Category Archives: Agriculture

Leopold Center seeks nominations for Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University has announced nominations for the Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture are open now.  The Spencer Award honors the beliefs, innovations and stewardship of Norman and Margaretha Spencer, who farmed near Sioux City for 40 years. It serves as a lasting memorial to the Spencers, who believed that it is the obligation of each generation to leave the world a better and healtheir place for the next generation.

The award was established in 2001 by an endowment from the Spencer family, and is administered by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The 2014 award includes a $1,000 cash prize.

Who is eligible:  Anyone who has made significant contributions to the advancement of ecological and economic practices that will make agriculture sustainable and the family farm secure for the future. This can include individuals, agricultural organizations, researchers, educators, or students engaged in sustainable agriculture projects.

To learn more about submitting an application, visit the Leopold Center’s web site.

Council welcomes new agricultural policy specialist, Jennifer Terry



The Iowa Environmental Council has expanded its capacity to seek dialogue and progress on clean water issues by appointing Jennifer Terry as a new agricultural policy specialist.

“Iowans believe urgent action for clean water is needed, and the Council is focused on delivering solutions that will help the state measure and maintain progress,” said Ralph Rosenberg, the Council’s executive director. “Jen’s skills as a conscientious listener and coalition builder make her a great fit to help our team deliver results Iowans want.”

Terry is a native Iowan who grew up on a dairy farm in Hardin County, Iowa.  A graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law, she has extensive experience leading business development and marketing efforts for an Iowa-based healthcare organization.

“Having raised two children in Iowa, I understand the concerns of many Iowans who worry about allowing their children to fish and swim in polluted waters,” Terry said.  “I am excited to join the broad community of farmers, conservationists, scientists and everyday people working to solve these problems.”

At the Council, Terry will work to broaden the Council’s coalition working on water pollution reduction in Iowa.  In Iowa, polluted runoff from farm fields and urban areas and chronic soil erosion are among the state’s most serious threats to clean water.  She will work with the Council’s partners to advance new solutions for putting conservation practices in place where they are needed and measure Iowa’s progress toward pollution reduction.

Major funding for the Council’s clean water efforts comes from the Walton Family Foundation, other foundation support, and the charitable contributions of individual Iowans across the state interested in protecting clean water and a healthy Iowa environment for future generations.

278 organziations sign letter in support of farm bill conservation

farmbillblogAs work on the long-stalled Farm Bill resumes in a Congressional conference committee this week, across the nation, 278 organizations including many in Iowa have signed a new letter calling on Congress to take responsible action for conservation.

The groups urge Congress to reconnect taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance to common-sense conservation protections for soil and water–a part of the farm bill known as “conservation compliance.” The letter also calls on Congress to support a national “sodsaver” provision to reduce taxpayer subsidies for converting native grasslands to crop production.

“Both of these provisions, included in the Senate bill, ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to incentivize risky or environmentally destructive practices,” the 278 groups say.  “Conservation compliance and sodsaver are among the top farm bill priorities for our groups, and both will be determining factors as we consider our support for a final bill.”

As the letter explains, much is at stake as Congress considers this policy:

Without these key protections, billions of taxpayer dollars spent on crop insurance over coming years will subsidize soil erosion that will choke our waterways, increase the cost of water treatment and dredging, and reduce the long term productivity of farmland. It will also allow for the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands, resulting in increased downstream flooding, loss of wildlife habitat and decreased water quality.

A diverse group of organizations representing Iowans, including the Iowa Environmental Council, have signed the letter.  Other Iowa organizations signing include Citizens for a Healthy Iowa, the Des Moines Water Works, the Driftless Chapter of Iowa Trout Unlimited, the Iowa Bowhunters Association, the Iowa Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, the Iowa Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton League of America, Maquoketa Valley Chapter, the North Bear Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Quad City Audubon Society, the Spring Creeks Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Iowa Council of Trout Unlimited, and the Wagner Conservation Coalition.  The Environmental Law and Policy Center, a regional organization with offices in Iowa, also signed, as did the Environmental Working Group, whose national agriculture program is based in Ames.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) coordinated this national effort.  NSAC’s website has the full letter and list of organizations.  You can also read about the latest grassland loss data from USDA by clicking here.

Is toxic algae coming to a lake near you?

Summer should be a time for fishing, boating and swimming with family on our nation’s lakes.  Yet instead of fresh clear waters, many users are encountering mats of thick blue-green harmful algal blooms (HABs) – aka toxic algae.

toxic_algae_report_20130920A new report by the National Wildlife Foundation and Resource media highlights the toxic algae blooms that are fouling waters nationwide, including in Iowa.  The authors have also launched an interactive map tracking reports of harmful algae blooms from across the country at



In addition to highlighting the health and economic impacts of harmful algal blooms, the report also discusses solutions for this widespread problem.  It highlights Iowa farmer Mark Peterson who is making extensive use of cover crops on his farm to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in local waters.

Here’s Mark’s story, reprinted with permission of the report’s authors:

“One of the most effective things I do is use cover crops to soak up nutrients that move with any rainfall,” he says. “I aerial seed cereal rye before harvest so that it is already sprouted and growing by the time harvest is over. That way there is always something growing in the field which helps protect the soil and scavenge nutrients. This also will help build up organic matter over time.

“I’m not alone in this practice – more and more farmers are shifting to a spring fertilizer application, along with planting cover crops. Why? It’s good for the farm. We like to say, ‘Don’t farm naked!’ Cover crops prevent the land from staying bare over the wintertime. They prevent soil erosion, keep the nutrients in the soil and improve soil health.

“It is time for the government to put its money where its mouth is and provide funding for conservation education that will improve soil and water quality. We should also link conservation compliance to crop insurance. Farmers are getting a big subsidy on our crop insurance, and in exchange we must take care of our soil and water not only for ourselves, but for the future generations. Melanie and I have five sons and two grandchildren—so far. I want to leave, for them, the farm and the environment in even better shape than what we started with.”

By the way, the great “Don’t Farm Naked” t-shirt Mark is wearing comes from Practical Farmers of Iowa, a Council member organization.

230+ organizations call on President Obama to protect America’s waterways from livestock waste

The Iowa Environmental Council has joined with more than 230 organizations from 30 states to urge President Obama to protect our nation’s waterways from animal waste produced by industrial livestock operations.

Food animals in the United States generate up to 1 billion tons of waste every year, which often contains nutrients, pathogens, sediment, antibiotics, and metals such as copper or arsenic. That waste contaminates some of our most prized waterways, such as the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Mississippi River, as well as streams, estuaries and wells. It also can taint drinking water, kill fish, and close beaches, harming human health and local economies.

Read the letter from human health, environmental, faith-based, farming, community, animal protection, sporting, environmental justice, and student groups after the jump.

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