Iowa farmers to feel climate change

BY DANIEL SEIDL | MAY 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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The national issue of climate change is coming to the forefront for Iowa farmers.

The U.S. government released the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment earlier this week. For Iowa, the report predicts increased flooding, droughts, and other extreme weather events.

The report said Iowa farmers could lengthen growing seasons for some crops and even produce higher yields, but those advantages could be offset.

“Farmers are really at the mercy of what weather’s going to provide you,” said Iowa Farm Bureau communications specialist Andrew Wheeler.

However, he said, new advances in farming technology may make a difference.

“With this new biotechnology, you hope that a similar storm, rain, and drought would have a lesser impact,” Wheeler said. “The industry as a whole is trying to combat that.”

Another way for farmers to protect against the changing weather is to reduce their environmental impact, said Iowa State University Professor Robert Brown.

“There are actually a number of things that can be done,” he said. “One of the obvious things is for farmers to use renewable fuels.”

But this report may not be as scientific as it claims to be, said University of Iowa civil and environmental engineering Professor Wilfrid Nixon.

“There is no science that can exactly say what the climate effects will be in Iowa,” he said. “Twenty years down the road, we don’t know what’s going to be happening.”

The findings may be based more on a “faith” in the dire state of the environment rather than scientific evidence, he said.

“Trying to predict exactly what those consequences are is extremely difficult, and that’s why it’s so controversial,” he said.

Nixon agrees things are changing.

“Absolutely, the climate is changing,” he said. “Which way it’s going to go? At the moment the models are not terribly helpful.”

But Nixon said it is still important to prepare for the eventualities, especially for Iowa City, which was struck a devastating blow with the 2008 flood.

Iowa City is working on the Gateway Project to better protect the city from flooding, and Nixon said these environmental issues bring the necessity for this project to the forefront.

The project will raise a portion of Dubuque Street and redesign Park Road Bridge to increase flood protection in the area.

While the science is somewhat unclear, floods such as the one that occurred six years ago may be becoming more likely, Nixon said.

“It wasn’t quite as rare and unusual as we thought it was,” he said.

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