agriculture

Some of the world's largest agribusiness companies announced plans to combine, if regulators sign on.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The massive industry that supplies farmers with the tools to raise crops is on the brink of a watershed moment. High-profile deals that would see some of the largest global agri-chemical companies combine are in the works and could have ripple effects from farm fields to dinner tables across the globe.

Protestors object to the presence of genetically modified organisms in food at a rally in Denver, Colo.
File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Five of the six biggest companies that produce and sell seeds and chemicals to the world’s farmers are pursuing deals that could leave a market dominated by just three giant, global companies. They say getting bigger means bringing more sophisticated and innovative solutions to farmers faster, but opponents say consolidation has irreversible downsides.

Fruit And Desserts

Oct 28, 2016
Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

A local orchard owner talks about agritourism (corn mazes, pumpkin patches, the corn pit and more), a pastry chef fries up some apple pie, then KCUR's Food Critics search out the best desserts in and around KC.

Guests:

Update 11:35 a.m. Friday.

Atchison officials have issued the all clear, saying it's safe to go outside after a chemical cloud enveloped the city this morning.

Atchison City Manager Trey Cocking says at 8:02 a.m. Monday two chemicals were "inadvertently mixed" at the MGP Ingredients plant causing a gaseous plume. 

Cocking says HAZMAT protocols were immediately followed. "They put a foam substance on it to treat it, and that's what they've been doing to mitigate it," Cocking says.

Water is life — you drink it, cook with it and even shower in it — but unregulated runoff from farms and business can pose a threat to keeping it clean. A new series from Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, looks at the conditions of water in Kansas City and throughout the Midwest.

Guests:

St. Louis-based Monsanto, a world agribusiness leader, has agreed to be acquired by the German company Bayer.

Bayer will pay $57 billion dollars, or $128 per share, in a deal that has been in the works since last spring. Regulators still must approve the move. Two other mergers are underway in the industry, with Dow set to combine with DuPont (already the owner of Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer) and ChemChina planning to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

Courtesy Crystal Bradshaw

After the Civil War, freed slaves fled the South, but not everyone went North. Many thousands came to start farms and towns in rural, western Kansas — a movement that has lasting impact on agriculture and culture to this day.

Guests:

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts says the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is crucial for farmers wanting access to new and growing markets. But in the midst of the presidential campaign the deal faces an uphill battle.

Speaking on a panel at the Kansas State Fair Saturday, Roberts, who is the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman, distinguished the TPP from other trade deals. He says the agriculture industry stands to benefit too much for it to be allowed to fail.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Everyone knows agriculture is huge in Kansas.

It’s a $62 billion a year industry that accounts for 43 percent of the Kansas economy and touches every part of the state.

Following the 2012 Brownback tax cuts, farmers no longer had to pay state income tax -- just like 334,000 LLCs, S corporations and sole proprietorships.

Scientists at the Colorado Department of Agriculture's Insectary raise insects adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture.
Dan Garrison / for Harvest Public Media

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is killing pests dead, without the aid of chemicals.

Halfway down a dead-end road in the small farming town of Palisade, Colorado, is the research facility known as “The Insectary.”  Scientists at the lab develop “biocontrol insects,” insects adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture. Colorado’s Insectary is the oldest and largest facility of its kind in the United States.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

(Updated Friday to note House support)

The U.S. Senate late Thursday approved a bill that outlaws states’ efforts to put labels on food products made with genetically-modified organisms and instead gives companies more leeway in disclosing GMOs.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Massive bison herds used to be a staple of the Great Plains. That is until we almost hunted them out of existence.

Now, with a new designation as the United States’ national mammal, bison ranchers argue that to conserve the species we have to eat them.

It’s an idea called “market-based conservation,” and it contends that humans are no good at saving species out of the goodness of our hearts, or motivated by some driving force of environmental justice.

Slaughterhouses remain one of the most dangerous workplaces in this country. Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaborative based at KCUR, has been investigating the hazards meat processing workers still face. The result is a three-part series airing this week, Dangerous Jobs, Cheap Meat.

Guests:

Greata Horner holds a photo of her and her husband Ed taken a few months before he died.
Dan Boyce / Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media

On the worst day of Greta Horner’s life, she was dressed in a burlap robe, waiting by the window for her husband to come home from work.

The couple was down to one car. The other one was in the shop. She donned the costume for a play, set in Old Jerusalem, later that morning, part of Vacation Bible School at the church. She just needed the car to get there. 

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The path to normalized relations between the United States and Cuba made a stop in farm country Friday.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his Cuban counterpart, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, toured Aaron Lehman’s corn and soybean farm in central Iowa. They talked about water, soil, and energy and compared strategies for managing hog manure, which has been a problem in Iowa.

Vilsack said he hopes Cuba can increasingly be an export market for farm products like soybeans, rice and, eventually, poultry.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

One in every five calories people around the world eat, comes from just one grain, wheat. And for generations the U.S. led the world in wheat exports. But, that’s changed, and maybe for good.

Wheat is not something you want to run out of. Wheat shortages helped spark the bloody French Revolution and the Arab Spring.

A slaughterhouse is a safer place to work than it used to be, but data gathered by federal regulators doesn’t capture all the risks faced by meat and poultry workers, according to a new government report.

Through the centuries, technological advancements, from the tractor to developments in crop chemicals, have revolutionized the way we farm. Now, something new is disrupting the farming industry — and that’s big data. We take a look the new normal in one of America's oldest industries.

Guests:

Along the presidential campaign trail, candidates are deriding free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. But here in the Midwest farmers and ranchers, the people behind one of our biggest industries, are bucking the trend.

Guests:

  • Kristofer Husted is a reporter for KCUR's Harvest Public Media. He's based at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri.
  • Chad Hart is an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University, where he's a crop markets specialist.
Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

Meet a prominent thinker who's a Kansas farm boy and "prairiebilly" turned geneticist, and hear the story of how and why he became a leader in the sustainable agriculture movement back in the 1970s. Jackson is retiring as president of the organization he started: The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. 

Guest:

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Residents of St. John, Kansas packed a room in late January for an emotional, standing-room-only town hall meeting.

A week later Topekans gathered for an eerily similar meeting .

The month of March was short on moisture and now drought is creeping across much of Kansas. Assistant State Climatologist Mary Knapp says March is normally a wet month, so last month's dry conditions had a big impact.

“Because it's the start of our wetter pattern, things go down very, very quickly when we don't get what we should be seeing,” says Knapp.

Knapp says the coming months are the normally the rainiest times of year for many parts of Kansas. Those months will be critical in determining whether the drought expands or is washed away by seasonal rains.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Cotton fabric has been a staple in our closets for decades, but times are tough for farmers in the U.S. cotton belt who are caught in the middle of a storm of changing global demand.

Cotton acreage in the U.S. has been declining for years, with 2015 hitting the lowest mark in decades.  It has dropped from nearly 15 million acres to less than 9 million acres in just the past five years.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Senate rejected a bill Wednesday that would have outlawed states from mandating labels on foods with genetically-modified ingredients, leaving the issue in limbo as a state labeling law looms.

The measure by Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, failed to get the 60 votes needed to move ahead, leaving the path open for Vermont’s mandatory labeling law to go into effect July 1. That was quickly applauded by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

The morning after his high school graduation, Jonathan Justus packed his car and moved to California. He didn't even wait a day, and he didn't leave with fantasies of coming back any time soon. 

When he was a kid, Justus felt suffocated by the sense that everyone in Smithville knew and kept an eye on everyone else. His mom received hate mail when she took over the family pharmacy, criticizing her for working outside the home rather than staying home with her kids. Rumors had started spreading about Justus starting when he was just in high school, he says.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hundreds of lawsuits against seed company Syngenta could develop into a major class-action potentially involving almost every corn farmer in the country.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Wheat is one of the world’s staple foods and a big crop on the Great Plains, but it has been left in the dust. A corn farmer can grow 44 percent more bushels per acre than 30 years ago, but only 16 percent more wheat. That’s led many farmers to make a switch.

“Wheat acres have been going down since 1981 or 1982 when they were up around 86 million acres,” said Steve Joehl, director of research with the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). “I think last year we had a little over 56 million. It’s just a straight trend line down.”

A researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed a whistleblower complaint against the federal agency, alleging the USDA suppressed his research on a popular class of pesticides. We talk to the journalist who broke the story this week.

Guest:

  • Carey Gillam is a contributing reporter for Harvest Public Media based at KCUR.
Earl Dotter / Oxfam America

Americans eat more chicken than any other meat, an average of 89 pounds a year.

That enormous demand for a high protein source that’s considered relatively inexpensive is literally feeding the $50 billion poultry industry. While many people are concerned with the welfare of meat animals, there appears to be little consumer concern for how the workers are treated.

'Cattle, Cowboys & Culture: Kansas City To Amarillo'

Oct 23, 2015

The bond between Kansas City and Amarillo, Texas may be stronger than you think.  A train that ran between the two cities led to the shaping of cultures, and a lasting connection.  

Guest:

Michael Grauer is a Kansas City native and Curator of Art and Western heritage at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.

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