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.

Ranchers Rebel Over Beef Checkoff

Jan 20, 2015
Courtesy Jill Toyoshiba / The Kansas City Star

NEMAHA COUNTY, Kan. – From their small farms set in the rolling hills of northeast Kansas, two ranchers are raising a few cattle, and a lot of Cain.

David Pfrang and Jim Dobbins turned themselves into activists, launched a shadow corporation, got hauled into federal court and had to hire a lawyer.

All over $1.

That buck, though, divides the beef industry. And may influence what you decide to have for dinner.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

American farmers grew more corn and soybeans in 2014 than ever before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest crop production report.

The glut has pushed grain prices to a five-year low, forcing some farmers in Midwestern states to operate on much tighter profit margins than in recent history. Some will even sell their crop for less than it cost to grow.

File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

  Humans have been growing hemp for centuries. Hemp-based foods have taken off recently. So have lotions and soaps that use hemp oil. There’s evidence that different compounds in cannabis could be used as medicine and hope that its chemical compounds could hold keys to treatments for Parkinson’s disease and childhood epilepsy.

Neil Rickards / Flickr--CC

Ireland will be the first European Union country allowed to send beef to U.S. dinner tables, more than 15 years after a deadly outbreak of mad cow disease in Europe led U.S. regulators to ban European beef imports.

The ban on EU beef imports was lifted in March and Ireland’s beef production systems passed a U.S. inspection, according to the Irish Agriculture Department.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Demand for products that don’t contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is exploding.  

Many food companies are seeking certification that their products don’t have any genetically modified ingredients, and not just the brands popular in the health food aisle. Even plain Cheerios, that iconic cereal from General Mills, no longer contains GMOs.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Farmers engaged in an epic struggle with “superweeds” – weeds that don’t die even when sprayed with herbicide – are looking for help from a new super chemical that’s about to hit the market.

Currently the last line of defense against weeds not felled by other herbicides, the new chemical could be defeated if it is overused and farmers could be left in even worse straits. 

Pigweed Problem

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

For the Midwest’s biggest crops, this harvest season was a big one. With winter setting in, the race is on for farmers to ship out their harvest so it’s not left out to spoil. But the giant harvest and a lack of available rail cars have created a traffic jam on the rails and the highways.

Usually, farmers store their harvest in silos and grain bins, but this year, farmers brought in so much, there’s just no room.  Farmers in Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and South Dakota are all being hit particularly hard by the storage shortage.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

As drought, feed costs, and urban development wear on West Coast milk producers, states like Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa are pitching themselves as a dairy heaven. Even in California, the nation’s No. 1 dairy state, many dairy farmers are listening.

For the Midwest, an influx of dairies isn’t just about milk. It’s about pumping dollars into the rural economy.

California Dairies Look To Midwest’s Greener Pastures

Dec 15, 2014
Ezra David Romero / for Harvest Public Media

California’s branded as the state with happy cows, but increasingly, not necessarily happy dairy owners. For many of them in the nation’s No. 1 dairy state it’s getting tougher to make a living, that’s why some are some selling their cattle and heading to the Midwest.

A full quarter of California dairies have been shuttered since 2007, according to Michael Marsh, CEO of Western United Dairymen.

“They’ve just closed their doors and they’ve decided to make their investment in other states,” Marsh said.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

After getting pummeled by drought and low cattle prices, many ranchers are across the Midwest are eager to grow their herds. As they do, grass is turning into a hot commodity.

The national beef herd is down to the size it was in 1951. Shoppers know that beef is more expensive, which has people switching to chicken and pork. To raise more cattle and perhaps bring down meat prices, ranchers need more pasture. The trouble for many ranchers is grass has grown expensive.

Courtesy National Transportation Safety Board

Mike Lee steers his plane over the Missouri-Arkansas state line, checking out a checkerboard of green and brown fields of rice, cotton, corn and soybeans. Lee is the owner of Earl’s Flying Service, a crop dusting business in Steele, Mo., and he’s scouting some farm fields that his pilots will treat later in the day.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

When farmer Sondra Pierce had her first child, she decided to forgo daycare.

“Soon as I had my son, because I had my son very early, I would put his car seat in the tractor and he would ride with me,” Pierce says.

During harvest on her sugar beet farm in rural Boulder County, Colo., she’d buckle him up in the seat right next to her.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

In the debate over immigration reform, farm and ranch groups have been among those calling for change the loudest, and most frequently. But after President Obama announced changes to the immigration system, the response from the agriculture industry so far has been mixed.

Esther Honig / for Harvest Public Media

On a warm October afternoon Veronica Jaramillo walks through rows of skinny apple trees on the orchard where she works as the sun sinks behind rolling Missouri hills.

The 30 year-old migrant farmworker reaches into a tree on the Waverly, Mo., orchard, and in one fluid motion, picks a Golden Delicious apple.

“I don’t like picking the Golden,” laughs Jaramillo. “They’re real delicate and you can bruise them with just your fingertips.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The Farm Bill enacted earlier this year was supposed to save taxpayers money, in part by reducing subsidy payments to farmers. But a massive drop in prices for the nation’s largest crops means that many farmers may rely on the farm safety net this year and could herald large government payouts.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

In a dimly-lit lab on the Des Moines, Iowa, public schools’ agricultural science campus, students in aprons, safety goggles and plastic gloves poke and probe chicken wings. About 15 girls and just one boy in this vet careers class are looking for ligaments, tendons, cartilage and other features of this animal part that teenagers more often experience cooked and covered in barbecue sauce.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Bear Creek Dairy in Brooklyn, Iowa, is home to more than 1,100 cows, who provide about 100,000 pounds of milk each day. The 15-year-old farmer who works closely with the farm’s calves comes from a long line of dairymen – in Europe.

Five years ago, Teun Boelen’s parents sold their farm in the Netherlands and bought a dairy in southeast Iowa because, as his mother explains it, there was no room for their old farm to grow.  

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Northwestern Colorado has a rich heritage of raising sheep – either for their meat or for wool. But for decades the sheep herd has been slipping in numbers, both nationally and in Colorado, often outcompeted by countries like New Zealand and Australia.

Where there’s been a resurgence, though, has been in local, niche markets. Some sheep ranchers have taken advantage of the local food movement to sell to customers at farmers markets and through community supported agriculture models.   

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

U.S. farmers are bringing in what’s expected to be a record-breaking harvest for both corn and soybeans. But all that productivity has a big financial downside: plunging prices that have many Midwest farmers hoping to merely break-even on this year’s crop.

Farmers will haul in 4 billion bushels of soybeans and 14.5 billion bushels of corn, according to USDA estimates. Those are record-breaking numbers, made possible by producers planting more corn and soybean acres and near-perfect weather in the Corn Belt.

taryn / Flickr--CC

Americans had to dig deep into their wallets to cover costs associated with foodborne illnesses, according to new estimates from the U.S. Department Agriculture.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Dick Humes squinted and sweat as he moved down a row of corn. He sliced through the husk with a metal hook in his right hand, snapped the ear from its stalk with his left, and threw it over his shoulder into a wagon rolling alongside him.

Every other second, the corn hit the floor of the wagon with a thud. Humes was setting a steady pace for the men’s 50-and-older division at the 34th annual Illinois State Corn Husking Competition.

Jacob McCleland / Harvest Public Media

Fair-goers pack the stands at the East Perry Community Fair in Altenburg, Mo., on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon. They aren’t here for the blue ribbon pigs, the truck pull or the beauty contest. These people are here for the fair’s biggest attraction – the jumping mules.

Mule jumping is a simple sport. A handler leads a mule into a chute. At the end, there’s a pole with a blanket draped over it. Mules must stop before jumping, and they have two chances to clear the pole or be eliminated. After each round, the judge raises the pole two inches.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Voters in Colorado will decide whether or not they want the state to require labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs. The 2014 ballot measure highlights a much larger national conversation about the safety and prevalence of genetically modified foods.

If passed, food companies and farmers would need to affix to food a label that reads, "Produced with genetic engineering" if the product contains certain genetically modified crops and their derived oils and sugars that end up in processed foods.

With Curbside Composting, Food Waste Not A Total Loss

Sep 27, 2014
Cassandra Profita / for Harvest Public Media

Wasting around 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. certainly has its drawbacks: It's not feeding people in need, it's expensive and it does a lot of environmental damage.

But across the country, cities, towns and companies are finding food waste doesn't have to be a total loss. In fact, it can be quite valuable – in making fertilizer, electricity or even fuel for cars, trucks and buses.

@AlysonRaletz / Twitter

One-year-old Szechuan peppercorn sauerkraut. A Jar of pickled Brazilian peppers that expired in 2012. And kimchi that’s been fermenting for 25 months.

Those are some of the things lurking in area fridges that Kansas Citians claim they still would eat.

“Older, the hotter!” Kansas City food blogger Jenny Vergara tweeted this week, along with a photo of her Malagueta peppers.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

The long line of semi-trucks waiting to get in the gates of the Farmland Foods plant could simply wait around for a few hours to head back, fresh products on board.

The trucks are loaded with hogs from several confinement operations near this factory in Milan, a small town in northeast Missouri. Within just 19 hours, those pigs will be slaughtered, butchered and boxed into cuts that consumers see in the grocery store and in restaurants.

But that effort will use only about half of the animal.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a wet, grey day in Grinnell, Iowa, the rain beats a rhythm on the metal roof of a packing shed at Grinnell Heritage Farm. Crew member Whitney Brewer picks big bunches of kale out of a washing tank, lets them drip on a drying table and then packs them into cardboard boxes.  

File photo / KCUR

Before tossing that fuzzy sour cream or the moldy bell peppers from your refrigerator, ponder the bigger picture.

Food finds its way to more landfills than plastic or paper in the United States, making it the largest single source of waste in the country.  

Pesticide pollution in American streams has dropped over the last 20 years according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey, but scientists say aquatic life is still at risk.

Changes in regulation and the development of less toxic herbicides and insecticides have reduced the risk pesticide pollution poses to humans. However, the pesticide levels in some regions were high enough to cause harm to plants and animals that live in streams.

John McGrath / Hale Center for Journalism

HOOKER, Okla. – Jennifer Brdar’s dream job was to be a meat inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, watching out for unwary consumers and making sure the meat on their dinner tables was clean and disease-free.

After earning an associate’s degree in meat science, Brdar was hired in March as a temporary federal meat inspector at a big beef packing operation just up the road in Liberal, Kan.

She lasted barely a month, walking away in frustration.

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