Agriculture

Stories about agriculture

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Once a regular dining option, a mix of cultural and economic factors pushed lamb off the American dinner table. To put the meat back on the menu, ranchers and retailers are being encouraged to reach out to a more diverse set of consumers, specifically American Muslims and Latinos.

Sheep ranchers, feedlot owners, and processors in states like Colorado, Nebraska and Illinois are banking on America becoming a more diverse place. Without more Muslim and Latino communities embracing local lamb, the industry fears this niche meat could slip even further off the dinner plate, or be completely usurped by foreign producers like Australia or New Zealand.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new plan this week that offers incentives to farmers who volunteer to take steps that would help cut agriculture’s contribution to climate change.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking to an audience at Michigan State University, said the proposal will give farmers, ranchers, and foresters the technical support and financial incentive to implement more conservation measures on their land and in their operations.

Why Do Farmers Burn Their Fields?

Apr 24, 2015
Jacob Grace / Harvest Public Media

Farmers burn their fields to remove plants that are already growing and to help the plants that are about to come up. These burns are often called “prescribed burns” because they are used to improve the health of the field.

What tools do farmers need for a burn?

To keep the fire contained, farmers need to clear away burnable matter around the edges of the field, which usually requires a lawn mower or larger machinery. The burn itself can be managed with some simple, specific tools.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Big farms are collecting taxpayer dollars that they haven’t necessarily earned by taking advantage of a loophole in government subsidy rules, according to regulators, members of Congress and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking aim at what is known as the “actively engaged” loophole, which has been gaping for nearly three decades, by changing the qualifications for some subsidy payments. But many watchdog groups say a proposed fix fails to address the problem.

Cody Newill / KCUR

The National Agricultural Center & Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas has reopened for the 2015 season after a lengthy hiatus.

The roughly 150-acre facility was first chartered by Congress and President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 and opened its doors in 1965, nearly 50 years ago. 

But the Ag Center has never received governmental funding, and for nearly 10 years has struggled to keep its doors open. It even had to close early last May due to a lack of sponsorship.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

When President Obama announced in late 2014 that he would work toward ending the embargo on trade with Cuba, it wasn’t just tourists perking up their ears. Midwest farmers and ranchers see communist Cuba as an untapped market for goods from the American Heartland.

One of those farmers is Paul Combs, a rice farmer from southeast Missouri. Cuba can be an important market for farmers like Combs, who already depend on exporting their products.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Nate Storey’s greenhouse in west Laramie is packed with vegetables growing in long, upright plastic towers.

Storey’s set-up is an urban farmer’s dream: the waste from fish tanks fertilizes the crops through plastic tubing that drips water onto the vertical garden. The greenhouse is small, but produces a lot of food.

Like a proud father he shows off bok choy, butter lettuce and spinach.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Walking through the warehouse of food processor Heartland Gourmet in Lincoln, Nebraska shows how complicated the food safety system can be. Pallets are stacked with sacks of potato flour and smell of fresh baked apple-cinnamon muffins is in the air. 

Heartland Gourmet makes a wide range of foods from muffins and organic baking mixes to pizzas and burritos. That means business manager Mark Zink has to answer to both of the main U.S. food safety regulators, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

Chafer Machinery

As you’ve probably heard, a well-respected group of World Health Organization scientists said glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s wildly popular Roundup herbicide and its generic cousins, is probably capable of causing cancer in humans.

Here are five things you should know:

1. What the report said: Roundup could cause cancer in humans.

Farmers and ranchers from the Midwest and Plains states were among those who testified before the U.S. Senate agriculture committee Tuesday. Many objected to a proposed change to the rules on how the federal government oversees waterways.

Nearly a year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a change to the Clean Water Act that it says would clarify its authority over certain wetlands and streams. But Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who serves on the agriculture committee, says the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule has met strong opposition in farm country.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

A proposed change to livestock rules has put Nebraska hog farmers at the center of a debate that gets to the very core of what it means to be a farmer today.

In the top pork producing states like Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina, many farmers are under contract with giant meatpackers like Tyson or Smithfield Foods – the companies actually own the pigs and pay the farmers to raise them. That arrangement is illegal in Nebraska.

Like many other Midwest states, Nebraska barred corporations from owning livestock in the late 1990s in order to protect smaller farm businesses. After a slew of court challenges, Nebraska’s ban on meatpacker-owned livestock is one of the only laws still standing. And a bill introduced in the state’s legislature seeks to change that.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers face plenty of risk, including the unknowns of weather, global markets and the more predictable expenses of taxes and equipment costs.

Federal commodity support programs were created to help farmers during bad years. But under a relatively unknown provision of federal law, farmers don’t have to actually grow a particular crop to get farm bill payments.

That might sound like “paying farmers not to farm,” but it’s actually a complicated way of helping to reduce over-dependence on one crop.

File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

A highly contagious strain of bird flu has officially made its way to the Midwest.

The disease was confirmed Tuesday in two separate commercial turkey flocks in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

I had lunch at the Golden Ox just a couple days before the old steakhouse closed in December.

The Golden Ox is set smack dab in the Kansas City Stockyards, now long closed, but which for 120 years churned out billions of pounds of beef.

As the name would suggest, the Golden Ox is not a place of, well, subtleties. There were large aerial black-and-white photos of the stockyards in the entry way, the brass sconces were shaped as cow skulls and the specially-made carpets have a wagon wheel design.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

After years of negotiations, a dozen countries – from New Zealand up to Canada –are on the verge of a trade agreement that could be worth billions of dollars to the U.S. agriculture industry. Many American farmers and ranchers are eager to see the expected benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

A free trade agreement across the Pacific Ocean could open up markets and raise prices for him as well as other rice producers, said Chuck Earnest, a rice farmer in southeast Missouri.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

The top-security animal disease laboratory already being built in Kansas is one step closer to being done.

The final $300 million in funding for The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility was part of a bill passed by Congress this week. It had been held up by the battle over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that will operate the lab.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

You’ve probably seen, but may not have noticed, labels on the meat at your grocery store that say something like “Born, Raised, & Harvest in the U.S.A.” or “Born and Raised in Canada, Slaughtered in the U.S.”

These country of origin labels, as they are known, are part of an ongoing international trade dispute that has swept up Midwest ranchers. And they may not be long for store shelves.

John Wendle / for Harvest Public Media

Sara Creech has grown dependent on farming. She started out planting an orchard of fruit trees - apples, peaches, cherries and pears. She added berry bushes and rows of vegetables.

And then she bought her first chickens.

“A lot of people call chickens the gateway animal,” she said. “Like once you have a chicken on the farm, then you end up getting sheep on the farm, and then you end up getting horses, and cows, and then it just explodes from there.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Across the Corn Belt, farmers are signing up for Farm Bill support programs and which ones they choose will impact the overall price tag for taxpayers.

Projections for the cost of these commodity programs are blowing past the amounts originally budgeted just a year ago, when the Farm Bill was enacted, leaving the possibility that U.S. taxpayers will pay out billions more than planned.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says big shipping hubs like the BNSF Railway Logistics Park he visited in Edgerton, Kan., Tuesday have helped drive an increase in agricultural exports over the past six years.

But a labor slowdown at West Coast ports could jeopardize that growth, Vilsack says.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

The federal government banned raw milk sales across state lines nearly three decades ago because it poses a threat to public health. The Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association all strongly advise people not to drink it.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

When Jon Slutsky’s dairy farm in Wellington, Colo. is fully staffed, it’s a moment to celebrate. A full roster of employees at Slutsky’s La Luna Dairy is rare these days.

“We’re doing really well with our employee base,” Slutsky said. “A year ago, we couldn’t say that. We were short.”

With the farm’s 1,500 cows waiting to be milked, Slutsky and his wife Susan Moore felt panicked, worried they didn’t have enough hands on deck to milk about 200 cows per hour.

Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

Call it “peak farmers market.” Or maybe the plateau of “know your farmer.”

After more than a decade of explosive growth in the local food economy, the most visible portion of food sales within that sector has seen a slowdown. A new report from the U.S. Department of Agricultureshows the growth of sales of local food at farmers markets, farm stands and through CSA models has lost momentum.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

When it comes to organic certification, there are strict guidelines for food producers to follow.

For an organic steak, the cow it came from has to be raised on organic feed and the feed mix can’t be produced with pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetic engineering.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in considering a set of rules for organic farmed fish. Several consumer groups, though, say the recommended rules don’t go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods.

The feed for fish to eat is at the center of the debate.

File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Bacon and pork chops could become cheaper this year thanks, in part, to fewer pigs getting sick with the virus that devastated hog farms in 2014.

File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In the budget President Obama is sending to Congress he’s asking for more than $1 billion to combat antibiotic resistance, and some of that money would focus on animal agriculture.

Antibiotic resistance can make common medications ineffective, meaning sick people don’t get better and doctors have fewer options to treat bacterial infections.  

Courtesy USDA NRCS South Dakota

Scientists have noticed a change in the atmosphere. Plants are taking in more carbon dioxide during the growing season and giving off more carbon in the fall and winter. Recent research shows the massive corn crop in the Corn Belt may be contributing to that deeper breath.

It comes down to the Carbon Cycle. Over the winter when corn fields lay dormant, corn stalks and roots break down, sending CO2 into the air. Then in the summer when a new crop is growing, it takes up carbon from the atmosphere.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Update: Avian influenza was found in a Foster Farms turkey flock in Stanislaus County, Calif., the company announced Monday. The outbreak is thought to be the first infection of this type of bird flu in a commercial flock in the U.S.

The original story begins here:

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.

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