Category Archives: Agriculture

Severe erosion and lack of conservation progress cause for alarm among Iowa experts


Former Iowa Environmental Council executive director Linda Appelgate captured this image of a corn field eroding into the Nishnabotna river in 2010. According to the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, nearly 80% of Iowa farmers agree they need to do more to “reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into streams and lakes.”

Last week was Soil and Water Conservation Week in Iowa, a time to reflect on how well we are protecting one of Iowa’s most precious natural resources.  Unfortunately, soil erosion remains a serious problem in our state. Recently several top experts on Iowa soil conservation weighed in and expressed alarm about the state of our soil.

The Iowa Daily Erosion Project can create estimates of soil erosion the morning after a rainfall event occurs.  Here, estimates are shown for a 2-day precipitation event on April 12-13, 2014.  Still, without advances in modeling, project manager Rick Cruse says these models do not tell the whole story of Iowa soil erosion.

The Iowa Daily Erosion Project can create estimates of soil erosion the morning after a rainfall event occurs. Here, estimates are shown for a 2-day precipitation event on April 12-13, 2014.   Still, without advances in modeling, project manager Rick Cruse says these estimates do not tell the whole story of Iowa soil erosion.

Most unsettling was a reminder from Iowa State University agronomist Rick Cruse that our present methods of estimating soil erosion are badly flawed and may be missing between 20 and 90% of the erosion in the state.  In total, Cruse estimates the economic harm to agricultural yields Iowa suffers from historic soil erosion may be as great as $1 billion each year–harm that will grow as erosion continues.

Cruse, who manages the Iowa Daily Erosion Project, said current models only account erosion that occurs evenly across the soil’s surface and fail to account for ephemeral gullies that form when heavy rainwater forms channels and washes out a trench along a slope.  He answered questions about soil erosion recently in the Des Moines Register and spoke about his research at length in an Iowa Learning Farms webinar, which is available free online.

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Public hearings are underway on CAFO clean water rule

Two fish in an Iowa waterway died during a manure spill.

Manure spills can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems. According to the Council’s 2012 analysis, illegal manure spills killed more than 1.2 million fish in Iowa in the prior ten years.

For over a year, the Iowa Environmental Council has been supportive of an effort to protect Iowa’s waters from harmful manure spills.  We have advocated for strong protections of Iowa’s waters and compiled data on the harm manure spills have caused to Iowa’s waters.

The next chapter of this ongoing story takes place this month as Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission is working to complete required updates to Iowa’s rules governing how Clean Water Act permits are issued to agricultural facilities.

Under law, Iowa’s flexibility in this rulemaking is limited.  Iowa code does not permit the rules to be more stringent than specific federal requirements, and so what has been proposed is simply directly incorporating federal policy into Iowa’s rules “by reference.”

A public comment period on the proposed rules is now open through May 13.  According to the public notice for the rulemaking (which begins on page 24 of this .pdf), comments may be submitted using this method:

Any interested person may make written suggestions or comments on the proposed amendments on or before May 13, 2014. Written comments should be directed to Gene Tinker, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wallace State Office Building, 502 E. 9th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0034; fax (515)281-8895; or e-mail

In addition, six public hearings are set related to this rulemaking from May 6 to May 13:

  • May 6, 2014 6 p.m.
    Lime Creek Nature Center
    3501 Lime Creek Road, Mason City
  • May 7, 2014 6 p.m.
    Clay County Administration Building Boardroom
    300 W. 4th Street, Spencer
  • May 8, 2014 6 p.m.
    Carroll County Courthouse Meeting Room
    114 E. 6th Street, Carroll
  • May 9, 2014 11 a.m.
    Wallace State Office Building Fourth Floor Conference Room
    502 E. 9th Street, Des Moines
  • May 12, 2014 6 p.m.
    Northeast Iowa Community College Dairy Center, Room 115
    1527 Highway 150 South, Calmar
  • May 13, 2014 6 p.m.
    Washington County Conservation Board Education Center, Marr Park
    2943 Highway 92, Ainsworth

At statehouse, Governor Branstad, Ag. Secretary Northey hail Iowa’s solar energy progress

Update:  In an exciting series of events, SF2340 passed both the Iowa House and Senate on April 24 and 25, and both chambers agreed to triple the credit to a cap of $4.5 million annually.  The bill is now in the hands of the Governor for signature.

Our previous story begins below:

Iowa is already a leader in wind energy and can use the same road map to become a leader in solar energy as well, said Governor Terry Branstad, addressing solar industry leaders April 9 in the statehouse rotunda.

solar“I see tremendous potential for growth in solar energy as I do in other renewable energy items in our state,” the Governor said, noting that he and his staff are closely watching SF2340, a bill to expand Iowa’s solar tax credit pending in the legislature and are “hopeful” about its prospects.

The Governor made his remarks alongside Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey during Iowa Solar Day, an annual event sponsored by Iowa’s Solar Energy Trade Association, ISETA.

The Governor made his remarks as solar energy continues to show strong growth in Iowa, generating strong interest from electric customers around the state.  Secretary Northey and other lawmakers had the opportunity to see that growth up close on a tour of farm and rural solar installations held in Washington County on March 21. Watch coverage of the tour from KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids to learn how solar energy benefits farmers.

At the statehouse Wednesday, Secretary Northey also expressed support for expanding Iowa’s tax credit and reflected on his conversations with farmers in Washington County.

“All of them are excited about [solar],” he said.  “It’s working the way they wanted it to work; they’re seeing the numbers they thought they wanted to see.”

Tour participants gather in front of a 17 kW array at Paul Reed's farm in Washington County.  From left to right: Ken Reed, Paul Reed, Unidentified, Rep. Sally Stutsman, Rep. Dave Maxwell, Rep. Curtis Hanson, Tim Dwight, iPower, Rep. Jarad Klein,  Denny Harding, Iowa Farm Bureau, Sec. of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Sen. Ken Rozenboom

Tour participants gather in front of a 17 kW array at Paul Reed’s farm in Washington County. From left to right: Ken Reed, Paul Reed, Unidentified, Rep. Sally Stutsman, Rep. Dave Maxwell, Rep. Curtis Hanson, Tim Dwight, iPower, Rep. Jarad Klein,
Denny Harding, Iowa Farm Bureau, Sec. of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Sen. Ken Rozenboom.

The March tour was the fourth in a series hosted by local legislators and sponsored by the Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center, and ISETA.  Most recently, in November, legislators attended a tour of Des Moines-area installations.

Many Iowa lawmakers are taking note of solar energy’s promise in the state.  The bill to triple Iowa’s solar energy tax credit, SF2340, passed the Iowa Senate unanimously on March 27.

Soon after, two Senators, Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) and Mike Breitbach, (R-Strawberry Point), explained their support of the bill in a Des Moines Register op-ed:

“Clean local power is something all kinds of Iowans can agree on — families, farmers and businesspeople; rural residents and city dwellers; even Republicans and Democrats.” … “Iowans recognize the growing potential to save money while generating power where they live and work.  Lawmakers are realizing they can help. Together, we can build a brighter energy future for Iowa — and a stronger economy as well.”

Governor Branstad held a ceremonial signing ceremony recognizing the passage of the new solar tax credits on Tuesday, June 26.

Governor Branstad (seated) held a ceremonial signing of the new solar tax credits in June 2012.  Since then, demand for credits has surged.

Since Governor Branstad signed Iowa’s solar tax credit into law in 2012, $2.84 million through the program has supported 622 solar projects worth more than $24 million.

Demand for the tax credit has dramatically increased in the last year, more than doubling from 2012 to 2013, and exceeding the tax credit program’s cap by almost $700,000.

Strong demand for tax credits is just one piece of evidence that Iowa’s use of solar is taking off.  Already, an Iowa Environmental Council analysis of utility records for our report Real Potential, Ready Today: Solar Energy in Iowa showed that the number of solar energy installations connected in Alliant and MidAmerican Energy’s service territories grew from fewer than ten in 2009 to more than 80 in 2012.

As a result of this growth, solar installers are seeing increasing interest from customers.  The Solar Foundation estimates the number of solar jobs in Iowa more than tripled from 210 in 2012 to 680 in 2013.

During the Iowa Senate’s debate on SF2340, Iowa Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) told a story about just how much growth has occurred in the solar industry in a very short period of time.  Six years ago, Hogg said, the largest Iowa array was a 7 kW array at the Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha, Iowa.  He described the industry’s growth since:

“Hundreds of businesses, farmers and homeowners across the state have systems that are 7 kilowatts or larger. Hundreds. The largest photovoltaic array in Iowa is at Luther College, in Senator Breitbach’s district, 280 kilowatts 40 times larger. And later this year, in Senator Greiner’s district, Farmers Electric Co-op is going to break ground on an 800 kilowatt unit, more than 100 times larger than what just less than six years ago was the largest array in our state.”

Increasing Iowa’s use of solar energy is an important part of boosting the state’s overall use of clean energy, yet even with favorable policy and continued growth in the industry, Iowa has tapped only a small part of solar energy’s potential for our state.  In fact, the total amount of energy Iowa could produce from solar panels exceeds the state’s total energy use by more than 150 times over.

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.