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Harvest Public Media

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Bruce Carney raises cattle, poultry and a few sheep on his 300-acre farm in Maxwell, Iowa. He no longer grows any grain, but is preparing for new crops of a different kind.

Orange flags dot what was previously a cattle lot, with a ridge (or swale) built around it to manage water flow. The fruit trees Carney will be planting at each of the flags later this year will also help.

Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

There’s a new strategy when it comes to combating the smells and air quality concerns that arise from large-scale animal feeding operations: Blame the company, not the farmer.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

Two of the nation’s most influential players in agriculture policy, at a meeting in the heart of the country’s Grain Belt on Wednesday, tried to ease worries about the pending farm bill and a budding trade war with China.

Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

Colorado farmer Steve Kelly brushes aside a small mound of dry yellow dirt to reveal a sugar beet seed that’s no larger than a peppercorn. It seems insignificant, but the seed is different from what he planted more than 20 years ago.

“The quality of the beet wasn’t as good and yield and everything that way wasn’t as good either,” he said.  

Now all but 5 percent of sugar beet seeds in the U.S. are genetically modified, or GMO.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

At The Law Shop in Van Meter, Iowa, attorney Amy Skogerson untied a piece of blue yarn from around a bunch of craft sticks. Each stick had a word or short phrase stamped on it, and she read from them as she placed them on her desk: “negotiate, court representation, research law, draft documents.”

A dry crop field under a blue sky.
Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Segment 1: How national headlines impact local farmers.

Even if agriculture may not seem like a big part of your life, farmers are responsible for much of our food, our clothes and even our medicine. Today, we sat down with three reporters from Harvest Public Media to learn how farmers across the Midwest are responding to drought, tariffs and the newest version of the farm bill.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Beef cattle ranchers have always known that making the best steak starts long before consumers pick out the right cut, or where an animal grazes or what it eats.

The key is in the genetic makeup — or DNA — of the herd. And over the last year, those genetics have taken a historic leap thanks to new, predictive DNA technology.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

They say you can’t go home again. But what if you bring drones, quilts and a marching band?

On a warm, sunny Saturday last October, David Wayne Reed was in a machine shed on his family’s farm near Louisburg, Kansas, giving instructions to about 60 people who were helping him film his movie “Eternal Harvest.” Reed had gathered friends, family members and the Louisburg High School Marching Band. He’d had asked the band to  leave their instruments at home and wear a specific type of clothing.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The first version of the 2018 farm bill has only minor changes to one of the programs most farmers hold dear and what’s widely seen as their primary safety net: crop insurance.

The program covers all sorts of crops, “from corn to clams,” Iowa State University agriculture economist Chad Hart said. But it’s not like the types of insurance most people are familiar with.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

With the help of a rented plane, Jerry Eisterhold found the perfect place to start a vineyard with grapes native to the Midwest, grapes that no one had cultivated for more than 150 years.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

The two women wheel a grocery cart across the parking lot to a white van, open the door and shove kids’ toys out of the way.

Sandra Viloria and Amy Truckowski are friends and U.S. Army veterans who carpooled to the Leavenworth Mission Food Pantry to stock up on a week’s essentials — canned vegetables, bread, eggs and frozen meat. The food pantry is just a couple miles from Fort Leavenworth, the large U.S. Army installation in northeast Kansas.  

Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

In the small city of Fort Morgan, Colorado, 33-year-old Verónica delicately stacks cans of food into her mini shopping cart, strolling the narrow aisles of the Rising Up food pantry to gather eggs, milk, apples and an extra-large box of cereal.

Heartland Alliance

It’s a challenge for people with severe mental illnesses to hold down a job or get the medical help they need. And that extends to when they try to alleviate hunger by getting on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

There’s a Republican-authored proposal in the next farm bill that would require millions more people to work or volunteer in order to receive federal food assistance.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program accounts for most of the spending in the bill, which is up for renewal this year, and provides monthly stipends for more than 40 million low-income Americans to buy food (though in many cases the funds may only cover a couple weeks).

Conservatives argue expanding work requirements will help SNAP recipients find jobs and move off of food assistance. But House Democrats have said the requirements would punish people who struggle to work, and it’s become the central contentious issue in this year’s farm bill debate.

Erica Hunzinger / Harvest Public Media

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the biggest federal program aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty that millions of Americans find themselves in — sometimes for a few months, sometimes for several years.

Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

Cannabinoid Creations founder Scott Leshman pours samples of his signature soda flavor, Cartoon Cereal Crunch, at his booth for the annual NoCo Hemp Exposition in Loveland, Colorado. It’s an ode to the breakfast cereal, Cap'n Crunch CrunchBerries, with a twist: It contains cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil.  

Erica Hunzinger / Harvest Public Media/KCUR 89.3

Big cities in the Midwest are gaining ground on the rural communities that, for many decades, have thrived on the edges of urban development.

In A Crowded CSA Market, Specialization Is Survival

Mar 26, 2018
Sitka Salmon Shares

U.S. consumers’ hunger for fresh, local and organic foods has fed a marketplace that’s so big, little guys are — once again — having to evolve and specialize.

It’s especially true with community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs), which had been growing for years, but are starting to wane in the face of the rise of meal-kit companies and an oversaturated market.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

A statue at Fort Leavenworth pays tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers, the all African-American calvary formed after the Civil War. Today, John Bruce and George Pettigrew of the Buffalo Soldiers Alexander/Madison Chapter of Greater Kansas City explain the origins and accomplishments of these soldiers, who served with distinction until the last Buffalo Soldier units were disbanded in 1951.

KCUR 89.3

After a long and torturous wait, a Kansas City woman finally saw her rapist sentenced to 15 years in prison in May 2015.

A woman we called “Juliette,” to protect her identity, had been the subject of a KCUR investigation in which we exposed a failure by Kansas City, Kansas, Police to follow up on a DNA match made six years before Juliette’s rapist was finally arrested.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Dannette Ray is standing inside a re-created train depot, wearing cowboy boots, leather chaps and two six-shooters in holsters at her waist. Before she draws her pistols to fire at a row of targets, she calls out: "You get back inside, I'll cover for ya!" — a line spoken by Jimmy Stewart in the 1957 western Night Passage.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that'll be increasingly important to farmers are wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel. 

File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Between the time a cut of steak or pound of hamburger goes from cattle farm to grocery shelf, it more than likely passes through one of three companies: Tyson Foods, Cargill or JBS.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top four beef processors hold 85 percent of the market share, controlling the beef market to the point that some farmers believe the companies’ clout unfairly influences livestock prices. 

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

On a feedlot in far southwest Kansas, two cowboys on horseback move cattle on the high dusty plains, spread out like dozens of football fields stitched together with miles of fences. Their “Buenos dias! Buenos dias!” greetings mix with moos on a hot summer morning.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

There’s a city council election in Des Moines soon, and voters have questions about the rivers where the city draws its water supply.

“Is (the water) safe to drink? Is it safe to consume?” candidate Michael Kiernan says he’s been asked.

The Des Moines Water Works spent more than $2 million over two years scrubbing high levels of nitrates from the water that goes to more than 500,000 customers. Cities like Des Moines that are surrounded by farmland worry the cost to treat water polluted by farm runoff is going to keep increasing. And the Trump administration already has rolled back some water rules and may have more in mind.

Eric Thalken works down a row of organic corn in Nebraska, pulling back the husks. "There's a mindset that organic is ugly and low yielding and it just doesn't have to be," Thalken says.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Burkey Farms in southeast Nebraska looked into the future a couple of years ago and didn’t like what it saw — a continuation of depressed prices for conventional corn and soybeans. So, the families who run the farm together started discussing how the operation would make money if they couldn’t earn more from their crops.

Their conversation took a turn toward organics, a $40 billion industry and growing, especially in Iowa and Colorado.

Courtesy of the University of Missouri

There’s a genetic technology that scientists are eager to apply to food, touting its possibilities for things like mushrooms that don’t brown and pigs that are resistant to deadly diseases.

And food industry groups, still reeling from widespread protests against genetically engineered corn and soybeans (aka GMOs) that have made it difficult to get genetically engineered food to grocery store shelves, are looking to influence public opinion.

A cow is prepared for milking at the Iowa State Fair. The first spray of milk is squirted onto the floor before the teat is connected to the milking machine.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Galen Fick milks 50 Brown Swiss cows every day on his farm in Boyden, Iowa, where his family has been in the dairy business for generations. Life as a dairy farmer has gotten harder and harder, he says, especially in the past two years.

“Our inputs have gone up so much, not the feed part of it but everything else,” he says, pointing to veterinary care and, especially, labor. “For us to make that profit, [it] makes it very tough.”

Wind turbines have become a common sight on Iowa’s landscape.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Even as wind energy production has grown in recent years to be a large part of the country’s energy portfolio, a chill around federal funding for renewable energy has researchers increasingly turning to industry partners to bring the next generation of innovation to the marketplace.

Sarah Scantling's daughter, Abilene, was born in Dryersburg, Tennessee, 30 miles from their home in Pemiscot County, Missouri.
Bram Sable-Smith / Side Effects Public Media

When Sarah Scantling went into labor this summer, she had to drive 30 miles and across state lines.

Three years earlier, the only maternity ward where she lives in Pemiscot County, Missouri closed down. Scantling had to choose between a handful of other hospitals in the region between 20 and 70 miles away. She chose to give birth in the hospital in Dyersburg, Tennessee.

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