A fall palette of yellow and green leaves color the local landscape.

Drops of rain glisten on fall leaves.

Remarks to 2021 Drake conference on soil

Thursday, November 18, 2021
Note: I've had several people ask me to post a text of my remarks to "SOIL 2021 – Our Soils: Our Future" conference at Drake University Law School:

Thank you for the invitation to speak here at SOIL 2021. I’m honored to participate in this meeting and I thank Neil Hamilton, who has done so much for Iowa by articulating the challenges we have.

I didn’t bring slides today but have hundreds, maybe thousands of slides on my website and if you want to look at them, by all means, I encourage you to go there and take a look.

I didn’t bring slides because I have come to realize these past few years that the presentation of graphs, and tables of data, and conceptual models about soil health and edge of field treatments and cover crops and so forth, won’t affect change here in Iowa when it comes to water quality.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, and I quote: "Take Weaver's discovery that the composition of the plant community determines the ability of soils to retain their granulation, and hence their stability. This new principle may necessitate the revision of our entire system of thought on flood control and erosion control." Aldo Leopold said that about cover crops in 1938. Before I was born, and even before my mother was born. And we have what, 5 percent, 7 percent of our land in cover crops.

The statewide stream load of nitrogen has approximately doubled since 2003. Phosphorus loading, while not increasing nearly as much as nitrogen, is indeed still increasing when we evaluate actual water quality data — 27 percent when compared to a pre-1996 baseline. If you listen to the artfully-named Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council, housed within the Agribusiness Association of Iowa and funded by the Iowa legislature to track progress for the Iowa nutrient strategy, phosphorus loads are down 22 percent and they tell us, and I quote, “Iowa Agriculture has nearly met the 29 percent non-point source reduction goal”.

Not one shred of water quality data went into this mendacious claim. Not one shred. It’s pretty clear that establishment agriculture is itching to hang the “Mission Accomplished” banner on the Wallace Building, regardless of what our water looks and smells like.

Libraries should be for all, not just for some

There’s a big birthday coming up in Iowa in about a month.

This place we call home — these 55,800 square miles of farm fields, wooded land, and clusters of housing and commerce — joined the Union 175 years ago on Dec. 28.

This should be cause for a celebration. But it probably won’t be. We have difficulty agreeing on much of anything these days, it seems — including libraries.

The spotlight was on them last week during a committee meeting in the Johnston School District. The topic was whether two novels for teens, “The Hate U Give” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” should be available in the Johnston High School library for students to read. The school is the third largest in Iowa, with about 1,725 kids.

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital makes $24 per share, all-cash offer to buy Lee Enterprises, Inc.

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital today (11/22) made an unsolicited all-cash offer of $24 per share to acquire Davenport-based Lee Enterprises, Inc. with its 77 daily newspapers including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Buffalo News, and local Quad City newspapers, the Dispatch/Argus and Quad City Times.

Alden acquired Tribune Publishing earlier this year. That publishing group includes the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Orange County Register, Boston Herald, Baltimore Sun and the Mercury News (San Jose, CA).

Sen. Roby Smith barked up the wrong tree defending Davenport dog kennel owner

State Sen. Roby Smith’s conduct in bullying Iowa Department of Agriculture staff on behalf of a constituent and raising the possibility of gun violence was beyond disturbing.

If you missed Clark Kauffman’s story in Iowa Capital Dispatch, you can read it here.

The constituent, Davenport kennel owner Robert Burns, couldn’t have been more pleased that penalties against his business for animal-welfare violations were reduced after Smith joined him in a two-hour phone call with top agency staff. And for good reason.

‘Like he was my lawyer:’ State Sen. Roby Smith intervened in Davenport animal-welfare case

The owner of a Davenport dog kennel says state regulators scaled back their punishment against his business this summer after a state legislator intervened in the case on his behalf.

Earlier this summer, the Animal Playground boarding kennel in Davenport, run by Robert Burns, was visited by state inspectors working for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. At the time, the kennel was supposed to be shut down due to a license suspension triggered by a series of serious regulatory violations.

The kennel, however, was in full operation with 40 dogs milling about, inspectors reported.

Iowa Farm Bureau finances revealed by Investigate Midwest and Watchdog Writers Group reporting

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and the Watchdog Writers Group reported Thursday (10/7) on the Iowa Farm Bureau and how it has profited from funds generated by its insurance subsidiary.

"The political activities of farm bureaus at the state and federal level are well-documented. But the scope of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s sprawling financial operations is less understood. Through expanded investments, it has reaped massive profits. Over the past decade, its total revenue has increased about 200 percent. And, lately, about 80 percent of it comes from investments, according to tax documents. No other farm bureau even approaches that ratio."

CLICK HERE to read the full article.

Developer of senior housing in Muscatine agrees to $8,000 fine for allowing runoff to pollute Mad Creek

A former LeClaire developer now living in West Des Moines has agreed to pay an $8,000 fine for storm water runoff violations at a senior housing site in Muscatine that polluted the nearby Mad Creek.

James Bergman, of JNB Oak Park LP, signed the administrative consent order with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) last month. Bergman was one of the developers of Thomas Place Senior Housing in Bettendorf.

Cricket Hollow Zoo owners ordered to pay $70,000 or serve jail time for violating court order

The owners of Manchester’s Cricket Hollow Zoo have been ordered to pay $70,000 or serve five months in jail for violating court orders regarding the relocation of animals at their roadside attraction.

The ruling this week in the contempt-of-court case against Pamela and Thomas Sellner comes three days after the Iowa Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision in the case that led to zoo’s closure in 2019.

In that case, a group of Iowans assisted by animal rights advocates sued the Sellners, alleging numerous violations of Iowa’s animal neglect laws. A judge ruled in their favor and effectively ordered the zoo closed with many of the animals to be relocated to wildlife sanctuaries in other states.

READ MORE from the Iowa Capital Dispatch

Reynolds office least transparent in 30 years

A journalist is arrested and put on trial for doing her job. The governor’s office and state agencies defy the law without consequence by ignoring or refusing requests for public records. A veteran state employee claims she was fired for complying with the law and providing a public record to a reporter.

It sounds like some banana republic that we might hear about on the news. Sorry to say, these and other assaults on the First Amendment, press freedoms and public access to their government have all happened right here in Iowa. And it’s costing all of us, the taxpayers.

In my years as a journalist in Iowa, I’ve covered five gubernatorial administrations. (Only four governors, because Gov. Terry Branstad served twice.) I can say without hesitation that Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration has been the absolute worst in terms of secrecy and outright denial of public access to information.

Lee Enterprise, Inc. reports third quarter earnings of $3.74 million, 56 cents per share

Lee Enterprises, Inc. – owner of both daily newspapers in the Quad Cities – reported Thursday (7/5) it earned $3.74 million, 56 cents per share, during the third quarter ended June 27.

That compares with a loss of $727,000, 23 cents per share, for the same period a year ago.

On a pro forma basis to reflect acquisition of Berkshire Hathaway Media and Buffalo News last year, total operating revenue fell 4.7 percent and total advertising revenue was down 9.3 percent compared with the same quarter a year ago.

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