Harvest Public Media

During the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, spectators will turn their eyes upward to see the moon pass in front of the sun.

But many Midwest scientists will turn their eyes and cameras to the plants and animals here on the ground. And they're not sure what will happen.

FILE: STEPHANIE PAIGE OGBURN FOR HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

It has been a rough few months for the world’s largest meat company.

Known for its rapid expansion across the globe, Brazil-based meatpacking giant JBS has been embroiled in scandal for much of 2017. The company is so large it is difficult to avoid for those who eat meat. As of 2014, JBS’s U.S. subsidiary held a 22 percent market-share in U.S. beef processing and an 18 percent market-share in poultry processing.

Anti-pipeline signs greet visitors to Art Tanderup's farm near Neligh, Nebraska.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL oil pipeline, is scheduled to go before the Nebraska Public Service Commission next week, the final hurdle before the agency decides whether the pipeline’s path should be approved.

Chemical runoff from Midwest farm fields is contributing to the largest so-called ‘dead zone’ on record in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists have mapped the size of the oxygen-deprived region in the Gulf since 1985. This year’s is estimated at more than 8,700 square miles, which is about the size of New Jersey.

The amount and timing of rainfall contribute to the washing of chemicals from farm fields throughout the watershed into the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf.

Nearly all of the ethanol blended into U.S. gasoline is made from corn, not from other plants.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

On a sweltering summer morning, Rob Mitchell surveys a plot of switchgrass at a research field near Lincoln, Nebraska. The grass is lush, green and nearly six feet tall.

“And it will get a couple feet taller than this,” says Mitchell, an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “So we’re putting on a lot of biomass right now.”

Hundreds of Midwest farmers are complaining of damage to their crops allegedly caused by the herbicide dicamba. The total number of damaged acres may come to more than 2.5 million acres, according to data compiled by a University of Missouri researcher.

Most of the damage has been found in the Midwest and South, with complaints of more than 850,000 damaged acres in Arkansas and more than 300,000 damaged acres in both Missouri and Illinois.

An Illinois farmer harvests his corn crop in this file photo. Average net farm income has tumbled in recent years.
File: Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Of all the expensive machinery Tom Giessel worked during the 2017 wheat harvest, his favorite sits in the office of his home.

It’s a microfilm machine, the kind found in a high school library. Giessel uses it for his work as the historian of the National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest farm group.

Mad Cow Disease Detected In Alabama

Jul 18, 2017

A case of mad cow disease has been found in a cow in Alabama.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists confirmed Tuesday that an 11-year-old cow found in an Alabama livestock market suffered from the neurologic cattle disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The animal “at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States,” according to the USDA.

Dangerous Jobs, Cheap Meat: Death and injuries on ‘The Chain,’ a Harvest Public Media series about the dangerous life of working in a meatpacking plant, was recognized as an outstanding example of investigative reporting by the public radio industry.

Farmer Wendy Johnson markets hogs, chickens, eggs and seasonal turkeys from her farm near Charles City, Iowa.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor, a lightweight plastic frame covered in wire mesh that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days, and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets in eastern Iowa.

The demand for beef, pork and chicken raised on smaller farms closer to home is growing. Now, some Midwest farmers, like Johnson, are exploring how to graze livestock to meet those demands while still earning a profit.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a new dimension to the urban-rural divide: death rates related to cancer.

Cancer death rates are falling nationwide, but they remain higher in rural areas (180 deaths per 100,000 persons) than in cities (158 deaths per 100,000 persons), according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The Grandview R-II school district in rural Jefferson County, Missouri, started an online summer school program to offer students the chance to take courses not otherwise available.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

Schools in rural school districts often don’t have the budget or the teachers to offer students all of the courses they would like to take. One rural district in a Missouri county decided to offer credit for online classes in an effort to give its students the educational opportunities it can’t otherwise afford.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture announced a temporary ban on the sale of agricultural products containing the pesticide dicamba on Friday, following a similar step by regulators in Arkansas.

Charred trees scar a hillside on the Pine Ridge in northwest Nebraska after a massive wildfire in 2012.
File: Hilary Stohs-Krause / NET News

Wildfires burned through thousands of acres of Great Plains farm and ranch land in the 1980s. Today, wildfires are likely to char millions of acres.

The Great Plains are seeing more wildfires, according to a new study, leading researchers to ask why the fires are happening, and fire managers to examine what resources they will need to keep the blazes in check.

The South Sudanese Community Lutheran Church meets at Zion Lutheran Church in Denison, Iowa, on Sunday afternoons.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

This story is part of the special Harvest Public Media series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

As Highway 30 enters Denison, Iowa, a city of 8,000, the national fast food chains stand next to Mexican groceries and restaurants. In this small city near the Nebraska border, waves of immigrants have been arriving since at least the 1980s.

The small town of Haxton on Colorado's eastern plains has seen a declining population.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Brandon Biesemeier climbs up a small ladder into a John Deere sprayer, takes a seat in the enclosed cab, closes the door, and blocks out most of the machine’s loud engine hum. It is a familiar perch to the fourth-generation farmer on Colorado’s eastern plains.

He turns onto a country road, heading south to spray an herbicide on his cornfields, an early growing season task his genetically engineered crops demand if he is to unlock their value. In the cab, a computer screen shows a little pixelated tractor moving across digital fields, logging his work.

Farmer Tim Mueller raises corn and soybeans in Columbus, Nebraska. He is hoping to get into the chicken business by signing a contract with a subsidiary of Costco.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Tim Mueller has raised corn and soybeans on 530 acres near the city of Columbus, Nebraska, for decades, but today he is planning to take a big gamble.

The big box retailer Costco is building a new chicken processing plant in Fremont, about an hour from Mueller’s farm. The company plans for the plant to slaughter 2 million birds per week. To raise all those chickens, the company is recruiting about 120 farmers to sign on as contract poultry farmers.

A new hospital, financed by a USDA loan, is under construction in Syracuese, Nebraska, a town of under 2,000 people.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

President Donald Trump spent the campaign pledging to revive rural communities, where many voters have felt ignored by previous administrations. But after announcing staffing changes and budget plans that would make cuts to programs aimed at rural areas, critics are questioning whether the White House remains committed to that goal.

Sales of organic food reportedly climbed to record highs in 2016, an indication organics are edging toward the mainstream.

 

A study that received funding from the Leopold Center demonstrated that planting small grains, such as the oats pictured here in 2016, can reduce the need for chemical inputs.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

A leading research center focused on local farmers and environmental conservation is hanging on by a thread, even as the movement to diversify agriculture, which it helped launch, continues to thrive.

Cattle rancher Mike John runs a cow-calf operation in Hunstville, Missouri, and says he hopes international trade will open up new markets for his beef.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

President Trump made campaign promises to pull the U.S. out of big international trade deals and focus instead on one-on-one agreements with other countries. But that has farmers worried they will lose some of the $135 billion in goods they sold overseas last year.

The Agriculture Department established climate research centers in 2014 to translate science into real-world ideas for farmers and ranchers adapting to a hotter climate.
File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Farmers and ranchers, with their livelihoods intimately tied to weather and the environment, may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump Administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

Plan To Shakeup USDA Worries Rural Advocates

May 11, 2017

Advocates for rural issues are up in arms after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a plan that changes the position of a lieutenant that had been focused on rural issues in order to create one focused on trade.

USDA is limited in its number of undersecretaries. Creating a position focused on trade, which the agriculture industry maintains is vital to its economic growth, may force Perdue to scrap a current mission area.

At Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute, Pat Schnable leads a group that collaborates with data scientists.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

This summer, in cornfields in Iowa and Nebraska, about a thousand small point-and-shoot digital cameras will be enclosed in waterproof cases, mounted on poles and attached to solar-powered battery chargers. They will take pictures every ten minutes as plants grow; all part of a plan to create better seeds.

“We watch plants go through their normal growth and development and also we watch them respond to environmental stressors, like drought and so forth,” says Pat Schnable, director of the Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State University.

Farmers in western Kansas are worried a spring blizzard that dumped as much as two feet of snow destroyed much of this year’s wheat crop.

Kansas is the No. 1 wheat state in the country. About 20 percent of the nation’s wheat crop last year was grown by Kansas farmers.

The heavy snow and cold temperatures delivered a one-two punch to a crop that had been in good shape. Rick Horton, who farms 3,000-4,000 acres of wheat in southwest Kansas near Leoti, says he’s expecting massive losses.

The Brazile Creek Groundwater Management Area encompasses 756 square miles of north-central Nebraska.
Ariana Brocious / For Harvest Public Media

At a nitrogen management class in the small town of Creighton, Nebraska, Tanner Jenkins shows a chart of groundwater data to a group of about 40 farmers. He points to a red line, which shows the level of chemical nitrates in groundwater over time.

“You can see we’re on a pretty steady upward click,” Jenkins, who works for a local groundwater district, tells the farmers.

Decades of intensive farming have contaminated the groundwater across many parts of Nebraska. A new plan may help farmers in the northeastern part of the state address the problem.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday said President Trump may be open to creating a way for some undocumented immigrant workers to stay in the U.S. and Perdue is already working on a “blueprint” of policy guidelines to offer the president.

Pushed by worker advocates and growing consumer awareness, Tyson Foods on Wednesday promised better conditions for workers at its meat processing plants.

Watch: Who Is New Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue?

Apr 24, 2017

Three months into his term, President Donald Trump now has in place his Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue.

Here’s what you need to know:

Perdue served two terms as governor of Georgia

The nation has a new agriculture secretary.

The U.S. Senate on Monday voted to confirm former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead the Department of Agriculture. He takes over a department that was without a top boss for three months after former secretary Tom Vilsack resigned. Vilsack served the entire eight years of the Obama administration (one of the longest-serving agriculture secretaries in recent decades).

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