Grant Gerlock

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.

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.

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.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

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.

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.

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.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

April Segura is a regular at the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market in Lincoln, Neb. On a warm, May afternoon, the single, stay-at-home mother of three greeted friends and acquaintances while strolling past tables of lettuce and herbs. She hoped to find more asparagus for sale.

“I love asparagus season and it’s probably about to be over,” said Segura, holding two grocery bags with one arm and her one-year-old son, Jeriel, with the other.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The volunteer crew members pulled on their life jackets and climbed into a flat-bottomed aluminum boat at a ramp near Nebraska City, Neb. They came out early on a cold, gray April morning hoping to catch an endangered pallid sturgeon.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

You may not think much about store brands as you shop for groceries, but it’s a business worth nearly $60 billion per year. ConAgra, a company based in Omaha, Neb., made a splash recently in what the industry calls private label food when it paid $6.8 billion to buy Ralcorp, based in St. Louis, Mo. The merger created the biggest private label food company in the country.

Every major grocer has its own private label brand. Walmart has Great Value. Kroger stores sell Private Selection. Costco has Kirkland. Almost everything at Trader Joe’s seems to carry the store's name.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The patent rights on the first genetically modified seeds expire next year, but it’s not clear how the introduction of “generic” seeds fits into the science and business of GM crops.

Courtesy Lance Cheung / USDA

2012 was a drought year for the record books. It was the warmest year ever recorded in Des Moines, Iowa, Topeka, Kan., and Columbia, Mo. and the driest ever in Grand Island, Neb.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Rhonda McClure seems to approach farming with a homesteader’s resourcefulness, but she adds her own modern flair.

McClure and her husband Don sell fleece and home spun yarn across the country. But Rhonda is also a quilter and fiber artist who uses the wool in her own creations.

McClure often has gone a different direction than the rest of the flock. In the 1970s she was one of just a handful of women attending ag classes at the University of Nebraska. Today, the small McClure sheep farm is an uncommon neighbor to corn and soybean fields.

EthanolEnzyme
Grant Gerlock / NET

Inside a new facility in Blair, Neb., north of Omaha, a gleaming maze of steel tubes connect a line of giant fermentation tanks that will cultivate some of the most advanced biotechnology in the ethanol industry.

Grant Gerlock / NET News

The most popular menu choice at Amigos restaurant in Lincoln, Neb., is the soft taco. The combo meal with a soft taco, a 20-ounce Pepsi and mexi-fries, which are like tater tots, adds up to 1,100 calories.

While you can find that calorie count on the Amigos web site, it’s not on the menu — yet.

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