KCUR's Harvest Public Media was created four years ago to report on agriculture and food production in the geographic area where the majority of that takes place – the Midwest.
This year, my third of counting the top ag stories of the year, I find that the issues taking center stage were set not here, but in the politics, policies and processes of Washington D.C., state legislatures or the ballot box.
In the Middle East the U.S. military has used drones with great effect. More properly called UAS or UAV for Unmanned Aerial Systems or Vehicle, their use on American soil for more peaceful purposes have been a source of controversy.
The chestnut harvest in Kansas ends during the first few weeks of October, and every year around that time 40 to 50 workers pick pounds of nuts from 1,500 chestnut trees on an orchard right outside of downtown Lawrence.
Since 1995, Charlie NovoGradac, also known as "Chestnut Charlie," and Deborah Milks have been cultivating, collecting and distributing chestnuts.
When the harvest is over, the orchard is covered in gigantic thorny cockleburs. As they ripen during the season, these prickly husks open and release the chestnuts.
Tobacco farming was once a mainstay of the Missouri economy and lifestyle. With greater awareness of the health risks of cigarette-smoking and other changes in the tobacco business, the number of tobacco farmers in our region has shrunk. But the methods used to harvest tobacco have remained surprisingly consistent. According to the owner of New Deal Tobacco in Weston, Mo., it takes 250 hours to harvest an acre of tobacco (an acre of corn takes just a few hours to harvest, he says).
Lunch time at Harris Bilingual Elementary School in Fort Collins, Colo., displays all the usual trappings of a public school cafeteria: Star Wars lunch boxes, light up tennis shoes, hard plastic trays and chocolate milk cartons with little cartoon cows. It’s pizza day, the most popular of the week, and kids line up at a salad bar before receiving their slice.
We live in a world where there's something remarkable about a clean plate after a meal. But that's just one small piece of the food waste equation. Visits to farms, a meat processing plant, a compost heap, grocery stores and Kansas Citians' kitchens help us understand why there's so much food nobody's eating.
For more information about food safety, check out this handy chart from the USDA.
People usually associate state and county fairs with Ferris wheels and food on a stick. But in areas that have seen their demographics shift from rural to urban populations, these fairs are now serving a new role of connecting city folk to their country roots.
One way the Wyandotte County Fair, which runs July 22 to 26, does this is through its competitions in arts and crafts, food, agriculture and livestock, run by the local 4-H club.
The barn is an icon of the American work ethic and rural nostalgia. On Wednesday's Central Standard, we explored the trend of rehabbing and restoring old barns that would otherwise fall into irreversible decay.
We also spoke with people throughout the nation and in our own area about the challenges of preserving these structures.
Do old barns -- the red ones with big huge doors -- still matter, even as larger steel structures replace them in function?
At a farm in Kansas City, Kan., a group of young men from are developing their entrepreneurship skills through farming. Boys Grow, a non-profit agency, works with these kids to develop business skills as they sell their agricultural commodities.
On Wednesday's Central Standard, we talked to two of these boys about their experience with Boys Grows and their hopes for the future.
The former operators of a large egg farm in Iowa have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with a major salmonella outbreak in 2010.
Federal officials have charged Austin “Jack” DeCoster, his son Peter and their company, Quality Egg, with allowing the salmonella-contaminated eggs to reach consumers. They’re also charged with mislabeling eggs and attempting to bribe a USDA inspector. More than 500 million eggs were recalled and at least 2,000 people became sick from the outbreak.
Federal regulators Tuesday gave the final go-ahead for two of the country’s largest flour milling companies to merge.
Food giants ConAgra and Cargill said last year they wanted to put their flour mills under one roof in a new company called Ardent Mills. But a chorus of antitrust watchdogs said the deal would further consolidate an already concentrated industry.
The U.S. market for foods and beauty products that contain hemp is growing, but American manufacturers that use hemp have their hands tied. The crop is still illegal to cultivate, according to federal laws, which means the current American hemp industry, estimated at $500 million per year, runs on foreign hemp.
The museum blames a tough economic climate for a decrease in donations and corporate support. The Ag Center, as it’s often known, says it plans to close for the rest of 2014 while it seeks more funding and charts a way forward.
Biofuels made in the Midwest from corn stover, the leftovers of harvested corn plants, may be worse for global warming than gasoline in the short term, according to a recent study. It’s casting doubt on the greenhouse benefits of cellulosic ethanol.
New research confirms what many Midwest farmers have already suspected: The corn rootworm can develop resistance to varieties genetically modified to thwart the pest. Here, rootworm damage in an Iowa field ruined a corn crop.
After a long battle with corn rootworm, Midwest farmers thought they’d found relief in genetically modified seeds engineered to produce toxins deadly to the pest. But recent research confirms what farmers have been noticing for several years: the western corn rootworm has been evolving to outwit the technology.
Nebraska hog farmers aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on a proposal that would allow meatpacking companies more control over the state’s hog industry. And farmers all over the country are watching.
Currently, a 1998 state law bans meatpacking companies from owning and raising the hogs the process. But lawmakers have proposed an end to the ban, which would allow for more vertical integration of the hog industry.
Lacking the infrastructure of traditional suppliers, many local farms that want to connect to restaurants, schools and other big buyers are using the Internet to reach customers.
Groups of farms are banding together to form regional food hubs, leveraging online ordering, tracking and marketing tools to cut down on costs and to try to keep local food systems viable for growers and affordable for consumers.
Farmer Phil Borgic of Nokomis, Ill., knows firsthand what happens when porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus infects a hog barn. He walked through one in late January, pointing out the differences among litters.
“This is a PED litter. See how dirty they are?” he said, pointing to a sow whose little piglets had dirty hooves.
Many of the food terrorism scenarios outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration involve liquid.
And there’s good reason for that.
Liquids like orange juice and milk go through many processing steps -- farm, bottling plant, delivery – before reaching the consumers who drink them. And these liquids are moved, manufactured and stored in huge batches that get distributed and consumed quickly. Should a toxin be injected somewhere along the supply chain, experts believe it could have devastating human health and economic consequences.
A bioterror attack that introduced a virus like foot-and-mouth disease could devastate the U.S. livestock industry. Regulators are proposing new rules meant to protect the food system from terror attack.
It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster. Villains in trench coats scheme ways to cause the most destruction and chaos. They settle on a food company, an easy target, and plan to lace the products with a chemical or pathogen. The hero finds out the plan with enough time to save the day.
Shoppers are already paying more for pork and bacon than they did last year and many economists expect those prices to continue climbing for the next few months.
Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, watches the market for lean hog futures– the anticipated price of hogs heading to market soon. The futures price hit record-highs in early March, Hurt said, which will translate to expensive and bacon in the supermarket in the coming months.