Agriculture

Stories about agriculture

Ben Kuebrich / Kansas News Service/Harvest Public Media

A new, widely debated federal mandate requires truckers to electronically track the number of hours they’re on the road — a rule that’s meant to make highways safer. But there’s a big difference between hauling a load of TVs and a load of cattle destined for meatpacking plants.

Livestock haulers, who have a soon-to-end temporary exemption from the rule, argue enforcing it will upend their industry and put animals at risk. There’s also a good chance, experts say, that the prices of meat at the grocery store will go up.

A new, widely debated federal mandate requires truckers to electronically track the number of hours they’re on the road — a rule that’s meant to make highways safer. But there’s a big difference between hauling a load of TVs and a load of cattle destined for meatpacking plants.

Livestock haulers, who have a soon-to-end temporary exemption from the rule, argue enforcing it will upend their industry and put animals at risk. There’s also a good chance, experts say, that the prices of meat at the grocery store will go up.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

file photo / Kansas Public Radio

Last fall’s dramatic public backlash against plans for a massive poultry operation in northeast Kansas could lead to a change in law.

Two lawmakers whose districts include Tonganoxie — a small, rural commuter town between Lawrence and Kansas City — want to give local residents a say on whether they’ll be neighbors to a chicken plant.

Voters in the county of any proposed large-scale facility for caging or slaughtering poultry would be able to force a public vote on the matter by gathering enough signatures on a petition.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

In the coming months, Congress will map out how it’ll spend upwards of $500 billion on food and farm programs over the next five years.

The massive piece of legislation known as the farm bill affects all taxpayers — whether they know it or not — and runs the gamut from farm safety net and conservation programs to food stamps and loan guarantees for rural hospitals. Since the bill hasn’t been introduced yet, now is the time when interest groups, farmers and others clamor to ensure their desires will be heard.

Alex Smith / Harvest Public Media

A few years ago, Kansas City restaurateur Anton Kotar surveyed the local and national restaurant scenes and concluded his town’s reputation as a steakhouse paradise had slipped.

The problem, he says, is the way conventional beef is raised – bulked up with grain on feedlots, making it cheap and plentiful and changing what Americans expect to taste.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

Nearly a decade of federal incentives encouraged companies to invest in cellulosic technology, which produces ethanol from crop waste such as stalks, cobs and leaves left on fields after harvest, and at least three plants were built in the Midwest since 2014.

But cellulosic ethanol is harder to make than grain ethanol because it uses the inedible and irregular parts of the plants, meaning it was tough for machines to chew up the wet, heavy material. And companies faced other challenges, such as a steady supply, fluctuating markets and stalled policy decisions.

Stephen Koranda-File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

After pushing for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Donald Trump earlier this year kicked off negotiations among the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Any major changes to the agreement could have a big impact on Kansas.

Kansas Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran have said they’re open to updates but emphasize that the agreement needs to preserve or expand export opportunities.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Peyton Manning, the NFL quarterback-turned-pitchman, apparently has another side hustle: Certifying shipments of grain as organic for a Nebraska-based agency called OneCert.

Problem is, OneCert president Sam Welsch doesn’t remember hiring Manning for his business, which is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect everything from small vegetable farms to processing plants and international grain operations.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Dannette Ray is standing inside a re-created train depot, wearing cowboy boots, leather chaps and two six-shooters in holsters at her waist. Before she draws her pistols to fire at a row of targets, she calls out: "You get back inside, I'll cover for ya!" — a line spoken by Jimmy Stewart in the 1957 western Night Passage.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that'll be increasingly important to farmers are wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel. 

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

In the hopes of not repeating a problematic year for soybean crops, farmers across the U.S. are deciding how best to protect their crops and their livelihood next year from drift damage caused by the weed killer dicamba.

File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Between the time a cut of steak or pound of hamburger goes from cattle farm to grocery shelf, it more than likely passes through one of three companies: Tyson Foods, Cargill or JBS.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top four beef processors hold 85 percent of the market share, controlling the beef market to the point that some farmers believe the companies’ clout unfairly influences livestock prices. 

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

On a feedlot in far southwest Kansas, two cowboys on horseback move cattle on the high dusty plains, spread out like dozens of football fields stitched together with miles of fences. Their “Buenos dias! Buenos dias!” greetings mix with moos on a hot summer morning.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

There’s a city council election in Des Moines soon, and voters have questions about the rivers where the city draws its water supply.

“Is (the water) safe to drink? Is it safe to consume?” candidate Michael Kiernan says he’s been asked.

The Des Moines Water Works spent more than $2 million over two years scrubbing high levels of nitrates from the water that goes to more than 500,000 customers. Cities like Des Moines that are surrounded by farmland worry the cost to treat water polluted by farm runoff is going to keep increasing. And the Trump administration already has rolled back some water rules and may have more in mind.

Eric Thalken works down a row of organic corn in Nebraska, pulling back the husks. "There's a mindset that organic is ugly and low yielding and it just doesn't have to be," Thalken says.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Burkey Farms in southeast Nebraska looked into the future a couple of years ago and didn’t like what it saw — a continuation of depressed prices for conventional corn and soybeans. So, the families who run the farm together started discussing how the operation would make money if they couldn’t earn more from their crops.

Their conversation took a turn toward organics, a $40 billion industry and growing, especially in Iowa and Colorado.

Courtesy of the University of Missouri

There’s a genetic technology that scientists are eager to apply to food, touting its possibilities for things like mushrooms that don’t brown and pigs that are resistant to deadly diseases.

And food industry groups, still reeling from widespread protests against genetically engineered corn and soybeans (aka GMOs) that have made it difficult to get genetically engineered food to grocery store shelves, are looking to influence public opinion.

A cow is prepared for milking at the Iowa State Fair. The first spray of milk is squirted onto the floor before the teat is connected to the milking machine.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Galen Fick milks 50 Brown Swiss cows every day on his farm in Boyden, Iowa, where his family has been in the dairy business for generations. Life as a dairy farmer has gotten harder and harder, he says, especially in the past two years.

“Our inputs have gone up so much, not the feed part of it but everything else,” he says, pointing to veterinary care and, especially, labor. “For us to make that profit, [it] makes it very tough.”

Wind turbines have become a common sight on Iowa’s landscape.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Even as wind energy production has grown in recent years to be a large part of the country’s energy portfolio, a chill around federal funding for renewable energy has researchers increasingly turning to industry partners to bring the next generation of innovation to the marketplace.

Sarah Scantling's daughter, Abilene, was born in Dryersburg, Tennessee, 30 miles from their home in Pemiscot County, Missouri.
Bram Sable-Smith / Side Effects Public Media

When Sarah Scantling went into labor this summer, she had to drive 30 miles and across state lines.

Three years earlier, the only maternity ward where she lives in Pemiscot County, Missouri closed down. Scantling had to choose between a handful of other hospitals in the region between 20 and 70 miles away. She chose to give birth in the hospital in Dyersburg, Tennessee.

Courtesy Mary Anne Andrei

Every year on the farm has its challenges. There are weeds, insects and random hailstorms. Unpredictable global markets can make or break a profitable crop. Recent years, though, have been especially troubling for the Hammond farm in York County in eastern Nebraska.

Bryan Thompson / Kansas News Service

Darrel Urban stands in front of a newly-dug pit the size of two football fields laid end-to-end, and ten feet deep. Soon, it will be full of hog waste, and two more large pits will join it.

A site two miles outside of the tiny town of Pfeifer, Kansas, in the northeast corner of Rush County near Hays, is slated to be the new home of a massive hog farming operation. It will be home to thousands of pigs, and their waste. It is a less than a mile from Urban’s home.

Water is an in-demand commodity in Del Norte, Colorado.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

In the summer of 2002, water pumps in Colorado’s San Luis Valley stopped working.

The center pivot sprinklers that coax shoots from the dry soil and turn the valley into one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions strained so hard to pull water from an underground aquifer that they created sunken pits around them.

“This one right over here,” says potato farmer Doug Messick as he walks toward a sprinkler in the valley, near the town of Center. He's the farm manager at Spud Grower Farms. “I came up to it one day and I could’ve driven my pickup in that hole.”

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

State officials are hoping to keep a new Tyson Foods chicken plant in Kansas after the company put on hold plans to build the $300 million facility in Leavenworth County.

Tyson is looking at other locations in Kansas and other states after public outcry and a local decision to back away from promised incentives

File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

Editors note: This story was updated at 6 p.m. Sept. 18.

The Leavenworth County Commission on Monday morning backed off its support for a controversial chicken processing plant, throwing the future of the massive project into doubt.

Earl Bullington is an advisor for Focus Bank, which rescued the struggling Pemiscot County Hospital in 2013.
Bram Sable-Smith / for Harvest Public Media

$1.25 million.

That’s the size of the bill that could have shuttered the only public hospital in rural Pemiscot County, Missouri in August 2013.

Hy-Vee has opened 115 Market Grille restaurants in its grocery stores, including this one in Columbia, Mo., in an effort to provide a more full-service food experience for its customers.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Imagine going to the grocery store for dinner, not to pick up a rotisserie chicken to take home, but to actually eat at the store. As online grocery shopping grows, many supermarkets are adding sit-down restaurants – and the trend is changing how food retail and food service work together.

The herbicide dicamba is thought to have been the culprit in more than 3 million acres of damaged soybeans across the country, destroying plants and leaving farmers out millions of dollars in crops.

The chemical has been in use for decades, so why is it today apparently causing farms so much damage?

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is questioning the qualifications of President Trump’s pick to lead the research division at the USDA, a post generally held in the past by a trained scientist.

In July, Trump nominated former conservative talk radio host and economics professor Sam Clovis to be the agency’s undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics.

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