Fourmile Creek watershed improvements coming

Fourmile Creek, the watershed that my farm is located in, is the largest watershed in Polk County, Iowa. Its 76,000 acres include farmland, small towns, the large town of Ankeny, and the east side of the city of Des Moines. A collaboration of the City of Des Moines, Polk County Conservation, Polk County, and IDALS (the Iowa Department of Agriculture), has begun to put in place conservation measures that may improve the water quality and decrease the damage from flooding.


More Priuses than pickups

Just got back from the 2022 Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. We camped and were serenaded by “yotes” and Great Horned Owls both Friday and Saturday nights.

Highlights were stimulating lectures, tours of research plots (kernza, silphium, kernza intercropped with alfalfa).

Attendees seemed to be of two groups: graduate students from Midwestern universities and citizens interested in conservation. Not many were driving pickups, but there were a lot of Priuses (Prii?)

Soil testing in my hay field

I have been sampling my hay field soil after first cutting for 3 years now. The hay is a 3rd year seeding of alfalfa/orchard grass mix which I use for sheep feed. For the first cutting, baled on June 17, 2022, we got 22 large round bales or about 22,000 lbs of hay from 5 acres. Factors in the good yield this year are heavy rains and good fertility. We have had 15.25 inches of rain on my farm since March 18, 2022, when I put out my rain gauge. Third, we harvested our hay late (we prefer to cut our hay at Memorial Day) so it was a heavier growth.

Step one: Insert soil probe into soil 6-8 inches. (This might be difficult if the soil is very dry.)

Step two: Pull the probe up and drop the core in the bucket.

Step three: Collect the cores, mix the cores, and send off a sample

to the lab for analysis.

No CO2 pipelines for Iowa!

May 24, 2022
I urge the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) to deny building permits for the Summit, Navigator, and ADM/Wolf CO2 pipelines in Iowa for three reasons.

First, the evidence from scientists and engineers at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University:
1. Complete capture of CO2 during ethanol production would have very minor effects on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
2. The amount of CO2 captured during ethanol production would be a tiny fraction of what would be emitted out of vehicle tailpipes.
3. Eminent domain used to build CO2 pipelines in Iowa would force farmers and landowners to allow degradation of their fields and forests for very little public benefit.
4. Allowing profits to accrue to private pipeliners using eminent domain would be a corruption of the ideal of private sacrifice for public good and should be prevented.

Second, we have better methods of sequestering CO2 on the land than building expensive, disruptive pipelines. As a Polk County Iowa Century Farm owner, let me describe those better strategies for sequestering CO2, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and improving water quality as well. I have put all these practices into place on my farm. They are practical and make a difference:
1. Solar energy generation with electric vehicle on-farm charging,
2. Cover cropping with no tillage, and,
3. Edge-of-field practices: stream buffers, terraces, a waterway, saturated buffers and a wood-chip bio-reactor.

Third, these pipelines pose serious ethical problems:
1. Ex-governor Terry Branstad appointed 2 of the 3 members of the Iowa Utility Board and now works for Summit,
2. Samantha Norris is legal counsel for Navigator CO2 Ventures and was legal counsel for the IUB in 2018 & 2019,
3. Richard Lozier is a current IUB member and was appointed by Governor Branstad and worked for a law firm that represented the Dakota Access pipeline,
4. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s son Jess Vilsack works for the Summit legal team,
5. Bruce Rastetter, CEO of Summit, has donated $124,898 to Governor Reynolds’ campaigns since 2015,
6. Both Jeffrey Boeyink and Jake Ketzner work for Summit. Boeyink was Governor Branstad’s chief of staff in the past, and Ketzner served in the same role for Governor Reynolds,
7. Josh Byrnes, who is a member of the IUB, was appointed by Governor Reynolds, and his daughter Jess is currently Governor Reynold’s executive assistant, and finally,
8. Governor Reynolds has appointed members to her Carbon Sequestration Task Force who are industry insiders: Geri Huser, IUB chair; Debbie Durham, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director; Kayla Lyon, Iowa DNR Director; and Scott Marler, Iowa DOT Director.

How can Iowans be assured that the IUB will make a fair decision when the deck appears to be stacked against us?

For these three reasons, I urge you to deny permitting for the Summit, Navigator, and ADM/Wolf pipelines across land owned by Iowa’s taxpayers. This includes denying the use of eminent domain to take private farmland to build those CO2 pipelines.

Lee S. Tesdell, Tesdell Century Farm, Polk County, Slater, IA

Let’s see what a sudden 3-inch rain can do

On Earth Day, April 22, 2022 we had two fronts come through northern Polk County in Iowa. The first one woke me up and left about 1/2 inch of rain in the gauge. When I got back from my appointment in Ames, we had water over the road, so I turned around and went home on gravel. The rain gauge had 3 inches in it a short while later.

158th Avenue

In the afternoon I drove around the neighborhood and found the headwaters of my creek, Alleman Creek, a tributary of Fourmile Creek, looking like this:

Since then, we had another .5 inch at home. On my farm, 1/2 mile south, I dumped out a total of 3.75 inches this morning. My farm got well watered and we lost much less topsoil than our neighbors due to our terraces, prairie strips, no-till, and cereal rye cover crop. The creek buffers helped too.

Rain gauge showing 3.75 inches on April 24, 2022. Alfalfa in the background.

Lambing 2022 is here

Weighing a 10 lb lamb. Her sister was 9.5 lbs. These lambs were born April 10, just an hour after we sheared the ewe.

Shearing time. April 10, 2022. We like to shear before lambing time, so that the baby lambs can find mom’s milk easily.
Lennie the guard llama checking out the first lambs of 2022. Lennie is not overly friendly with the sheep, but he keeps an eye out for them.

Wise words from Paul Gruchow

My undergrad history professor, Dr. Joseph Amato, wrote Jerusalem Artichoke Circus: The Buying and Selling of the Rural American Dream in 1993.

AEFS (American Energy Farming Systems) of Marshall, Minnesota, was a company that employed a mixture of hype, evangelical fervor, and greed to defraud farmers in the upper Midwest in the early 1980s, touting the Jersualem artichoke as a crop that would save farmers from ruin.

Paul Gruchow wrote a forward to Amato’s book and it’s worth a read.

Making sense of ag carbon: Dr. Al-Kaisi helps us think about this important topic

Carbon pipes?

I’ve attended two Midwest Carbon Express pipeline public meetings so far, one in Ames, for Story County, and one tonight, the only online meeting for anyone in Iowa. These meetings are coordinated by the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), with personnel from Summit Carbon Solutions in attendance, who then make the case for their pipeline.

The comments and questions from these two meetings have been overwhelmingly either directly critical of the carbon capture pipeline or questioning the wisdom of the technology. One commenter tonight called it an attempt at “greenwashing”, in other words, making a technology appear to be more climate friendly than it really is. My own observations of Iowa agriculture tell me that our current industrial grain and protein (the current title for chicken, pork, and beef) production may not be sustainable into the future given the unintended consequences for our water quality and soil health. The Midwest Carbon Express offers a lifeline to our corn ethanol plants in Iowa which in the short-term have bolstered corn prices to local farmers, but in the long-term, are most likely leading to even worse water quality and loss of the topsoil due to corn fertilizer loss through drainage tile and erosion due to tillage.

At both meetings I asked about an apparent conflict of interest, whereby the former governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, is a “senior advisor” to Summit Carbon Solutions, (I called him a lobbyist in the meetings), to the Midwest Carbon Express, and at the same time, had appointed 2 of the 3 members of the Iowa Utilities Board. Richard Lozier, one of those members who was appointed by Branstad, went to pains tonight to answer my question, saying essentially that he would be very mindful of this potential conflict of interest if such an ethically questionable situation came to be. I expect Lozier (University of Iowa Law School) and Huser, both, to be mindful of this potential conflict of interest since they are both trained as lawyers. Lozier did point out in his reply to my question about conflict of interest, that Branstad was titled “senior advisor” rather than a lobbyist, as I had said; however, I did find the July 4, 2021 opinion piece in the Des Moines Register by Terry Branstad which was quite clearly a pro-pipeline claim.

What is the effect of no-till and cover cropping on our nutrient leaching?

In a recent study, researchers at Iowa State University considered the effect of tillage/no tillage and cereal rye cover crop on the amount of nitrate that leaves farm fields in drainage tile. They found that there is a clear benefit to seeding cereal rye and giving up tillage when it comes to reducing the nutrient loss through tile:

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