In the 1930's, farmers' extensive deep plowing of top soil in the great plains region displaced the natural grasses that normally kept the soil in place. That, in combination with a mix of drought and high winds led to dust storms creating a decade-long period known as the dust bowl that affected thousands of people. What was once a paradise for those moving west to farm the land became a desert-like environment and was later deserted by many settlers.
The farm bill expired at midnight on Monday, leaving farmers and ranchers across the country guessing at what federal farm policy will look like when they next put their crops in the ground.
Of course, they’re used to uncertainty, as this is the second straight year Congress has let the farm bill expire. Last year, farmers were set adrift for three months before lawmakers passed a nine-month extension of older policy in January.
When the Department of Homeland Security authorized funding for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in 2009, proceeds from the sale of New York’s Plum Island were expected to entirely offset the cost of the Kansas-based lab.
Heritage grains are trendy. Walk through a health food store and see packages of grains grown long before modern seed technology created hybrid varieties, grains eaten widely outside of the developed world: amaranth, sorghum, quinoa.
But there’s another grain with tremendous potential growing on the Great Plains: millet.
On a hot day in late August, Kevin Bien stood amid the shade of a large gray piece of farm equipment. The brand marketing manager for Gleaner Combines gave his best spiel to a group of farmers attending the Farm progress Show in Decatur, Ill. Torque, efficiency and new technology were among his key points for the prospective buyers of the large machines that can run anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000.
The Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” takes a big step forward Oct. 1 when new health insurance marketplaces open for enrollment. Rural families are more likely to qualify for subsidized coverage, but reaching them to sign up will be part of the challenge.
So, will farm country take advantage of new health insurance subsidies? That’s the question in Nebraska.
Almost 200,000 Nebraskans don’t have health insurance. Nearly half of them are spread across the state’s rural areas.
Howard Hill pulls his red Chevy pick-up truck up to a barn near Union, Iowa, that houses 1,000 of his hogs. In the truck’s bed is a 55-pound bag of Rumensin 90, a common antibacterial ingredient in cattle feed that helps reduce bloating. Pigs don’t eat it. Hill brought it here to dump into the manure pit under the hogs.
Farmer Doug Wilson has been buying crop insurance since 1980.
“You carry home insurance, hoping your house doesn’t burn down. We carry crop insurance, hoping our crops don’t burn down,” Wilson said on a sweltering day in mid-August as he walked among the healthy 8-foot corn stalks in one his fields in central Illinois. “But last year, they burned down — kind of literally.”
The farm bill is, once again, entering a critical stretch. As was the case last year, the current law expires at the end of September. There’s no election to dissuade elected officials from tackling the major piece of agriculture and nutrition policy—but Congress does have a pretty full plate, with the crisis in Syria, immigration reform and a measure to continue funding federal government programs all set to come to a head.
Chicago-based singer-songwriter Susan Werner has worked on concept albums before – from jazz standards to pop classics to Gospel music for agnostics. Her new CD, Hayseed, is described as "egg meets art," celebrating agriculture through music.
Susan Werner's roots are in Iowa; she grew up on the family farm near Dubuque. When her parents decided to move to town about a year ago, the idea of creating a musical tribute took shape.
Preserving stories, language, and characters in song
Farmer Tim Smith stands by a creek that cuts through his property near the north-central Iowa town of Eagle Grove. He does several water quality conservation practices on his land including a bio-reactor, strip tilling and cover crops.
This summer, officials in Iowa have been asking farmers to voluntarily reduce the amount of fertilizer they use. That’s because the fertilizer contains nitrates that are being washed into state waterways and creating environmental concerns locally and nationally. The runoff has been particularly bad this year, and the outcry over typical crop practices is growing.
This spring and summer, U.S. Geological Survey scientists waded into 100 Midwest streams to test for hundreds of chemicals used in farming, including nutrients, pesticides like atrazine and glyphosate, and livestock hormones. The results from the study are trickling in. But preliminary findings indicate that from May through early July, 21 percent of the region’s streams contained very high levels of nitrogen in the form of nitrates.
As Midwest vineyards move in next door to longstanding fields of corn or soybeans, they don’t always make good neighbors. Occasionally, herbicides like 2,4-D drift beyond their target, and for nearby vineyards the results can be devastating.
2,4-D is a common herbicide used by farmers because it kills weeds but doesn’t kill their corn. Landscapers and golf courses use it on lawns and fairways. Highway crews often spray 2,4-D on road ditches.
Most Americans don’t eat horse meat, and they don’t like the idea of horses being slaughtered, but a handful of investors are struggling to restart a horse slaughter industry in the United States.
They argue that slaughter would be good for the horse business, and more humane than the current situation. The issue cleaves horse owners into two camps: one that views horses as pets, and another that see them as livestock.
Matt Pauly has traveled the world – he’s lived in New York, Paris and South Korea – but he’s still a farm boy at heart.
Ask him about growing up in tiny Denton, Kan., population less than 200. You’ll hear about mending fences in the summer. He’ll talk about harvest-time picnics in the fields – roast beef, mashed potatoes, a big thermos of iced tea, delivered by his grandmother. And of course, there’s his eight-man football career at his tiny 1A high school (2000 Kansas State Champions.)
The future of agriculture across the Great Plains hinges on water. Without it, nothing can grow.
Climate models and population growth paint a pretty bleak picture for water availability a few decades from now. If farmers want to stay in business, they have to figure out how to do more with less. Enter: super efficient irrigation systems.
Five years ago, Howard G. Buffett was at a meeting of an international food aid agency when he was told that feeding the millions of starving people in Africa was simple.
Just give them better seeds, someone said.
That advice might work on some philanthropists. But Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett, happens to be an Illinois farmer.
“This guy was explaining to me how to farm and he’d never been on a farm in his life,” he said. “So it really kind of irritated me. I came home and said, ‘OK, I’m going to have data to show these guys.’”
One sign that you have strong farm roots is when your rural road is named for your family.
I met Steve Quandt on Quandt Road, north of Grand Island, Neb., on the farm that used to belong to his grandfather. It’s the place he remembers spending days as a kid, from morning to night, helping milk cows, work the fields and repair machinery.
He followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, building his own farming operation. But that path was suddenly interrupted nearly six years ago.
Originally published on Mon August 19, 2013 3:22 pm
Even though farm income only saw a slight increase between the second quarters of 2012 and 2013, there continued to be a rapid rise in the value of farmland, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which surveyed agricultural banks in parts of seven Midwestern states, including Missouri and Illinois.
The record rainfall and flooding we’ve had this summer has made it easier for fungi to spread in corn and soybean fields. Farmers are trying to stay on top of diseases like rust, gray leaf spot, brown spot, and rotting corn.
The saturated soil and moving water affects soybeans by making their roots unstable. But according to the University of Missouri Extension, there may be a silver lining in the floods--insects have not been as prevalent in crops this year.
Last fall, after the drought had killed off most of the competition, the thistle took advantage of the opportunity to germinate and flourish. The weed is now hurting productivity on many Missouri farms.
Tim Schnackenberg's phone at the MU Extension office in Lawrence County has been ringing off the hook with farmers complaining about the pesky, invasive weed. It has several forms — musk and bull thistles are common here.
Ilya Protopopov stopped at a U-Stop station in Lincoln, Neb., on his way to the track to fuel up his truck and a few dirt bikes. His fuel of choice, 91 octane unleaded, was selling for $4.01 per gallon.
“I used to complain about $1.50 gas, now it’s over $4,” Protopopov said. “Pretty steep.”
But on the same pump there was another fuel selling for under $3. E85 was going for $2.53.
Danelle Myer owns a small vegetable farm and like many other small farmers, she’s passionate about the kind of operation she wants to grow: a small, local business.
Myer’s farm just outside Logan, Iowa, sits in the middle of true farm country. Thousands of acres of row crops make up the landscape. Her vegetable farm is almost out of place, even though Myer is a native – she grew up on her family’s conventional farm, a quarter-acre of which she has turned into One Farm.
Comprehensive immigration reform is critical to sustaining the Midwest's role as a global leader in agriculture. That's the message from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Vilsack told St. Louis Public Radio Monday that moving forward with the immigration reform plan recently passed by the U.S. Senate is key to retaining international talent that comes to this country to study in the plant sciences.
Tyson Foods, Inc., announced this week that it would soon suspend purchases of cattle that had been treated with a controversial drug, citing animal welfare concerns.
But many in the industry wonder if the real reason is not about cattle, but rather the battle for sales in other countries, where using drugs for meat production is banned.
“I really do think this is more a marketing ploy from Tyson to raise some awareness so they can garner some export business from our overseas export partners,” said Dan Norcini, an independent commodities broker.
I met Nate Pike working on a story back in 2012. When I dropped back by his ranch 30 miles south of Dodge City, Kan., this summer, he took me on a bumpy pickup ride to see a spring called St. Jacob’s Well and we got to talking about the former owner of some of his ranchland.
Pike has been out on his ranch for a while and he told me the former owner started ranching in western Kansas before 1900.
“He was a fine old gentleman and one of the toughest old men I ever knew,” Pike told me, his gravelly voice carrying over the pickup truck’s rambles.
If you think soybeans are just for livestock and vegetarians, think again.
Increasingly, the commodity is being used in manufacturing — an ingredient in everything from glue to cleaning supplies to even furniture filling.
“Even Henry Ford in the 1930s had built cars using soy oil paint,” said William Schapaugh, an agronomy professor at Kansas State University in Manhattan. “They were using soy oil in the shock absorbers of the cars. So that goes back a long time.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts the nation’s farmers will deliver a record 3.42 billion bushels of soybeans this year. The USDA is also forecasting that this year for the first time Brazil will overtake the United States as the world’s leading producer of soybeans. That means the pressure is on American soybean farmers like Brian Flatt, 41, to eke out even more soybeans from his fields.