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.

To learn more, visit www.harvestpublicmedia.org, like Harvest Public Media on Facebook or follow @HarvestPM on Twitter.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

A furry beast, a brave rider and a roaring crowd make up the list of ingredients for the Western rodeo tradition known as “mutton busting.” Think of it as bull-riding, but for 6-year-olds, and the furry beast is actually a wooly sheep.

Mutton busting has its roots in Colorado, where it was first introduced in the 1980s at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. The crowd-pleaser is now a favorite at many rodeos and county fairs across the Midwest and Great Plains.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Most family vacations are remembered for endless car rides, packed tourist beaches and a string of poorly decorated hotel rooms.

But not former Nebraskan and current Coloradan Kari Williams. Her family vacation memories center on smells of cow manure, adventures on horseback and roosters with bad attitudes on farms in central Nebraska.

Courtesy Kurt Rosentrater

  Global hunger has no easy answer.

But as part of a partnership with the federal government called Feed the Future, researchers at land-grant universities are trying new approaches to the decades-old dilemma.

“The world’s poorest people, and hungriest people, generally, the majority of them are small farmers living in rural areas,” said Tjada D’oyen McKenna, deputy coordinator for development for Feed the Future. “And agriculture is the most effective means of bringing them out of poverty and under-nutrition.”

Food safety regulators are recalling beef that could be tainted by parts of cattle nervous system that can carry mad cow disease and a Kansas City restaurant may be affected.

Pat Blank / Harvest Public Media

Farmers all over the country are using hydroponic technology to grow produce indoors, year-round, in nutrient rich water. And fish farmers around the globe have figured out how to raise their catch in tanks. Now, some operations are combining the two, raising both produce and fish.

Many so-called “aquaponics” operations use the waste from fish farming to fertilize the water used in growing hydroponic produce.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

 A handful of farmers are set to plant the country’s first hemp crop in decades, despite federal regulations that tightly restrict the plant’s cultivation.

Jeremy Bernfeld / KCUR

Terry Glenn’s neighborhood was hit hard by the recession, and it wasn’t booming before the rough times.

He saw houses crumble, get boarded up and left to rot. He saw neighbors moving away. And he worried that Ivanhoe, on Kansas City’s east side, was dying.

“We said, ‘We’ve got to look inside of this and see exactly what the problem is,’” Glenn said. “And once we did, we found out that the families were moving to try to find better schools, find healthier food, find different places that their family can go and have a good community.”

Biofuels made in the Midwest from corn stover, the leftovers of harvested corn plants, may be worse for global warming than gasoline in the short term, according to a recent study. It’s casting doubt on the greenhouse benefits of cellulosic ethanol.

montanatom1950 on Flickr

A long winter of brutally cold temperatures and seemingly endless snowfall led to a deep snowpack in the mountains at the headwaters of the Missouri River. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a higher risk of flooding this spring. 

2011 brought major flooding to many areas along the Missouri River. This year, the snow pack is comparable to those levels. But Kevin Low of the National Weather Service says even though the snow is starting to melt, there are a few differences this year.

Jacob McCleland for Harvest Public Media

Water experts worried about Asian carp may have new hope. They’re turning their eyes to China, where a carp-hungry populace may be the key for stemming the tide of the invasive fish.

Asian carp are taking over U.S. waterways, including the Mississippi River and tributaries like the Illinois and Missouri Rivers, where they out-compete native fish.

In China, carp is cheap and a common meal-time fixture. Now, a carp fishing industry is springing up along carp-infested U.S. waters and processors are exporting the U.S. problem fish to Chinese diners.

Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

Lacking the infrastructure of traditional suppliers, many local farms that want to connect to restaurants, schools and other big buyers are using the Internet to reach customers.

Groups of farms are banding together to form regional food hubs, leveraging online ordering, tracking and marketing tools to cut down on costs and to try to keep local food systems viable for growers and affordable for consumers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it is launching what it calls “a concerted effort” to help small and mid-sized farms.

The announcement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack comes after a recent census pointed to a reduction in the number of smaller farming operations.

Speaking with reporters from the National Farmers Union Convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Vilsack says his department is working to assist these farmers in finding markets for their products.

Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Many of the food terrorism scenarios outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration involve liquid.

And there’s good reason for that.

Liquids like orange juice and milk go through many processing steps -- farm, bottling plant, delivery – before reaching the consumers who drink them. And these liquids are moved, manufactured and stored in huge batches that get distributed and consumed quickly. Should a toxin be injected somewhere along the supply chain, experts believe it could have devastating human health and economic consequences.

Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

  It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster. Villains in trench coats scheme ways to cause the most destruction and chaos. They settle on a food company, an easy target, and plan to lace the products with a chemical or pathogen. The hero finds out the plan with enough time to save the day.

Hog Virus Causing Spike In Price Of Bacon

Mar 10, 2014
Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

Shoppers are already paying more for pork and bacon than they did last year and many economists expect those prices to continue climbing for the next few months.

Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, watches the market for lean hog futures– the anticipated price of hogs heading to market soon. The futures price hit record-highs in early March, Hurt said, which will translate to expensive and bacon in the supermarket in the coming months.

A couple of seeds, some fertilizer, a little sunshine – just add water and you’re ready to harvest your crops, right?

Farming, as you might imagine, is a lot more complicated than that. And that’s why information – data – is the next frontier for farming, which you may have already seen.

Nearly a third of the food available to be eaten in the U.S. is thrown out instead. And all of that wasted food comes with a steep price tag.

It could be yet another sign that the good times are over.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

  Most climate models paint a bleak picture for the Great Plains a century from now: It will likely be warmer and the air will be more rich with carbon dioxide. Though scientists don’t yet know how exactly the climate will change, new studies show it could be a boon to some invasive plant species.  

A growing problem

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a frigid winter day, Chad Hart tries to warm his economics students at Iowa State University to the idea of managing some of the risk of farming using the commodity markets. Because, as he told them on the first day of class, farmers don’t make money planting or harvesting crops; they make money selling them. And Hart knows that marketing—managing those sales for the best profit—can be intimidating.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The average age of American farmers has been climbing for decades, and many say rural towns are at-risk without new blood. There are enough people who want to farm, but there’s trouble connecting beginning farmers and the communities that need them.

The so-called farmland real estate bubble appears to be starting to deflate. After years of steep property values, a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City shows the high times may be coming to an end.

Since 2011, the price for a plot of a farmland across the Midwest has been growing at breakneck speed. Most of that has been due to the same trajectory in the price of major commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Now, with crop prices slipping, farmers are set to bring in less money. Money they could be using to buy or rent more land.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

In the Midwest, crop agriculture often gets divided between the major commodities – corn, soybeans and wheat – and everything else. Diverting acres away from a major commodity to an un-tested crop is risky, but sometimes agronomics and market forces meet in a sweet spot and farmers can reap the benefits of innovation.

Spike In Propane Price Worries Midwest Farmers

Feb 10, 2014
Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

Residents across the Midwest are struggling with tight propane supplies, especially in this bitterly cold, snowy winter. But it’s not just homes in rural counties that are lacking adequate heating fuel. Farms that put bacon and eggs on your breakfast plate are also feeling the supply pinch. 

Hog farmer Phil Borgic of Nokomis, Ill., burns liquid propane – LP - from September through May to support his piglets. His farrowing barn goes through about two semi truckloads of LP each year. 

Courtesy Stephen Carmody / Michigan Radio

  President Barak Obama signed the new farm bill into law Friday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, ending years of negotiations and wrangling.

With farm equipment, hay bales and crates of apples setting the stage, the president told the crowd that this farm bill – officially called the Agriculture Act of 2014 – will save taxpayer dollars while also offering support to farmers and ranchers. And he says that helps the whole country.

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday it plans to set up seven new research hubs across the country to help farmers adapt to climate change.

In the past few years, farmers across the Midwest have grappled with epic drought, mega-blizzards and crippling heat.

“The combination of all those factors convinces me that the climate is changing and it will have its impact,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The EPA wants to roll back the amount of ethanol mixed into the fuel supply for 2014, worrying farmers across the Corn Belt. Ethanol supporters warn that if the EPA follows through, the rural economy will take the fall. But many economists predict a soft landing.

greetarchurch / Flickr--CC

The U.S. Senate passed the farm bill Tuesday by a vote of 68-32, sending it to the president’s desk and ending years of political wrangling.

greetarchurch / Flickr--CC

It’s getting so close now … Last week the U.S. House passed the Agriculture Act of 2014, the new farm bill. The Senate is expected to take it up Monday. President Obama’s signature could be on it in the coming days and then … boom!

Senate To Consider Farm Bill

Feb 3, 2014

The U.S. Senate is set to take up the long overdue farm bill Monday.

The bill passed the U.S. House last week and if it makes it through the Senate, many Midwest farmers will be taking a close look at how they spread the risk of growing commodities. Sstarting immediately, direct payments would not be available to prop up the bottom line.

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