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Climate change means more flooding for IowaClimate change means more flooding for Iowa

Iowa scientists say the state needs to lead the way in developing a more "climate smart agriculture."

Rod Swoboda 1

October 6, 2016

5 Min Read

A joint statement released by Iowa's leading climate scientists and researchers on October 5 calls for Iowa to lead the way in developing and using more "climate smart agriculture" practices. They say Iowa can expect to see more of the extreme weather that led to widespread flooding in northeast and eastern Iowa last month.

“Iowa’s record September rainfall and flooding reminds us that climate change is real and needs to be addressed both on farms and in our communities,” said David Courard-Hauri, director of Drake University’s environmental science and policy program.

Group of scientists represents 39 universities and colleges in Iowa


Another spokesman for the group, Professor Jerry Schnoor of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, said scientists can’t blame climate change alone for any one event. “But what we can say is the frequency of extreme precipitation events is increasing. That’s the most significant thing we can see in meteorological records going back 100 years.”

The group of 190 scientists representing 39 universities and colleges in Iowa released its annual climate statement. This is the sixth year they have done so.

Heavy rainfall events have greatly increased, will continue

“Rainfall events, in locations with more than 4 inches, have greatly increased, and this September’s heavy rainfall and flooding event was one of those,” said Schnoor. “We got over 10 inches in a couple of different days from this particular storm system. It was very unusual for a storm to have such an impact in September. In fact, it’s almost unprecedented.”

Because total rainfall is increasing, and the severity of rainstorms within a single day is increasing, “we can expect more of this kind of weather as greenhouse gasses continue to accumulate in the atmosphere,” said Schnoor.

Scientists call for farmers to use more conservation practices

The statement, signed by the 190 climate scientists, calls on Iowa farmers to use more conservation farming practices that can help reduce greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

The scientists say agriculture, which accounts for 27% of Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions, can lead the way in dealing with climate change. Fossil fuels that are used to generate electricity and power homes, businesses and industrial operations account for about 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation accounts for 17% of Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions. These figures come from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, as cited in the scientists’ report.

Iowa group is building on USDA initiative introduced last year

The scientists say they’re building on an initiative U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack introduced last year that asks farmers to respond to climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing carbon sequestration and expanding renewable energy production. The federal government’s effort seeks to cut emissions nationwide by about 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, says meeting the goal would be equal to taking 25 million cars off the road or offsetting emissions from the energy produced to power 11 million homes.

The 2016 report by the group of Iowa climate scientists focuses on a couple of initiatives included in Vilsack’s Climate-Smart Agriculture program:

* Conservation practices that shift marginal croplands to perennial vegetation in land set-aside programs. “This would permanently store carbon in the soil, preventing its exposure to air and transformation to carbon dioxide, while also incorporating nitrogen that otherwise would enter waterways.”

* Reduce tillage that prevents soil erosion needs to be greatly expanded. “This would reduce silt and phosphorus runoff and return carbon and nutrients to the soil just below the surface.”

Federal and private programs offer incentives for farmers

The Iowa group of climate scientists concluded: “Iowa, already a world leader in ag production and products, could now also take pride in developing carbon storage farms that would improve soil health, wildlife and pollinator habitat, and water quality.” The federal program also says farmers can cut emissions with improved nitrogen management, and by installing anaerobic digesters and bio-gas systems, and protecting private forests, and other actions.

The group says federal and private programs offer several incentives that help farmers adopt practices that “lessen human contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.” Their report also says, “Iowa, once replete with soil carbon built by deep-rooted perennial vegetation, can reduce net greenhouse gas emissions with perennial crops grown in systems that pull heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and rebuild soil carbon.”

About the Author(s)

Rod Swoboda 1

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Rod, who has been a member of the editorial staff of Wallaces Farmer magazine since 1976, was appointed editor of the magazine in April 2003. He is widely recognized around the state, especially for his articles on crop production and soil conservation topics, and has won several writing awards, in addition to honors from farm, commodity and conservation organizations.

"As only the tenth person to hold the position of Wallaces Farmer editor in the past 100 years, I take seriously my responsibility to provide readers with timely articles useful to them in their farming operations," Rod says.

Raised on a farm that is still owned and operated by his family, Rod enjoys writing and interviewing farmers and others involved in agriculture, as well as planning and editing the magazine. You can also find Rod at other Farm Progress Company activities where he has responsibilities associated with the magazine, including hosting the Farm Progress Show, Farm Progress Hay Expo and the Iowa Master Farmer program.

A University of Illinois grad with a Bachelors of Science degree in agriculture (ag journalism major), Rod joined Wallaces Farmer after working several years in Washington D.C. as a writer for Farm Business Incorporated.

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