Harvest Public Media

Global demand for food and fuel is rising, and the push and pull for resources has serious ramifications for our country’s economic recovery and prosperity.

How much do you know about that bread you just buttered or that steak you just ate? What do you know about cars powered on ethanol or about how fracking will affect your water supply?

Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, is a collaborative public media project that reports on important agriculture issues in the Midwest. Funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Harvest Public Media encompasses six NPR member stations in the region. To learn more, visit www.harvestpublicmedia.org, like Harvest Public Media on Facebook or follow @HarvestPM on Twitter.

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Harvest Public Media
7:43 am
Mon November 11, 2013

Consumers Often Lost In The Middle Of Scientific Food Battles

Non-genetically modified soybeans – like these from a Polk County, Iowa, farm – are rare in the U.S., where debate continues on the efficacy of genetically modified food products.
Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hot-button food issues of the day, such as the use of genetically modified organisms or the treatment of livestock, tend to pit large industries against smaller activist groups. Often, both sides will claim the science supports what they are saying. That can leave consumers, most of whom aren’t scientists, in a bit of a bind.

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Harvest Public Media
7:24 am
Wed October 23, 2013

Cantaloupe Farmers Plead Guilty To Criminal Charges

Credit News21 – National/Flickr

The Colorado farmers who distributed cantaloupes infected with listeria two years ago pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal charges Tuesday. Jensen Farms, located outside Holly, Colo., was the source of the outbreak that killed 33 people nationwide.

The outbreak was the deadliest in more than 20 years. Cantaloupes processed in the summer of 2011 at Jensen Farms near the Kansas border were laden with listeria. It’s a pathogen infamous for its high mortality rate.

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Agriculture
8:20 am
Wed October 16, 2013

Govt. Shutdown Halts Farm Chemical Inspections

Millions of dollars worth of chemicals used to make pesticides are being held at U.S. ports because the EPA personnel that normally inspect the shipments are furloughed during the government shutdown.
Credit Rennett Stowe / Flickr--CC

American farmers count on a steady supply of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to keep pests from destroying their crops,  but the government shutdown is creating a backlog of chemicals needed to produce the vital tools.

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Harvest Public Media
8:45 am
Mon October 14, 2013

Farmers Plowing Up More And More Of The Prairie

A pasture near Ord, Neb., in June 2012 before it was broken out for farmland. Wildlife biologist Ben Wheeler called it an extreme case of land being converted from grass to corn.
Courtesy Ben Wheeler/Pheasants Forever and Nebraska Game & Parks Commission

In recent years, farmers in the Midwest have transformed millions of acres of prairie grass to rows of corn. High crop prices are a big motivation, but some also believe crop insurance is encouraging farmers to roll the dice on less productive land.

Rod Christen and his sister Kay farm corn, soybeans and wheat on their land near the small town of Steinauer, Neb. But their main crop is grass.

“Big bluestem is our big producer,” said Rod Christen. “It’s kind of our Cadillac grass.”

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Harvest Public Media
7:52 am
Mon October 7, 2013

Expected Bumper Crop Has Price Of Corn Dropping

Farmers have been riding a wave of high corn prices in recent years, but an expected bumper crop has corn prices dropping.
Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a clear fall day in central Iowa, Aaron Lehman climbed into the cab of his green combine with a screwdriver to do some maintenance. He was hoping his corn had a couple more weeks to grow before harvesting because the price per bushel this fall is much lower than it has been for the past three years.

Corn farmers have been riding high prices for the last few years. But an expected bumper crop has prices falling this harvest season, and many economists expect the price of corn to drop to its lowest level in recent years.

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Agriculture
10:32 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Farmers In Limbo – Again – As Farm Bill Expires

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.

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Harvest Public Media
9:36 am
Mon September 30, 2013

Is Millet The Next Trendy Grain?

Millet, long an ingredient in birdfeed, could be the next food to capitalize on the heritage grain trend.
Credit Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

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.

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Harvest Public Media
8:05 am
Fri September 27, 2013

Why Farmers Buy New Equipment, Frequently

Corzine and his son Christian farm 3,000 acres and can’t afford a broken wagon or combine.
Credit Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

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.

And farmers are buying. Frequently.

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Harvest Public Media
6:03 am
Mon September 23, 2013

Obamacare Could Be Tough Sell In Rural Areas

Bob Bernt and his wife, Kristine, have gone without health insurance for the last 20 years, and don’t plan on buying coverage to meet the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
Credit Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

 

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.

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Harvest Public Media
8:06 am
Mon September 16, 2013

Mysterious Exploding Manure Has Hog Owners Worried

Researchers are still trying to determine the cause of the potentially explosive foam.
Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

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.

Hill is among the many Midwestern pork producers who use deep pits under their barns to accumulate manure throughout the year. In the fall, after fields are harvested, the nutrient-rich slurry gets pumped out of the pits and injected into the cropland.

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Harvest Public Media
8:57 am
Tue September 10, 2013

Crop Insurance Credited For Saving Farmers, Local Economies

Federally subsidized crop insurance paid out $17.4 billion in 2012
Credit Harvest Public Media

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.”

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Harvest Public Media
7:43 am
Mon September 9, 2013

Congress Still Playing The Farm Bill Game

Blogger Val Wagner, who lives and works on a farm in North Dakota, says the popular Facebook game Farmville features its own farm bill.
Credit Courtesy / Val Wagner

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.

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Harvest Public Media
7:59 am
Tue September 3, 2013

Scientists Detect High Levels Of Nitrogen In Midwest Waterways

Joe Schatz, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, prepares to take a sample of Missouri River water near Hermann, Mo.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

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.

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Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon September 2, 2013

Herbicide Drift Threatens Midwest Vineyards

Tom Zumpfe holds a bunch of Frontenac grapes he said were stunted by herbicide drift. Zumpfe says at least half the grapes are either BBs or they’re non-existent.
Credit Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

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.

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Harvest Public Media
7:41 am
Mon August 26, 2013

Farmers Look To Do More With Less Water

Sunflowers on a USDA research plot in Weld County, Colo.
Credit Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

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.

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Harvest Public Media
8:40 am
Wed August 21, 2013

My Farm Roots: Born To Farm

Despite suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, Steve Quandt still farms outside Grand Island, Neb.
Credit Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

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.

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Harvest Public Media
7:39 am
Mon August 5, 2013

International Demand, Competition Spurs Soybean Innovation

University of Missouri plant scientist Melissa Mitchum inspects a plant for soybean cyst nematode in her greenhouse.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

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.

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Harvest Public Media
7:42 am
Fri August 2, 2013

How Secure Is The Fort Knox Of Seeds?

Seeds are kept in special aluminum-lined pouches, designed to keep out humid air, which can degrade the seeds.
Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

When unapproved genetically modified wheat was found growing in Oregon earlier this year, it didn’t take long for accusations about how it ended up there to start flying. A flurry of initial finger-pointing cast potential blame on a federal seed vault in Fort Collins, Colo., which housed the same strain of wheat, developed by Monsanto Corp., for about seven years up until late 2011.

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Harvest Public Media
7:42 am
Tue July 23, 2013

How Prairie Plants Help Restore Farmland Soil

What today is just a patch of weeds next to rows of soybeans, Watkins is confident will establish as prairie within three years. And that will help prevent nutrient runoff and soil erosion.
Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The world’s soil is in trouble, even in the fertile Midwest. Some experts warn that if degradation continues unchecked, topsoil could be gone in 60 years. That has implications for agriculture and the broader environment.

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Harvest Public Media
7:44 am
Mon July 22, 2013

Does The Government Give Too Much Support To Sugar Growers?

Flesher says the subsidies affect the price of every one of his products.
Credit Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

Americans consume a lot of sweets. Even discounting all the high fructose corn syrup you find in soft drinks, the average consumer takes in about 40 pounds of refined sugar in a year, according to the USDA.

That means food companies from Nestle to Hostess and small neighborhood candy stores have to buy sugar. Lots of it.  And those bakers and snack food makers say the government gives too much support to sugar growers and consumers are footing the bill. 

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Harvest Public Media
9:58 am
Wed July 17, 2013

My Farm Roots: Looking Back Fondly

Horel, middle, still has fond memories of playing around the farm with his brothers and other neighborhood kids.
Credit Courtesy photo / Paul Horel

More than once while I was listening to Paul Horel's stories about farm life in Iowa, I felt like I was at a family reunion. With his glasses and balding head, mild Midwestern accent, and talk about plowing and politics, he could easily have been my uncle. 

After all, Horel says his childhood was pretty typical for a kid growing up in the Midwest in the 1950s: he did chores in the morning and evening, spent long summer days playing in the fields, and attended a small country school. When he got older, he raised livestock for 4-H and helped his dad and brothers with the farming. 

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Harvest Public Media
7:47 am
Mon July 15, 2013

Metal Thefts Plague Farm Country

Mike Obermann was among the victims of a rash of metal thefts in rural Missouri. Since then, he has installed theft-protection measures on his farm.
Credit Payne Roberts / Harvest Public Media

Along the 1200 Road in Windsor, Mo., there is plenty of gravel and farmland. But one thing it is short of is people.

Miles of green fields separate the farms that occupy this area of Windsor, a rural town of 3,000, making area farms easy targets in a series of metal thefts that robbed farmers of the tools they needed to do their jobs.

Mike Obermann was among the victims. He owns a farm of row crops and cattle northwest of Windsor with his wife. In the theft, he lost $500-600 worth of fencing material and an aluminum boat.

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Harvest Public Media
7:47 am
Fri July 12, 2013

Young Farmers Face Huge Obstacles

Eva Teague, 31, is trying to start her own pig farm but is having trouble breaking in to the business.
Credit Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

While the farming community continues to age fewer young people are filling the ranks, prompting the question: Do young people even want to farm anymore?

The quick answer is yes, just not in the same numbers as they used to. And surveys indicate many of them don’t want to farm in conventional ways.

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Harvest Public Media
5:44 am
Thu July 11, 2013

Rural Towns Look For Young Leadership As Populations Age

Pittsfield, Ill., is dealing with an aging population and what that means for the social fabric of the rural community.
Credit Creative Commons

It’s hard not to use the phrase “quintessential small town” when you describe Pittsfield, Ill. 

The western Illinois community of 4,500 people has a picturesque downtown square with an historic courthouse sitting in the center.  The small city is the county seat of Pike County and for many years has called itself the Pork Capital of the World in homage to an important sector of farming in this region.   Every year the town holds a two day festival known as “Pig Days,” which, true to its name, features pig tail and hog calling contests.

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Harvest Public Media
7:44 am
Wed July 10, 2013

After A City Life, Retiring To The Farm

Tom Thomas retired two years ago after teaching exercise physiology for 35 years. At 65, Thomas lives on a 300-acre farm in central Missouri.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

It’s not just lifelong farmers who feel the pull of the land as they get older. For some Americans, retirement is an opportunity to begin the farming dream.

“I wanted to be able to be active and have a pastime that ensured physical activity,” said beginning farmer Tom Thomas, who at 65 still has the physical fitness to wrestle and brand steers at his son’s ranch in Oklahoma.

Thomas retired two years ago after teaching exercise physiology for 35 years and he knew what he wanted to do next.

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Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed July 10, 2013

My Farm Roots: Hardwired For Hard Work

Amy Konishi has lived in Fort Collins, Colo., her entire life. In the 1980s, a local newspaper profiled her and her husband’s long connection to the area.
Credit Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Amy Konishi says when her obituary is written it’ll read, “All she knew was work.”

It’ll be a fitting tribute given the 87-year-old’s work ethic. As a young girl she toiled in her family’s onion and cantaloupe and dry bean fields outside Rocky Ford, Colo. Then she moved to selling produce at her husband’s roadside shed along the highway. In the 1950s she opened her own hair salon and she’s been putting in hours ever since.  

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Harvest Public Media
5:59 am
Tue July 9, 2013

The Difficult Business Of Handing Down The Family Farm

Father and son Jim and Tom Arganbright stand in a field that Tom planted with soybeans this spring. The Arganbright family doesn’t yet have formal plans for how land ownership will transition.
Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Driving out of the western Iowa town of Panora, the winding roads offer broad vistas of rolling hills. Many of the mailboxes along Redwood Road show the name Arganbright. Jim Arganbright grew up in this area, one of 10 children. He and his wife, Beverly, have eight kids.

Though Jim Arganbright farmed here his whole life, three years ago at the age of 80 he started renting his cropland to his son Tom, the only one of his children who farms full-time. Now, all Jim Arganbright has to worry about is the livestock — and he doesn’t have too much of that.

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Harvest Public Media
8:03 am
Mon July 8, 2013

Aging Farmers Reluctant To Retire, Pass On Land

The Hawthorn farm has been in the family for four generations since it was founded in the late 1870s by Bob Hawthorn’s great-grandfather who went by the name “Trapper.”
Ray Meints NET News

Working beyond retirement is a fairly common refrain these days. In 2012, 5 percent of the U.S. workforce was beyond retirement age. But farmers seem to work longer than most. In the last Agriculture Census 25 percent of all farm operators were over 65 years old.

Why do farmers keep working? For one thing, modern machinery makes it easier to work longer.

“It’s more you use your mind rather than your back, so you can go longer,” said Mike Duffy, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University.

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Harvest Public Media
7:48 am
Wed July 3, 2013

My Farm Roots: Wings

Kelly Hagler left her family’s farm in northwest Missouri for the bright lights of Chicago, but her family and the farm are never far from her thoughts.
Credit Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

Kelly Hagler, 25, is among the millions of young people who have left rural communities for the bright lights of the city, in this case Chicago.

But Hagler has not left completely.

Here’s what she told us last year when we asked people to share their “My Farm Roots” stories through the Harvest Network:

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Harvest Public Media
8:01 am
Mon July 1, 2013

After The Oregon Discovery, What's The Future Of GMO Wheat?

Nebraska farmer Larry Flohr, squeezes out a kernel of unripened wheat.
Credit Grank Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Many farmers say they would like to grow genetically engineered wheat to help them feed a hungry world, but it’s not what everyone’s hungry for. And now, with the mysterious appearance of Roundup Ready wheat in a farmer’s field in Oregon a few weeks ago, consumer resistance may grow even stronger.

Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified, but GMO wheat has never been approved for farming.

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