June 23, 2024

Big Ag Pollutes America’s Waters and Makes Money Doing It

It’s been 33 years since an Iowa State University agronomist named Fred Blackmer thought he’d struck gold for Midwestern corn farmers. Using a fairly simple three-step method, Blackmer developed an analytical tool that could accurately tell farmers exactly how much fertilizer their fields needed to produce abundant harvests each season. The analytics Blackmer perfected showed not only how much fertilizer the corn crops would need to meet production targets, but also exposed how much could …

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In Iowa, A Tale of Academic Intimidation and Contaminated Water

IOWA CITY, IOWA  — There’s no mystery that fertilizer and manure running off farm fields are the primary cause of Iowa’s wretched water quality. Farm fields laden with synthetic fertilizers and manure produce bounties of over 2 billion bushels of corn each year. Data from the Iowa Water Quality Information System, the state’s advanced monitoring network, shows those same fields also produce a torrent of run-off that contaminates virtually every mile of streams and rivers …

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Chris Jones, Author of “The Swine Republic,” Unexpectedly Resigns Post at University of Iowa

In the realm of the important-but-obscure, a place I’ve resided for most of my professional life, Chris Jones is a hero. A research engineer at the University of Iowa, Jones studies and writes with masterful expertise about agriculture, the environment, and water. Put those three elements together, and consider that state and federal law essentially immunizes crop and livestock farms from responsibly managing their nitrogen and phosphorus wastes. The result is a disturbing but familiar …

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Ethanol and Methane Put US Farms at Center of US Energy Strategy

With the exception of federal and state programs to convert corn into ethanol and soybeans into biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks the United States has never regarded farming as a primary energy producer. That changed when Congress passed the climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act last August. The law provides $140 billion in tax incentives, direct loans, and grants to replace fossil fuels with cleaner renewable energy that lowers emissions of carbon dioxide. …

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New Climate Law Includes Provisions That Will Make Midwest Water Pollution Worse

Earlier this year I was awarded an investigative fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to pursue the causes and serious consequences of farm-related nutrient pollution in the nine-state Corn Belt at the center of the country. The project, undertaken with the collaboration of Circle of Blue, The New Lede, and The Guardian, builds on what I learned in 2022 reporting for Circle of Blue on phosphorus contamination for “Danger Looms Where Algae Blooms.” When I …

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Opposition to CAFOs Mounts Across the Nation

For decades, Americans mostly turned a blind eye to the industrial-scale livestock production operations that churn out cheap supplies of meat and dairy for the masses. Occasional opposition to local pollution problems and the casual animal cruelty that characterize conventional US dairy, hog, and poultry production did little to alter practices that are embedded in the rural landscape. That may be changing. A wave of frontline resistance is now breaking across the Upper Midwest and …

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Agriculture’s Toxic Nutrient Pollution — A National Scandal

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified phosphorus and nitrogen discharges from U.S. farmland as the single greatest challenge to our nation’s water quality.  That assessment followed years of confirming high concentrations of farm nutrients in surface and groundwater reserves, and dozens of peer-reviewed epidemiology studies that cited both compounds as a threat to public health. The agency proposed to identify those responsible and develop strategies to reduce nutrient pollution.  That plan died the following year. …

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AppHarvest’s Big Idea: Bringing Food Production Indoor At A Mammoth Kentucky Greenhouse

MOREHEAD, Ky. – Almost 70 percent of American consumers, including those who love fresh tomatoes, are a day’s drive from eastern Kentucky. That proximity to big markets is the primary reason AppHarvest is building the largest greenhouse in the United States in a big field in Rowan County just outside this university town. Sometime next summer, when production commences, the $97 million, 60-acre building will begin shipping 45 million pounds of fresh produce annually, primarily …

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I Wish, I Will

  NEW YORK — The three-day Clinton Global Initiative concluded with a flurry of new commitments including a five-year, $4 billion pledge by Pacific Gas & Electric and Ausra to build solar thermal generating stations that both companies says is cost-competitive with fossil fuel generation. California-based Ausra will build at least 1,000 megawatts of solar power plants and PG&E will purchase at least 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal, and the deal will eliminate over 36 million tons of CO2 emissions …

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Michigan’s Energy Schizophrenia

Late last month I had the chance to spend the day with scientists at Michigan State University who are involved in carrying out the work of the new Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a partnership between MSU and the University of Wisconsin financed by a five-year, $125 million federal research grant. It is one of three such centers across the country determined to fill America’s national gas tank with fuel made from plants. Bruce Dale, a chemical engineer at …

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