Harvest Public Media

Missouri beef producers voted down a referendum that would have established a fund to promote Missouri beef.
File: Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Missouri’s beef producers roundly rejected a proposal that would have forced them to pay an extra dollar for every head of cattle they sell.

Some in the beef industry wanted to add the fee to create what’s called a state beef checkoff – a fund meant to promote Missouri beef and beef research.

Nearly 75 percent of the beef producers that voted in a state referendum by mail rejected the proposal, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. In all, 6,568 valid ballots were returned, the department said.

A farm hand on the Nelson farm in north Iowa drives a tractor pulling a 24-row planter as it drops corn seeds into the field.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Near Alexander, Iowa, on a cloudy spring Tuesday, Josh Nelson watches a bright red Case IH Magnum tractor pull a 24-row planter and crest a small hill, dropping corn seed at careful intervals. Nelson says his family farm dodged a weather bullet this week, but it’s just one of many hurdles this season promises.

Demand is growing for GMO-free labels on food products, according to the Non-GMO Project, one of the principle suppliers of the label.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

There’s a heated debate happening right now about GMOs and labels.

Big food companies like General Mills, Mars and Kellogg’s say they plan to put labels on their products that tell consumers whether or not the food contains ingredients derived from genetically engineered plants.

So what’s the big deal? What are GMO labels, and what do they tell you?

Watch the video below to get the full scoop on GMO labels.

Along the presidential campaign trail, candidates are deriding free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. But here in the Midwest farmers and ranchers, the people behind one of our biggest industries, are bucking the trend.

Guests:

  • Kristofer Husted is a reporter for KCUR's Harvest Public Media. He's based at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri.
  • Chad Hart is an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University, where he's a crop markets specialist.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Turn on the TV and you can barely escape it: presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle deriding free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a bum deal that will hurt the U.S. economy and especially low-wage workers, according to pols from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton.

But if you venture into the Midwest and ask a farmer about the TPP, you’re likely to get a different answer.

Hungry animals come right up to the feed being delivered at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm, where researchers can test different feed formulas.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a cold windy morning, Kelly Nissen feeds the cows at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm north of Ames. Far from just tossing hay, he weighs out specific rations and carefully delivers them to numbered feed bunks.

“When you’re feeding, you’re always double-checking yourself to make sure it’s going in the right lot,” Nissen says.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Charles Bassett wants you to buy hamburgers made from his Missouri cows. That’s why the Missouri rancher wants to pay an extra dollar into an industry-created fund every time he sells one of his cattle.

Whether it's the debate over GMO labeling, or diseases affecting livestock and the changing business of agriculture, the reporters from Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, are at the scene. We talk with them the state of the food system in the United States today.  

Guests:

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Food waste is an expensive problem. The average U.S. family puts upwards of $2,000 worth of food in the garbage every year.

What some see as a problem, however, others see as a business opportunity. A new facility, known as the Heartland Biogas Project, promises to take wasted food from Colorado’s Front Range and turn it into electricity.

Iowa farmer Kelly Tobin has experimented with cover crops for 10 years in the hopes of increasing the health of his soil.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Take a road trip through the Midwest during the growing season, and it feels like you’re moving through a sea of corn and soybeans grown largely for livestock feed or ethanol. But now, low grain prices and increasing pressure to clean up waterways may push some farmers to consider other options.

Thanksgiving Dinner
vxla / Creative Commons

The food on your kitchen table has a fascinating story.

Suzanne Hogan / For Harvest Public Media

Aubrey Fletcher knew she wanted to work on a dairy farm ever since she was a little girl.

“I do remember my mom asking, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’” Fletcher recalls.

Fletcher knew the work was tough, she grew up milking cows every day. After college she and her husband wanted to return to his family farm, but it wasn’t making financial sense.

“The farm couldn’t necessarily provide both of us with salaries,” says Fletcher. “So we thought, ‘Why not take our premium milk and take that a little further?’”

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Cotton fabric has been a staple in our closets for decades, but times are tough for farmers in the U.S. cotton belt who are caught in the middle of a storm of changing global demand.

Cotton acreage in the U.S. has been declining for years, with 2015 hitting the lowest mark in decades.  It has dropped from nearly 15 million acres to less than 9 million acres in just the past five years.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Senate rejected a bill Wednesday that would have outlawed states from mandating labels on foods with genetically-modified ingredients, leaving the issue in limbo as a state labeling law looms.

The measure by Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, failed to get the 60 votes needed to move ahead, leaving the path open for Vermont’s mandatory labeling law to go into effect July 1. That was quickly applauded by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

During the season of Lent, many Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. Fish, though, is considered fair game, so the Friday night fish fry has become an annual tradition at churches across the country. 

Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter you’ll find hundreds of hungry parishioners lining up at church fish frys around the Midwest.  All of that frying uses up vegetable oil that can just go to waste, but there are some people putting it to good use.

Friday Night Tradition

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

The Western Farm Show in Kansas City, Missouri, is a long way from Silicon Valley.

But here in a huge arena, set in what used to be the Kansas City Stockyards, the high-tech future of agriculture is for sale.

Casey Adams and Scott Jackman, co-owners of Fly Ag Tech, have their large yellow and white drone sitting at center stage in their booth at this huge annual trade show.

“It’s got a GPS, so it knows where it’s at, underneath here you’ll see an autopilot, its an onboard computer,” he said.

Pat Aylward / NET News

Every year Americans spend billions of dollars to grow, process and transport food that’s never eaten.

ReFED, a group of nonprofits and foundations, say they have a roadmap to keep that from happening. Their planfocuses on preventing food from ending up in the trash in the first place, and diverting it to a more beneficial use when it does get tossed out.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hundreds of lawsuits against seed company Syngenta could develop into a major class-action potentially involving almost every corn farmer in the country.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

There are mounting concerns about the direction of the farm economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects farm income to fall for the third year in a row in 2016. At the same time, farmers are borrowing billions more from banks to get by.

The change in farm fortunes follows a drop in prices for corn and soybeans, the top Midwest crops. Supply and demand are both working against the commodity markets. Farmers have raised an oversupply of grain, while at the same time the slow global economy has brought down demand.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

  If you want a front row seat to the national fight over GMOs head to Boulder County, Colorado.

GMOs, or more precisely, genetically-engineered crops, are lightning rods in discussions of our food. For the farmers who grow them and the scientists who create them, they’re a wonder of technology. For those opposed, the plants represent all that’s wrong with modern agriculture.

Courtesy Sebastián Lorenzo Pisarello / Senasa

The normally dry northern region of Argentina has a problem of biblical proportions.

Farmers there are struggling with a massive outbreak of locusts. Dark clouds of the green-brown bugs cast shadows when they fly overhead and when they land, they cover the ground.

“It is really, really, amazing when you see the locusts because you see millions of them together,” said Juan Pablo Karnatz, who raises cattle in Santiago del Estero, about 600 miles northwest of Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. “When you think they can be more millions flying around, it could be a disaster.”

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The middle of winter is when the stream of locally grown fruits and vegetables in the Midwest begins to freeze up.

Nicole Saville knows first-hand. Saville is the produce manager at Open Harvest, a grocery coop in Lincoln, Neb. The store promotes food grown by local farmers, but this time of year there just isn’t much available.

“We can get kale and some culinary herbs this time of year,” Saville said. “Otherwise the only other local option is a soil mix in our garden center.”

Cuts to the crop insurance program will again be a talking point on Capitol Hill.

The budget drafted by President Obama and released Tuesday would make cuts to the crop insurance system, allocate more funds for agricultural research and fund the summer program that provides free meals to children.

Courtesy Adam Dolezal

The persistent decline of honeybees has scientists scrambling to understand what’s causing the problem and how to correct it. Humans may be part of the problem.

U.S. beekeepers report losing about a third of their colonies each year and the figure increased from 2014 to 2015.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

America's dairy farms are doing more with less. There are fewer dairy cows today than just a few decades ago, but today’s cows are churning out more milk than ever.

Part of the increase is due to genetics. Dairy cows have been bred to be larger, hungrier, and more productive. But that focus on genetics to produce more milk has some prominent livestock advocates ringing alarm bells.

The Top 1 Percent

When it comes to milk production, no other cow tops Gigi.

USDA / Flickr creative commons

Food safety regulators are hoping new rules will reduce the number of Americans sickened by salmonella bacteria found on the chicken they eat. Currently, salmonella is estimated to cause about 1 million illnesses a year.

Restoring Prairie On The Great Plains

Feb 4, 2016
Courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institute

From the air, the Midwest looks like a patchwork of cropland and pastures. But before the land was turned over to plows and center pivots, most of it was a sea of grass. 

Native grasslands were first plowed by pioneers homesteading on the plains. More land was converted to crops as tractors and machinery arrived on the farm and conversion of land intensified. 

Courtesy University of Missouri

Tucked away in a University of Missouri research building, a family of pigs is kept upright and mostly happy by a handful of researchers. Two new litters recently joined the assembly of pudgy, snorting, pink piglets.

While they look like an ordinary collection of pigs one might find in hog barns all over the country, these animals are special. They’re genetically engineered and they are part of a new crop of GE animals with technology that could be coming soon to the food on your dinner plate.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

For almost a year, presidential candidates have been crisscrossing Iowa, wooing voters in a state that relies on agriculture for about one-third of its economy. But even here, most voters live in cities or suburbs and don’t have a first-hand connection to the farm.

That makes it difficult to get candidates talking about food system issues from school lunches, to crop supports, to water quality. Yet these all fall under the federal agriculture department. If candidates aren’t talking about them in Iowa, it’s possible they’ll be left out of the campaigns entirely.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

High on the Nebraska plains, there’s a citrus grove with trees holding up a canopy of lemons, grapefruit-sized oranges, green figs, and bunches of grapes.

Yes, it’s indoors. And it’s only possible because it taps in to the core of the earth’s own energy, geothermal heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

Russ Finch, a former mail carrier and farmer, designed the greenhouse, which he calls the Greenhouse in the Snow. The original, which he built more than 20 years ago, is connected to his home.

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