country of the Southern Plains will dry up, moving those doggies north (we hope onto grass). Crop pathogens will become more challenging, and grain storage will be more difficult. Farmers know it. They see and feel the spotty yields. They are starting to change, but not as fast as the climate. Therein lies the opportunity for the innovator. Those who learn to produce within new confines may profit from it. That is the little good news we can draw. The bad news, according to the White House report, is that there is not enough innovation to meet the change.

Support SL United

We were encouraged to hear every Storm Lake City Council candidate say the city should work with Storm Lake United to improve the image and draw of The City Beautiful. Randy Johnson was the first to bring it up, and every other candidate who hoped to fill the vacancy left with the death of Councilman Bruce Carlson agreed with Johnson. A couple council members did, too.

Storm Lake United led the charge in changing the narrative from a conflicted meatpacking town to an integrated community leading the state in so many ways. But then the county cut its support, and the city did, and Storm Lake United was not able to do the marketing that we need. Many cities our size have their own economic development department. Here, Storm Lake United does the job for a fraction of the price. Storm Lake United helped to get the local option and the hotel-motel tax sales taxes approved and re-approved. Yet the funds from those taxes have been directed away from their principal cheerleader.

If the council is serious about image and marketing, it must get serious with Storm Lake United. We are entering the budget season. All hotels and motels — especially King’s Pointe — do better when SLU is fully funded. That means the city sales tax coffers do better. When retail sales on Lake Avenue pick up because Storm Lake United is helping, the city treasury is stronger. There is a direct relationship, and it makes sense to use sales tax dollars to generate more sales tax dollars.

The agency promotes economic development, tiny gift shops and cafes, big industry, and community causes. It brings in live music and chainsaw artists, and generates positive videos about Storm Lake that are shared widely. All that deserves our support. It sounds like it has majority support on the council, too. That should be reflected in the next budget.