Looking beyond the surface to fully understand Iowa’s water quality

June 29, 2015

Cover -- Take a Child Outdoors 1The recent flooding around the state is a reminder of the importance of water quality to all of us, whether you live in the heart of a city or call rural Iowa home.  Our families like to fish, swim, and play in the water during the warm summer and fall months, and we all depend on waterways for safe drinking water.

When the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently released their bi-annual Water Quality Assessment and we saw a higher number of impaired waterways, the immediate reaction is concern about regression in our water quality challenge.  However, once you look beyond the surface of the water report to understand the process, a much different conclusion is made.

Although the 2014 list from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) includes more impaired waters than two years ago, according to the DNR,  that does not necessarily mean that water quality is worse in Iowa.  It means improved monitoring captured more waterways and more data was collected than ever before. The DNR also says the number may also reflect a naturally occurring bacteria, which still indicates impairment, but the natural phenomena is not caused by humans.

John Olson, the DNR’s specialist on water quality assessments and author of Understanding Iowa’s Impaired Waters (2015), wrote, “The majority of impairments in Iowa waters are minor to moderate. Iowa’s water quality standards are designed to alert us to a potential problem before serious pollution problems begin.  For the most part, when a water is impaired, it tells us that we, as Iowans, need to act before those problems become severe.”

conservation-1aRather than reaching the inaccurate conclusion that we aren’t making progress in water quality, a deeper look at the data tells a much different story.  Iowans can proudly say that due to collaborative efforts around the state and the dedication of many farmers, 73 waterbodies were removed from the 2012 impaired list.

Just as our offices, schools, and homes have implemented new technology, farmers embrace technology to improve conservation plans on their farms, and municipalities look for more efficient ways to treat water; the collaboration has been successful.  The DNR has also added new technology which has expanded water testing and tells us more than ever before.  The DNR reported that additions to the impairment list were generally because water monitoring and biological data weren’t available in prior years, not that water quality is declining in Iowa.

Michelle - water sampleIowa’s water quality challenges didn’t develop overnight, so it makes sense that measurable improvement won’t happen overnight either.  But better testing, means better information, so we should strive to learn how we all impact our watershed, whether we grow crops, wash the car in the driveway, fertilize our lawns, or simply like to paddle down the river on a hot, summer day; it’s time to ‘dive deep’ and realize we’re all in this, together.

By Andrew Wheeler. Andrew is public relations coordinator for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.





Kleckner’s work helped make U.S. agriculture a global power

June 22, 2015

Dean Kleckner 2“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems as though Emerson wrote these words just for an Iowa farmer, who cared enough, was passionate enough, and worked hard enough to help make American agriculture a global business.

U.S.-grown crops, meats and other agricultural products flow to markets all over the world, meeting the growing demand for high quality food, creating jobs and pumping dollars back the economies of Iowa and other agricultural states. Indeed agriculture is one of the few sectors that the United States enjoys a trade surplus.

America’s ag export success is no accident. It required relentless work, and special talents, to develop the relationships required to increase the exports of U.S. farm goods to international markets and to bust down well-entrenched trade barriers. It took a man like Iowa farmer Dean Kleckner.

Kleckner, who passed away last week at 82, was a visionary who clearly saw that the future of American agriculture—with its vast ability to produce—would revolve around exports.

Kleckner worked tirelessly to build those export markets and support farmers’ incomes as president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation for a decade beginning in 1975. He carried on that work for 14 years as president of the American Farm Bureau Federation through 2000.

Later he served as chairman of Truth About Trade & Technology (TATT), an Iowa-based non-profit group is led by farmers to support free trade and freedom of farmers around the world to choose technology.

Dean Kleckner in San AntonioKleckner’s plain-speaking manner, humor, listening skills and sharp memory helped him build strong relationships everywhere he went. And that was a lot of places.

In all, Kleckner traveled to more than 80 countries and met countless foreign leaders, ag ministers and countless thousands of others to help pry open doors for U.S. agricultural products. He was the only American farmer on the U.S. advisory team to attend the kickoff a critical world trade meeting in Uruguay and served on a trade advisory committee for three U.S. presidents, working to help farmers gain access to export markets, while helping to spur related businesses.

Kleckner grew up on a farm near Rudd, a small town in Floyd County. He started farming full-time at 18 after his father died, a responsibility that kept him from attending college.

Yet Kleckner’s vision for the future of U.S. agriculture stretched far and wide; all around the globe, really. And American farmers are much better off because of that.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s news services manager.  

Help Food Bank of Iowa win the Great American Milk Drive ($10,000 in milk) with a couple clicks

June 12, 2015

Food Bank of IowaI’ve written before on the Farm Fresh blog about the tour I took last fall of the Hawkeye Harvest Food Pantry in Mason City.

It was an eye-opening experience, in so many ways. But what struck me the most was seeing the nearly empty coolers in the pantry’s warehouse.

Local food pantries can’t afford to keep their shelves stocked with the nutritious basics that food-insecure Iowans request the most – fresh meat, eggs and milk.

It’s those high-protein foods that can help keep the hunger pains away while the kids are learning in class and the parents are trying to earn a paycheck.

During June Dairy Month, the nation’s dairy farmers are organizing the Great American Milk Drive to encourage Iowans to donate as little as $5 to deliver a gallon of milk to a local family served by the Food Bank of Iowa.

The Food Bank of Iowa is also one of 10 chosen food banks nationwide that is competing in the Great American Milk Drive Challenge to provide more milk to children, families and seniors in Iowa. The winner of the month-long challenge will be awarded $10,000 towards milk purchases.

You can help the Food Bank of Iowa win the challenge by following the Food Bank of Iowa on Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram.

Post on your social media channels, tag the Food Bank of Iowa (@FOODBANKIOWA) and add the #MilkDrive hashtag in order for the Food Bank of Iowa to share and retweet your post. Points accumulate for each post, share and retweet from the Food Bank of Iowa. The food bank with the most points receives the grand prize of $10,000 towards milk purchases.

And on June 16, your donation can make an even larger impact during a one-day social media milk drive. All donations online at www.milklife.com/give will be matched on this day, up to $10,000 in donations. Plus, all social media posts on this day will be double the points.

For more information on the Food Bank of Iowa and the Great American Milk Drive Challenge, visit www.foodbankiowa.org.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau’s senior features writer.

Lipstick can’t dress up EPA’s troubling waters decree

June 5, 2015

conservation-1aWe’ve all heard the old saying that putting lipstick on a pig just doesn’t make it any prettier. But that didn’t stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from trying to gussy up the rule it rolled out recently to redefine what constitutes a water of the United States, or WOTUS, under the Clean Water Act.

The agency went to extraordinary lengths in its attempt to show that the new rule will not place any new burdens on farmers, small businesses and others. It insisted that the new rule will simply add clarity for farmers and other land owners. And the EPA continued to tout its “unprecedented” efforts to listen to and consider the public, including farmers, as it drafted the rule.

Farm Bureau and others are still analyzing the EPA’s final WOTUS rule to determine what’s in all the details. (This porker weighed in at nearly 300 pages, so it’s going to take some time to carefully consider it.)lipstick

However, despite the EPA’s charm surge, it’s already clear that the final rule ignores the concerns that farmers have highlighted for more than a year.

Farmers are very concerned about improving water quality. All over Iowa they are stepping up to sow cover crops, plant grass waterways, building terraces and adopt other practices that will help keep nutrients on fields and out of streams. (Check here to see how farmers’ water quality efforts are helping Iowa wildlife.)

But, contrary to what the EPA said in its multiple press releases, the rule is almost certain to pile new burdens and red tape on farmers by adding permitting requirements for normal farming practices, such as fixing or installing grassed waterways and many other conservation practices. Ironically, the EPA’s water rule is likely to slow to adoption of conservation practices, instead of promoting them.

cc-logo1The agency’s claim that the rule will provide clarity is also hard to swallow. That’s because the EPA’s final rule remains as vague as ever on what actually constitutes a water of the U.S. Farmers are a long way from clear on what land be subject to regulation and what isn’t.

And in perhaps the biggest gloss over, the EPA’s claims it considered the concerns of the thousands of farmers who took the time and made the effort to comment on the agency’s website. Instead, the agency appears to have placed far more stock in the favorable comments it solicited in an unprecedented (and some say illegal) social media campaign and counted each internet click in support of clean water as a comment in favor of the complex and far-reaching rule. It also launched an unusual political campaign-styled effort called “ditch the myth” to try and discredit public comment opposed to the rule.

With Congressional and, potentially legal action ahead, we’ve probably not heard the end of the WOTUS rule.

And, if the past is any indication, we’ll probably see the EPA making a few more trips to the cosmetics counter to buy lipstick as they work to sell their confusing WOTUS rule, which could delay, or even slow, conservation and water quality progress.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s news services manager.  



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