Thomas R. O'Donnell

Marker to recognize location of H.A. Wallace’s first corn-breeding experiment

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2015 at 7:10 am
Henry A. Wallace in 1939, as secretary of agriculture under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Henry A. Wallace in 1939, as secretary of agriculture under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Credit: washington_area_spark via photopin cc

It’s hard to think of it now, but at the turn of the 20th century the area of Des Moines just southwest of Drake University was a largely open field. And on 10 acres at 38th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, where Grace United Methodist Church now stands, the roots of an agricultural and scientific revolution began to take hold.

The land once was the home of Henry C. Wallace, the founder, with his father, “Uncle Henry” Wallace, of the influential Wallace’s Farmer magazine. Henry C.’s son, Henry Agard Wallace, was 13 when the family moved to the location, according to the definitive Henry A. Wallace biography, “American Dreamer.”

Henry A., of course, went on to become secretary of agriculture, vice president and secretary of commerce. He also founded the hybrid seed corn company that today is the giant DuPont Pioneer in Johnston.

The seed empire’s embryo was formed on that Des Moines acreage. Now a local committee wants to recognize the location’s significance.

Roughly speaking: How corn fields affect wind power production versus soybean fields

In University research on January 5, 2015 at 6:25 am
he corn beneath these MidAmerican Energy wind turbines near Blairsburg isn't yet quite as high as an elephant's eye. When the stalks reach maturity, their roughness can cut wind speed (and power production) at the turbine's hub, hundreds of feet up.

The corn beneath these MidAmerican Energy wind turbines near Blairsburg isn’t yet quite as high as an elephant’s eye. When the stalks reach maturity, their roughness can cut wind speed (and power production) at the turbine’s hub, hundreds of feet up. Credit: Todd Spink, National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Charles Robinson rarely gives any thought to what he plants under the 3½ wind turbines (he shares one with a neighbor) on his farm near Greeley, in northeast Iowa’s Delaware County.

The giant windmills are a boon for him and dozens of other farmers in the state, providing an income stream from wind farm operators. With more than 3,000 turbines installed (PDF), Iowa is a national leader in renewable wind energy.

Like most Iowa farmers, Robinson plants a rotation of corn and soybeans. He never thought whether it was one or the other was relevant for the power the turbines produce. “The blades are so high, it wouldn’t bother anything,” he told me last week.

But Brian Vanderwende, a doctoral student in atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and his adviser, Julie Lundquist, wondered: How do the crops planted below turbines influence the wind that spins their blades?

Last month, Vanderwende presented the surprising answer at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

Roundup, with video: Glycerin glue, prairie STRIPS and crop-generated CO2

In Industry Research, University research on December 15, 2014 at 6:49 am
A NASA video of a computer carbon dioxide model colors the gas as it's released and circulated around the planet.

A screenshot from a NASA video visualizing a simulation of a year’s worth of carbon dioxide emissions. Image from NASA at http://www.nasa.gov/press/goddard/2014/november/nasa-computer-model-provides-a-new-portrait-of-carbon-dioxide/

For most of the Midwest, the crops are in, whether corn, soybeans, oats or other commodities. Perhaps it’s a good time for a harvest of recent agriculture-related research developments to round out the year.

One has to do with new uses for crops and the byproducts of converting them into fuels. It could mean an inexpensive new adhesive.

Meanwhile, Iowa-based technology to make mass-scale commodity production more sustainable is getting national attention and praise.

And finally, there’s research showing that widespread crop production is having an out-sized influence on the carbon cycle.

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