Generations of local leaders propel Bancroft, population 699

BANCROFT – The city of Bancroft, called “the garden spot of Iowa” for almost 90 years, may not be growing in population. But like a good perennial plant with solid roots, it is regenerating and flowering. Located in northern Kossuth County in north-central Iowa about 20 miles south of the Minnesota state line, Bancroft has a population of 699 residents, according to 2020 Census data, down from 732 in 2010. It’s who makes up that 699 number that matters. Bancroft has an eclectic mix of new, longtime and returning residents.

Iowa’s shrinking towns could be state, regional mentors

Some Iowa towns may be shrinking in population, but they may have an impact on other communities in Iowa and beyond. Officials with the Iowa League of Cities and researchers with Iowa State University say a handful – dwindling but proactively maintaining and improving their quality of life – are raising eyebrows and may be pathfinders for other communities to follow. Colleagues have already reached some to find out what those towns are doing right, said Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, an advocacy and training group for 850 Iowa member cities. Alan Kemp is the executive director of the Iowa League of Cities. “It was sort of interesting to look at this idea of shrinking smart,” Kemp said.

Elma, population 505, meets town needs through bridge building, $1.4 million project

ELMA – This town is all about building bridges – even though you normally won’t find an expanse of water much wider than Mead Creek on the northwest edge of town. There’s one covered bridge, an old rail head viaduct over Main Street that is now part of a recreational trail. That has now become a community symbol, a motif of what this Howard County community of a little more than 500 is trying to accomplish. In fact, the name of the town’s nonprofit community betterment organization is The Bridge Inc. It’s a coalition of people that have put together a community complex project now underway in a closed elementary school building. Elma is one of a handful of Iowa communities involved in Shrink Smart, an Iowa State University research project begun in 2017 that examines how towns with decreasing populations keep their quality of life.

Iowa Farm Bureau is a small nonprofit. It’s sitting on a huge business empire.

In May, senior executives at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation finalized a little-noticed financial maneuver that could boost their income for years to come. While a nonprofit, the Farm Bureau owned a highly profitable, publicly traded insurance business, FBL Financial Group. For nearly a year, the executives — whose incomes depended on FBL — had wanted to privatize the company. But the move spurred several lawsuits, with a major investor publicly accusing the Farm Bureau of low-balling the remaining shareholders it was attempting to buy out. To settle, the Farm Bureau paid investors more, and the deal closed this spring.

Iowa experiment tests potential to pair solar with carbon sequestration

As thousands of acres of Iowa farmland are eyed as possible sites for solar farms, a research project is getting underway to explore a new crop that could co-exist with this burgeoning source of power: carbon sequestration. The state’s economic development office last month awarded $297,000 to an environmental consultant to create a business model “for monetizing carbon capture on solar energy farms.”

Although solar energy production and “carbon farming” exist independently, the consultant, Mike Fisher, said he didn’t think they’ve been combined, as he has proposed. He will test his theory that the right combination of crops could stash significant amounts of carbon in the ground while enhancing the soil’s fertility. Both the landowner and the solar developer could benefit, he said, from the sale of credits for the sequestered carbon and the enhancements to the soil. 

The most common Midwestern crops — corn and soybeans — don’t sequester much carbon because they put most of their energy into producing above-ground “fruits,” said Randy Jackson, an agronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin. Perennials, which plow much more of their energy into roots, stash more carbon as a result. Pasture grasses, such as brome, direct carbon into just the top 12 inches or so, Jackson said.

Evans: Iowa’s universities need to learn an important lesson

In recent years, Republicans and Democrats in the Iowa Legislature often agree on little. But they were nearly unanimous this spring in supporting an important piece of legislation — a bill requiring faculty and administrators at the state universities to go through training about the First Amendment and the rights it contains. Anyone skeptical of the need for the new law received a wake-up call last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis handed down a decision against the University of Iowa. The decision should embarrass and anger Iowans. In a blistering 3-0 ruling, the court said university administrators engaged in clear discrimination against a student religious group based solely on the views of the organization and its leaders.

What bugs are Iowans seeing?

The term “hornet” has a technical meaning, and Iowa has only one species of hornet – the bald-faced hornet, which has black and white stripes and a white face. Bald-faced hornets aren’t aggressive and typically stick to wooded areas, where they make large, spherical paper nests, Donald Lewis, an Iowa State University professor of entomology, said. What Iowans are observing this spring are likely wasps and not hornets, Lewis said. There are two species that are active in the springtime – paper wasps and yellowjacket wasps. Paper wasps have long, slender brown bodies.