Iowa’s SOS call: Save Our Soil!

As the country’s leading producer of corn, centuries of continuous agriculture have depleted Iowa’s soil of organic matter and released tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but a few simple steps could turn it all around and turn the state into the Fort Knox of carbon storage.

For Jay’s first foray into the corn belt, he makes a visit to Living History Farms, where Elizabeth Sedrel explains that back in the early 1800s, European settlers established an agricultural-based economy in Iowa due to its rich, fertile soil. As the population grew and technology advanced, production optimized and Iowa became the nation’s leading producer of corn. However, all those years of tilling soil has resulted in nutrient depletion and major greenhouse gas emissions – but that’s not to say these changes are irreversible. John Gilbert of Gibralter Farms explains that there are six steps farmers can employ in order to regenerate the organic matter that Iowa’s soils have lost, which, if these practices reach scale, can suck a whole lot of C02 out of the atmosphere.

To delve in deeper, Jay first speaks to Rick Cruse, an agronomy professor at Iowa State University, who informs him that viability of agricultural production within the state depends on soil health, but new practices have been difficult to deploy because farmers aren’t seeing the cost benefit. So Jay chats with Tim Youngquist, a farmer liaison with the STRIPS Program, to see how precision data is helping farmers see how devoting a fraction of farmland to native prairie grasslands can boost their bottom line. Next, Jay hears from Adam Ledvina about how technology is revolutionizing the art of grazing livestock, which he has turned into a prescription service that helps farmers expedite the process of clearing leftover crops and converting them into fertilizer by way of GPS-trackable goats.

But as with any green effort, there is the issue of getting to scale. Fortunately, Robert Bonnie informs us that the USDA has put forth a billion dollar proposal for farmers and landowners to come to them with carbon-reducing projects. With this financial incentive, there is not only the potential for these methods to scale but also the opportunity for Iowa to further monetize their efforts in carbon markets, which will need to grow fifteen times their current size by 2030 in order for corporations to reach their net zero targets, according to climate finance expert Sean Penrith.


Featuring: Jay Tipton, Elizabeth Sedrel, John Gilbert, Rick Cruse, Tim Youngquist, Adam Ledvina, Robert Bonnie, Sean Penrith, Paula DiPerna
Produced by: Mike Zunic
Executive Produced by: Melissa Panzer, Joan Lynch, Art Bilger
Written by: Jay Tipton, Mike Zunic
Talent Producer: Emily Lallouz
Associate Producer: Diana Aydin
Edited and Sound Mixed by: Lynz Floren
Assistant Editor: Mengfang Yang
Music by: Avocado Junkie
Made possible by: the Walton Family Foundation