Farm-raised pheasants like this one, wearing blinders so it doesn't fight other birds, are being transported to areas that used to be known for pheasant hunting in order to prop up declining population.
As farmers across the Midwest have simplified the landscape and plowed up grassland to grow more corn and soybeans, habitat for pheasants, quail and other grassland birds has become increasingly scarce and their numbers are falling.
In Nebraska, wild pheasant concentrations have fallen 86 percent since their peak in the 1960s. The pheasant harvest during hunting season in Iowa is off 63 percent from the highs reached in the 1970s. In areas that used to be overrun, you’ll struggle to find a pheasant now.
Republican Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts says he isn't satisfied with the pace of negotiations on the farm bill. The legislation is in a conference committee where negotiators will try to work out differences between versions passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
The current farm bill has already expired, which means some programs will end later this month and prices for commodities like milk will go up if there isn't some kind of agreement.
The Thanksgiving weekend marks the start of Christmas tree sales in many places. And here in Kansas, a lot of the trees sold are grown in the state. But Christmas tree farmers have faced challenges in recent years because of drought conditions.
Eldon Clawson, president of the Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association, says some growers have had to take steps like adding drip irrigation to keep trees healthy.
“It’s an investment, a major investment, but it’s paid off for their trees,” says Clawson.
Farmers and scientists have long understood that what lives beneath the soil affects how crops grow. Often, they work to fight plant diseases—warding off infectious viruses and damaging fungi, for example. But now some microbiologists are focused on how to harness the good things microbes can do, with the goal of increasing farmers’ yields and diminishing their dependence on chemical inputs.
The next farm bill is all but certain to contain cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. Long championed by legislators from urban districts, the food stamp program isn’t just an urban concern. Families living amid fertile farmland struggle to put food on the table and increasingly rely on SNAP benefits.
Demand for organic foods continues to grow, and according to recent estimates more farmers are switching to organic methods to keep up. In Missouri alone, acreage of organic crops has increased six-fold in the past 15 years.
Walk into a grocery store these days and you’re likely to find whole sections devoted to organic foods. The organic label gives insight into how the food was produced, usually without the aid of synthetic chemicals, antibiotics and food additives.
This Thanksgiving, hungry families all over the country will finish off their holiday meal with a little slice of the Midwest. That’s because the vast majority of all pumpkin that comes from a can and winds up in a pie got its start on a vine in Illinois.
Pumpkin patches are popular destinations for families seeking fall fun and you’ll find roadside farm stands all over the country. But pumpkins are big business in Illinois, where farmers feed canning factories hungry for a special kind of pumpkin that looks nothing like those you see on Halloween.
Got a beef with the meat industry? You’re not the only one, but it’s taken many decades for the industry to assume the shape it has today.
In the first part of Tuesday's Up to Date, we talk about the history of meat production and distribution in the United States. We examine the shift from family to factory livestock farming, how government intervention has affected the industry and how the popularity of organics is changing the conversation.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media
The pork cooler at a Hyvee grocery store in Columbia, Mo., is full of meat. New rules that just went into full effect force meatpackers to detail where much of this meat was born, raised and slaughtered.
A new labeling rule that went into full effect Saturday requires meatpackers and retailers to provide consumers with more information about where their meat comes from.
The country-of-origin labeling mandate (COOL) forces retailers and meatpackers to detail where the livestock from which meat came was born, raised and slaughtered. It applies to certain cuts of beef, veal, chicken, pork, lamb and goat sold in the supermarket. Processed, deli and ground meats are exempt from the new rules.
For Kansas farmer Frank Reese, Thanksgiving is a sad holiday. He raises heritage turkeys, a breed very different than those you can buy at in a modern-day supermarket. Few farmers in this country are still raising that kind, and many breeds of the bird are endangered.
To finance his preservation efforts, Reese has to work two jobs, and sell hundreds of birds a year to slaughter.
Organic food is a hot market in the U.S.—the Organic Trade Association says that sales over the past five years have grown 35 percent. But there’s a problem in the supply chain – not enough organic grain.
School districts in both Kansas and Missouri spent more than ten percent of their food budget buying from local farms in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Census. That means efforts to fill cafeteria trays with local foods have plenty of room to grow.
Across the Midwest, most states report 25 to 50 percent of their school districts are buying from local farms, growing edible gardens or teaching nutrition—all parts of USDA’s Farm to School effort.
Fall is planting time for wheat across the Great Plains and this year’s crop went into the ground while big changes were underway in the wheat market. Some of the biggest players in the flour milling industry are joining forces to make the country’s largest miller even larger.
The federal government proposed Friday to cut the amount of corn-based ethanol oil companies have to put in the gasoline supply, by more than a billion gallons. Much of the corn used to make that ethanol is grown right here in the Midwest.
Cutting the amount of corn ethanol required in the Renewable Fuel Standard essentially puts a cap on demand for corn from the Midwest.
Hot-button food issues of the day, such as the use of genetically modified organisms or the treatment of livestock, tend to pit large industries against smaller activist groups. Often, both sides will claim the science supports what they are saying. That can leave consumers, most of whom aren’t scientists, in a bit of a bind.
Binh Hua (left) and My Nguyen, both 18, work in the Garden City Community College chemistry lab. The two best friends graduated from high school in three years and after community college, plan to go on to universities.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media
Of the 232 students who graduated from McDonald County High School in Anderson, Mo., last year, 154 of them reported they would be attending college.
Credit Harvest Public Media
Don Stull, a University of Kansas anthropologist, stands outside the Tyson beef plant on the outskirts of Garden City, Kan. Stull has studied Garden City and other meatpacking towns for 30 years and is co-author of the book “Slaughterhouse Blues.”
Sister Janice Thome’s office is a 2003 brown Ford Focus with a backseat piled high with paperwork and a prayer book.
Thome puts 125,000 miles a year on this car, picking up boxes from the food pantry, finding a mattress for a newcomer, delivering a sick soul to a doctor’s appointment. All the while, she fields emergency calls on her flip phone, responding to her mission to serve the poor of Garden City, out on the plains of southwest Kansas.
This day, Thome is teaching her teen parenting class at the alternative high school.
It’s almost 9 a.m., and Noel Primary School teacher Erin McPherson is helping a group of Spanish-speaking students complete English language exercises. But it’s tough going.
One student in a bright blue T-shirt – 9-year-old Isac Martinez – has not yet picked up his pencil. He’s clearly sick. When McPherson asks him what’s wrong, Isac’s small voice is barely audible in between coughs. He says he threw up four times last night but did not go to a doctor.
The Colorado farmers who distributed cantaloupes infected with listeria two years ago pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal charges Tuesday. Jensen Farms, located outside Holly, Colo., was the source of the outbreak that killed 33 people nationwide.
The outbreak was the deadliest in more than 20 years. Cantaloupes processed in the summer of 2011 at Jensen Farms near the Kansas border were laden with listeria. It’s a pathogen infamous for its high mortality rate.
Nancy Friesen sat nervously at the controls of a giant John Deere combine that made the corn stalks look like match sticks. It was her second day in the driver’s seat of the giant machine and she normally works in the garden, not the field. But during harvest time, everyone in the family pitches in.
Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in this country has been cut in half. In fact, the number has been declining since the late 1940s, when the American sheep industry hit its peak. Today, the domestic sheep herd is one-tenth the size it was during World War II.
The decline is the result of economic and cultural factors coming together. And it has left ranchers to wonder, “When are we going to hit the bottom?”
American farmers count on a steady supply of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to keep pests from destroying their crops, but the government shutdown is creating a backlog of chemicals needed to produce the vital tools.
In recent years, farmers in the Midwest have transformed millions of acres of prairie grass to rows of corn. High crop prices are a big motivation, but some also believe crop insurance is encouraging farmers to roll the dice on less productive land.
Rod Christen and his sister Kay farm corn, soybeans and wheat on their land near the small town of Steinauer, Neb. But their main crop is grass.
“Big bluestem is our big producer,” said Rod Christen. “It’s kind of our Cadillac grass.”
Normally, Friday would be a big day for the commodity markets. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Report is due, providing what is widely excepted to be the most trusted and complete snapshot of farm markets in the middle of harvest season. But, with the government shutdown the report is not coming out. In fact, farmers and ranchers aren’t getting any of the USDA information they rely on, and in this case, ignorance is not bliss.
Across the rural Midwest, landscapes are dotted with tall, cylindrical storage containers for grain. Some belong to commercial grain elevators, but increasingly farmers want to market their grain throughout the year so they install their own storage bins right on the farm. Maintaining the quality of that grain requires vigilance—and can present safety concerns. In particular, the risk of entrapment when a person enters a bin to check on the grain.
When a new disease — known as PEDV —turned up in the U.S. hog industry in May and threatened to kill whole litters of piglets, the National Pork Board quickly responded with $450,000 in research funding.
On a clear fall day in central Iowa, Aaron Lehman climbed into the cab of his green combine with a screwdriver to do some maintenance. He was hoping his corn had a couple more weeks to grow before harvesting because the price per bushel this fall is much lower than it has been for the past three years.
Corn farmers have been riding high prices for the last few years. But an expected bumper crop has prices falling this harvest season, and many economists expect the price of corn to drop to its lowest level in recent years.
You may have heard that the farm bill expired at midnight on Monday, but chances are, you probably haven’t noticed. The farm bill is buried in Washington under a mountain of significant and controversial legislation, from the government shutdown to the debt ceiling, and likely won’t be in the headlines any time soon.
This week, Kansas let a 2009 government waiver expire that provided food stamps for the unemployed. Now, able-bodied Kansans between 18 and 49 who do not have dependents, have to work or be in a job training program to have access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.
Kansas currently has about 318,000 food stamp recipients. Advocates for low-income people say this change will create a dangerous hole in an already thin safety net.