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Iowa

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.”

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.

Segment 1: The ancient civilization that once thrived in Kansas.

About a year ago, a researcher at Wichita State University found the city of Etzanoa, an indigenous settlement that once thrived in Kansas. Limited tours for the public are just now getting started, but accessing the site can be hard: there's a modern city on top of the ancient one.

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.

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.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for extensive property damage caused as a result of recurring floods along the Missouri River. 

A group of 372 farmers, landowners and business owners in several Midwestern states filed suit against the Corps of Engineers in March 2014, alleging that the federal agency's actions contributed to five floods along the Missouri River since 2007. Senior Judge Nancy Firestone ruled on Tuesday that the Corps of Engineers was liable for damages caused by recurring floods.

The Untold Story Of How Eggs Make Your Bacon

Mar 12, 2018
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

When a man places 40 dozen eggs on the conveyor in the check-out line at the grocery store, it begs the question: What’s he going to do with all of them?

This happened to Kim Becker in Ames, Iowa. The man’s answer left her so gobsmacked, she posted it on Facebook:

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

No matter how far fruits or vegetables travel, whether they’re grown organically or conventionally, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients. The men and women in the fields try to grow foods with an eye to boosting the health factor, but researchers say it’s hard to measure the precise impact.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

In the coming months, Congress will map out how it’ll spend upwards of $500 billion on food and farm programs over the next five years.

The massive piece of legislation known as the farm bill affects all taxpayers — whether they know it or not — and runs the gamut from farm safety net and conservation programs to food stamps and loan guarantees for rural hospitals. Since the bill hasn’t been introduced yet, now is the time when interest groups, farmers and others clamor to ensure their desires will be heard.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

Nearly a decade of federal incentives encouraged companies to invest in cellulosic technology, which produces ethanol from crop waste such as stalks, cobs and leaves left on fields after harvest, and at least three plants were built in the Midwest since 2014.

But cellulosic ethanol is harder to make than grain ethanol because it uses the inedible and irregular parts of the plants, meaning it was tough for machines to chew up the wet, heavy material. And companies faced other challenges, such as a steady supply, fluctuating markets and stalled policy decisions.

Frank Morris / KCUR

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

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.

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.

As President Donald Trump continues to fill political appointments, his nomination for the top science job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is raising unique concerns.

Trump has chosen Iowan Sam Clovis to be undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics. Clovis served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, has a doctorate in public administration, and taught economics at Morningside College in Sioux City.

Sioux City is also where he gained a following as a conservative talk show host.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Do you need a license to braid hair? Missouri, like other states, believes that you do. We look at the impact of a law that crosses issues of race, gender and economy.

Plus: we've all heard of the Kansas-Missouri border war, but what about Missouri's border war with ... Iowa? It all started over honey.

Guests:

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.

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).

Three months after his nomination, Sonny Perdue faces a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate Monday for the post of secretary of agriculture.

If confirmed, Perdue will find a desk at USDA piled high with priorities and will be one of the last members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to be seated.

Rob Fleming, a grand-nephew of Henry A. Wallace, uses this 1947 Ford 2n as he works to restore the prairie around his childhood home in Carlisle, Iowa.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hybrid seed corn and nitrogen fertilizer transformed farming in the 20th century, but they are also closely tied to some of today’s major agricultural challenges. That has prompted some members of two families that played pivotal roles in developing farm innovations to work on putting a lighter, 21st century stamp on the landscape.

In Carlisle, Iowa, Rob Fleming still uses the 1947 Ford 2n tractor he drove on the family farm as a teenager. Back then, neat rows of corn lined his family’s fields. Not anymore.

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, testified in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture committee today, but remains far from the head job at USDA.

Iowa Farmers Union president Aaron Lehman says farmers, politicians and consumers will need to work together to draft the best possible Farm Bill.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

As President Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, goes in front of the Senate, it bucks a recent trend of Midwest leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And it is making many in the farm country of the Midwest and Great Plans a little leery.

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