USDA

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.”

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is questioning the qualifications of President Trump’s pick to lead the research division at the USDA, a post generally held in the past by a trained scientist.

In July, Trump nominated former conservative talk radio host and economics professor Sam Clovis to be the agency’s undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the long delays in seating his replacement leaves rural America without a voice in the Trump administration.

Vilsack, a Democrat who served as USDA chief during both terms of the Obama Administration, cites President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal as an example of what happens without a Cabinet position dedicated to rural issues.

Great Plains Ranchers Look To Rebuild In Wake Of Massive Fires

Apr 6, 2017
Bryan Thompson / Harvest Public Media

Gena Kirk did not realize the largest wildfire in Kansas history was closing in on the Kirk Ranch on March 6 until she got a call from her brother-in-law. After realizing that her herd was in danger, she jumped into her pickup and sped up the hill where several of her cattle were grazing.

Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor nominated by President Donald Trump, is one step closer to becoming U.S. Secretary of Agriculture after the Senate Agriculture Committee approved his nomination Thursday.

Yet Perdue remains one step shy of the post; the full Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on his nomination. Perdue, however, is widely expected to be approved.

The headquarters of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

Farm and rural advocacy groups say cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would harm rural communities, at a time when many of them need an infusion of cash.

In what’s being called a “skinny budget” because it sets an outline and contains scant details, Trump’s proposal calls for a 21 percent reduction in the USDA’s annual discretionary spending, and lays out rationales for why some programs are either eliminated or scaled back, calling some “duplicative,” or “underperforming.”

Hampton Creek

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has ruled that the American Egg Board acted inappropriately when it carried out a two-year media campaign against Hampton Creek, the maker of an egg-free mayonnaise.

In a controversy lightly labeled “mayo-gate,” the USDA also concluded in a memo posted Thursday that AEB officials and former CEO Joanne Ivy tried to cover up their conduct by deleting emails.

Farmers can expect a paycut, thanks mostly to an abundance of corn and soybeans.
File: Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

This year will be another tight one for farmers, at least if the federal government’s predictions are correct.

Farm income will sink to its lowest point since 2009, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast. The USDA expects net farm income will drop 11.5 percent to $71.5 billion this year, which would mark the third-straight year of falling income.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Everyone knows agriculture is huge in Kansas.

It’s a $62 billion a year industry that accounts for 43 percent of the Kansas economy and touches every part of the state.

Following the 2012 Brownback tax cuts, farmers no longer had to pay state income tax -- just like 334,000 LLCs, S corporations and sole proprietorships.

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

Most school districts have moved to comply with stricter nutrition standards since the U.S. Department of Agriculture imposed them almost four years ago. 

But many still lack kitchen equipment necessary to make the healthier school breakfasts and lunches appealing.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Blake Hurst rides ten feet above his soybean field in northern Missouri, looking more like he’s playing a video game than driving a $350,000 high-tech piece of machinery.

As he rolls across the land in his John Deere combine, joystick in hand, three computer monitors offer him a host of information. He knows how much fertilizer was used, the beans’ moisture content, how full the grain tank is, and that he’s getting 60 bushels an acre.  

A researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed a whistleblower complaint against the federal agency, alleging the USDA suppressed his research on a popular class of pesticides. We talk to the journalist who broke the story this week.

Guest:

  • Carey Gillam is a contributing reporter for Harvest Public Media based at KCUR.

USDA

Updated: Wednesday, 11:30 a.m., to include USDA comment

A senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed a whistleblower complaint on Wednesday accusing the federal agency of suppressing research findings that could call into question the use of a popular pesticide class that is a revenue powerhouse for the agrichemical industry.

As the third youngest of four siblings, Karla Thieman, says her favorite chore growing up on her family’s farm in Concordia, Mo., came during calving season. Family members would take shifts getting up very early on cold mornings in February or March to check on the cows that were calving. “There was always this sense of excitement of potentially finding a new baby calf, and the person who found the calf or pulled the calf would get to name the calf so, that was always a very special honor.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that the federal government is preparing for a bird flu outbreak this fall that would be two times as bad as the one experienced by Midwestern states this spring.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Walking through the warehouse of food processor Heartland Gourmet in Lincoln, Nebraska shows how complicated the food safety system can be. Pallets are stacked with sacks of potato flour and smell of fresh baked apple-cinnamon muffins is in the air. 

Heartland Gourmet makes a wide range of foods from muffins and organic baking mixes to pizzas and burritos. That means business manager Mark Zink has to answer to both of the main U.S. food safety regulators, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

Farmers’ can anticipate a sharp drop in income this year, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In fact, the USDA predicts the $113 billion earned in 2014 will be the lowest amount of net farm income in five years. That’s equal to about a 14 percent fall from last year’s record amount, thanks mostly to a massive drop in crop prices.

Bigstock

Change is coming to the poultry industry, but not everyone is happy about it.

A report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows the number of Missouri households threatened by hunger has grown over the past three years.

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

Americans consume a lot of sweets. Even discounting all the high fructose corn syrup you find in soft drinks, the average consumer takes in about 40 pounds of refined sugar in a year, according to the USDA.

That means food companies from Nestle to Hostess and small neighborhood candy stores have to buy sugar. Lots of it.  And those bakers and snack food makers say the government gives too much support to sugar growers and consumers are footing the bill. 

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

As lawmakers debate the Farm Bill in Washington, millions of dollars are at stake for small businesses across the country. Rural development grants go out to everything from home loans to water projects to small co-ops.

With budget cuts likely, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is adjusting how these funds are used, and proposing changes to the word “rural.” But there’s concern that a tighter belt at the federal level means farmers and ranchers in small towns will be left behind.

Amended USDA Rule Will Require More Info On Meat Labels

May 27, 2013

The USDA’s amended COOL rule will require packers and retailers to include more information on labels on beef, pork, lamb, chicken and goat meat, specifically where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

Currently, labels only require companies to include where the animal was born.

Companies are also now barred from commingling cuts of meat from animals of different origins, which could make it easier to trace contaminated products. The USDA estimates these labeling changes could cost more than 7,000 companies up to $192 million.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it has confirmed a case of Mad Cow disease in a cow in central California. It is the fourth case found in the country in recent years.

The animal was a dairy cow and "at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health," U.S.D.A. Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford said in a statement.

Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

Even though the use of antibiotics in livestock feed has been linked to an increase in drug-resistant bacteria, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently backed away from a 30-year-old proposal that would ban the use of antibiotics tetracycline and penicillin in livestock feed.

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