farming

isnapshot / Flickr--CC

The number of farms in the U.S. is shrinking, according to the latest Census of Agriculture, released Friday. The census is taken every five years and shows the changing landscape for farmers.

Since 2007, the U.S. lost 95,000 farms, or about 4 percent. There was a similar drop in the number of farmers. But the number of Latino farmers grew by 20 percent, according to the Census. There are also more African American farmers.

Jeremy Bernfeld / KCUR

Terry Glenn’s neighborhood was hit hard by the recession, and it wasn’t booming before the rough times.

He saw houses crumble, get boarded up and left to rot. He saw neighbors moving away. And he worried that Ivanhoe, on Kansas City’s east side, was dying.

“We said, ‘We’ve got to look inside of this and see exactly what the problem is,’” Glenn said. “And once we did, we found out that the families were moving to try to find better schools, find healthier food, find different places that their family can go and have a good community.”

(Courtesy USDA)

Farm work has always been one of the most dangerous jobs in America -- as the government has reported, academics have researched and those doing the work well know.  

But new research from the University of California-Davis suggests for the first time that it’s a much more dramatic problem than the federal government recognizes, making the hazards faced by agriculture workers the most undercounted of any industry in the U.S.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The smell of baking dinner rolls fills the kitchen at Decorah High School in northeast Iowa. As two kitchen workers mix a fresh broccoli salad, another, Chad Elliott, ladles tomato soup from a large metal pot on the stove into white plastic buckets for delivery to the town’s elementary schools.

Elliott says most of the food served in the district is made from scratch and many ingredients come from local farms and dairies.

Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

Farm stands and farmers markets remain really important for many local farmers, but U.S. consumers barely buy any food directly from farms. That’s why local farmers are trying to crack in to the big institutional markets such as grocery stores, work cafeterias, schools and hospitals.

Returning Home To Build A New Life

Apr 24, 2014

It can be a lonely, difficult life when you’re a farmer on the high plains of western Kansas.

On Wednesday's Up to Date, we discuss a new memoir about a woman who returned to the family farm. We talk with her about the hardships she faced-- ghosts from her past, adjusting back to farm life after years away and dealing with the looming threat of drought as the nearby river levels kept dropping.

Guest:

Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

Farmers are making inroads supplying local food to hungry city foodies, but many producers are trying to grow more food in urban centers. City real estate is at a premium, so some producers are finding more space by using what’s called “vertical farming,” and going up rather than spreading out.

Growers across the country are heading indoors, using greenhouses and hydroponics – growing plants in a water and nutrient solution instead of soil and using lamps to replace sunlight. Vertical farming takes that to a new level.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

The blue corduroy jacket worn by high school students in FFA, formerly the Future Farmers of America, is an icon of rural life. To the average city dweller the jacket is a vestige of dwindling, isolated farm culture, as fewer and fewer young people grow up on farms. The numbers tell a different story however. In spite of that demographic shift, a record number of kids are donning blue jackets this year.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

  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.

Frank Morris / KCUR-FM

By most measures David Kesten's hens are living the good life.

"They can act like chickens, they can run around," says Kesten, who's raising hens in an old wooden shed in the open countryside near Concordia, Mo. "They can go out and catch bugs, they can dig in the ground."

But most U.S. hens live crammed into very close quarters, according to Joe Maxwell, with the Humane Society of the U.S. And he says that's just wrong.

"There are some things we should not do to animals," says Maxwell.

Proposition 2, and the Commerce Clause

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a frigid winter day, Chad Hart tries to warm his economics students at Iowa State University to the idea of managing some of the risk of farming using the commodity markets. Because, as he told them on the first day of class, farmers don’t make money planting or harvesting crops; they make money selling them. And Hart knows that marketing—managing those sales for the best profit—can be intimidating.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is beginning to release figures from its 2012 Census of Agriculture. An early standout in the data is the value of products being sold.

Greg Thessen, with the USDA’s agricultural statistics service, says sales figures come shining through in the preliminary data.

"The biggest thing it showed was the large increase in the market value of products that farmers sold in 2012," he said.

The so-called farmland real estate bubble appears to be starting to deflate. After years of steep property values, a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City shows the high times may be coming to an end.

Since 2011, the price for a plot of a farmland across the Midwest has been growing at breakneck speed. Most of that has been due to the same trajectory in the price of major commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Now, with crop prices slipping, farmers are set to bring in less money. Money they could be using to buy or rent more land.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Pork producers across the country are continuing to grapple with a virus that’s killing their piglets. Experts estimate Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus has already killed about 1 million baby pigs and the disease shows no sign of abating.

Food Hubs Try To Grow Local Farms

Jan 2, 2014
Sean Powers / Harvest Public Media

Restaurants across the country have jumped on the local food bandwagon. They’re trying to source more of their produce from nearby farms, but it's not easy. Enter: Food hubs.

Food hubs are popping up across the country. These food processing and distribution centers make it easier for restaurants, grocery stores and others to buy local food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that there are more than 220 of them in 40 states plus the District of Columbia.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

With rootworms building resistance to genetically modified corn that makes its own pesticide, seed companies are working on new crops that target the insects’ genes. But some worry about unintended consequences when the technology moves from the lab to the field.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

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.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

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.

Meet The Saddest Man In Kansas On Thanksgiving

Nov 21, 2013
Esther Honig / KCUR

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.

On the farm

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

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.

One year after the worst drought in decades, farm families all over the Midwest are preparing to bring in a record-breaking corn crop. While there’s some uncertainty in the air thanks to falling corn prices, this is a time of year when farm families focus on the task at hand.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

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?”

Courtesy / Ben Wheeler/Pheasants Forever and Nebraska Game & Parks Commission

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.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

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.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

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.

A fast-track review process put funds in U.S. labs in two weeks, said Paul Sundberg, the board’s vice president for science and technology. Normally, it takes months for the board’s volunteer committees to decide research priorities.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

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.

Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985) / Spencer Museum of Art

In the 1930's, farmers' extensive deep plowing of top soil in the great plains region displaced the natural grasses that normally kept the soil in place. That, in combination with a mix of drought and high winds led to dust storms creating a decade-long period known as the dust bowl that affected thousands of people. What was once a paradise for those moving west to farm the land became a desert-like environment and was later deserted by many settlers. 

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

On a hot day in late August, Kevin Bien stood amid the shade of a large gray piece of farm equipment.  The brand marketing manager for Gleaner Combines gave his best spiel to a group of farmers attending the Farm progress Show  in Decatur, Ill. Torque, efficiency and new technology were among his key points for the prospective buyers of the large machines that can run anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000.

And farmers are buying. Frequently.

Clay Masters / Harvest Public Media

This summer, officials in Iowa have been asking farmers to voluntarily reduce the amount of fertilizer they use. That’s because the fertilizer contains nitrates that are being washed into state waterways and creating environmental concerns locally and nationally. The runoff has been particularly bad this year, and the outcry over typical crop practices is growing.

Hot weather has been greeting visitors to this year’s Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., one of the country’s largest agriculture trade shows. It’s a fitting reminder of a rough year for farmers.

Hot weather is no surprise during the late-August exhibition of all things farming. But the recent dry spell in the Midwest is causing some worries.

Pam Johnson, a Northern Iowa farmer who is president of the National Corn Growers association says that's been the number one concern she's heard from show visitors.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Five years ago, Howard G. Buffett was at a meeting of an international food aid agency when he was told that feeding the millions of starving people in Africa was simple.

Just give them better seeds, someone said.

That advice might work on some philanthropists. But Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett, happens to be an Illinois farmer.

“This guy was explaining to me how to farm and he’d never been on a farm in his life,” he said. “So it really kind of irritated me. I came home and said, ‘OK, I’m going to have data to show these guys.’”

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