Harvest Public Media

Global demand for food and fuel is rising, and the push and pull for resources has serious ramifications for our country’s economic recovery and prosperity.

How much do you know about that bread you just buttered or that steak you just ate? What do you know about cars powered on ethanol or about how fracking will affect your water supply?

Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, is a collaborative public media project that reports on important agriculture issues in the Midwest.

To learn more, visit www.harvestpublicmedia.org, like Harvest Public Media on Facebook or follow @HarvestPM on Twitter.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers face plenty of risk, including the unknowns of weather, global markets and the more predictable expenses of taxes and equipment costs.

Federal commodity support programs were created to help farmers during bad years. But under a relatively unknown provision of federal law, farmers don’t have to actually grow a particular crop to get farm bill payments.

That might sound like “paying farmers not to farm,” but it’s actually a complicated way of helping to reduce over-dependence on one crop.

File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

A highly contagious strain of bird flu has officially made its way to the Midwest.

The disease was confirmed Tuesday in two separate commercial turkey flocks in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

I had lunch at the Golden Ox just a couple days before the old steakhouse closed in December.

The Golden Ox is set smack dab in the Kansas City Stockyards, now long closed, but which for 120 years churned out billions of pounds of beef.

As the name would suggest, the Golden Ox is not a place of, well, subtleties. There were large aerial black-and-white photos of the stockyards in the entry way, the brass sconces were shaped as cow skulls and the specially-made carpets have a wagon wheel design.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

After years of negotiations, a dozen countries – from New Zealand up to Canada –are on the verge of a trade agreement that could be worth billions of dollars to the U.S. agriculture industry. Many American farmers and ranchers are eager to see the expected benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

A free trade agreement across the Pacific Ocean could open up markets and raise prices for him as well as other rice producers, said Chuck Earnest, a rice farmer in southeast Missouri.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

You’ve probably seen, but may not have noticed, labels on the meat at your grocery store that say something like “Born, Raised, & Harvest in the U.S.A.” or “Born and Raised in Canada, Slaughtered in the U.S.”

These country of origin labels, as they are known, are part of an ongoing international trade dispute that has swept up Midwest ranchers. And they may not be long for store shelves.

John Wendle / for Harvest Public Media

Sara Creech has grown dependent on farming. She started out planting an orchard of fruit trees - apples, peaches, cherries and pears. She added berry bushes and rows of vegetables.

And then she bought her first chickens.

“A lot of people call chickens the gateway animal,” she said. “Like once you have a chicken on the farm, then you end up getting sheep on the farm, and then you end up getting horses, and cows, and then it just explodes from there.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Across the Corn Belt, farmers are signing up for Farm Bill support programs and which ones they choose will impact the overall price tag for taxpayers.

Projections for the cost of these commodity programs are blowing past the amounts originally budgeted just a year ago, when the Farm Bill was enacted, leaving the possibility that U.S. taxpayers will pay out billions more than planned.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

The federal government banned raw milk sales across state lines nearly three decades ago because it poses a threat to public health. The Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association all strongly advise people not to drink it.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

When Jon Slutsky’s dairy farm in Wellington, Colo. is fully staffed, it’s a moment to celebrate. A full roster of employees at Slutsky’s La Luna Dairy is rare these days.

“We’re doing really well with our employee base,” Slutsky said. “A year ago, we couldn’t say that. We were short.”

With the farm’s 1,500 cows waiting to be milked, Slutsky and his wife Susan Moore felt panicked, worried they didn’t have enough hands on deck to milk about 200 cows per hour.

Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

Call it “peak farmers market.” Or maybe the plateau of “know your farmer.”

After more than a decade of explosive growth in the local food economy, the most visible portion of food sales within that sector has seen a slowdown. A new report from the U.S. Department of Agricultureshows the growth of sales of local food at farmers markets, farm stands and through CSA models has lost momentum.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

When it comes to organic certification, there are strict guidelines for food producers to follow.

For an organic steak, the cow it came from has to be raised on organic feed and the feed mix can’t be produced with pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetic engineering.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in considering a set of rules for organic farmed fish. Several consumer groups, though, say the recommended rules don’t go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods.

The feed for fish to eat is at the center of the debate.

File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Bacon and pork chops could become cheaper this year thanks, in part, to fewer pigs getting sick with the virus that devastated hog farms in 2014.

File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In the budget President Obama is sending to Congress he’s asking for more than $1 billion to combat antibiotic resistance, and some of that money would focus on animal agriculture.

Antibiotic resistance can make common medications ineffective, meaning sick people don’t get better and doctors have fewer options to treat bacterial infections.  

Courtesy USDA NRCS South Dakota

Scientists have noticed a change in the atmosphere. Plants are taking in more carbon dioxide during the growing season and giving off more carbon in the fall and winter. Recent research shows the massive corn crop in the Corn Belt may be contributing to that deeper breath.

It comes down to the Carbon Cycle. Over the winter when corn fields lay dormant, corn stalks and roots break down, sending CO2 into the air. Then in the summer when a new crop is growing, it takes up carbon from the atmosphere.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Update: Avian influenza was found in a Foster Farms turkey flock in Stanislaus County, Calif., the company announced Monday. The outbreak is thought to be the first infection of this type of bird flu in a commercial flock in the U.S.

The original story begins here:

Ranchers Rebel Over Beef Checkoff

Jan 20, 2015
Courtesy Jill Toyoshiba / The Kansas City Star

NEMAHA COUNTY, Kan. – From their small farms set in the rolling hills of northeast Kansas, two ranchers are raising a few cattle, and a lot of Cain.

David Pfrang and Jim Dobbins turned themselves into activists, launched a shadow corporation, got hauled into federal court and had to hire a lawyer.

All over $1.

That buck, though, divides the beef industry. And may influence what you decide to have for dinner.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

American farmers grew more corn and soybeans in 2014 than ever before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest crop production report.

The glut has pushed grain prices to a five-year low, forcing some farmers in Midwestern states to operate on much tighter profit margins than in recent history. Some will even sell their crop for less than it cost to grow.

File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

  Humans have been growing hemp for centuries. Hemp-based foods have taken off recently. So have lotions and soaps that use hemp oil. There’s evidence that different compounds in cannabis could be used as medicine and hope that its chemical compounds could hold keys to treatments for Parkinson’s disease and childhood epilepsy.

Neil Rickards / Flickr--CC

Ireland will be the first European Union country allowed to send beef to U.S. dinner tables, more than 15 years after a deadly outbreak of mad cow disease in Europe led U.S. regulators to ban European beef imports.

The ban on EU beef imports was lifted in March and Ireland’s beef production systems passed a U.S. inspection, according to the Irish Agriculture Department.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Demand for products that don’t contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is exploding.  

Many food companies are seeking certification that their products don’t have any genetically modified ingredients, and not just the brands popular in the health food aisle. Even plain Cheerios, that iconic cereal from General Mills, no longer contains GMOs.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Farmers engaged in an epic struggle with “superweeds” – weeds that don’t die even when sprayed with herbicide – are looking for help from a new super chemical that’s about to hit the market.

Currently the last line of defense against weeds not felled by other herbicides, the new chemical could be defeated if it is overused and farmers could be left in even worse straits. 

Pigweed Problem

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

For the Midwest’s biggest crops, this harvest season was a big one. With winter setting in, the race is on for farmers to ship out their harvest so it’s not left out to spoil. But the giant harvest and a lack of available rail cars have created a traffic jam on the rails and the highways.

Usually, farmers store their harvest in silos and grain bins, but this year, farmers brought in so much, there’s just no room.  Farmers in Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and South Dakota are all being hit particularly hard by the storage shortage.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

As drought, feed costs, and urban development wear on West Coast milk producers, states like Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa are pitching themselves as a dairy heaven. Even in California, the nation’s No. 1 dairy state, many dairy farmers are listening.

For the Midwest, an influx of dairies isn’t just about milk. It’s about pumping dollars into the rural economy.

California Dairies Look To Midwest’s Greener Pastures

Dec 15, 2014
Ezra David Romero / for Harvest Public Media

California’s branded as the state with happy cows, but increasingly, not necessarily happy dairy owners. For many of them in the nation’s No. 1 dairy state it’s getting tougher to make a living, that’s why some are some selling their cattle and heading to the Midwest.

A full quarter of California dairies have been shuttered since 2007, according to Michael Marsh, CEO of Western United Dairymen.

“They’ve just closed their doors and they’ve decided to make their investment in other states,” Marsh said.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

After getting pummeled by drought and low cattle prices, many ranchers are across the Midwest are eager to grow their herds. As they do, grass is turning into a hot commodity.

The national beef herd is down to the size it was in 1951. Shoppers know that beef is more expensive, which has people switching to chicken and pork. To raise more cattle and perhaps bring down meat prices, ranchers need more pasture. The trouble for many ranchers is grass has grown expensive.

Courtesy National Transportation Safety Board

Mike Lee steers his plane over the Missouri-Arkansas state line, checking out a checkerboard of green and brown fields of rice, cotton, corn and soybeans. Lee is the owner of Earl’s Flying Service, a crop dusting business in Steele, Mo., and he’s scouting some farm fields that his pilots will treat later in the day.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

When farmer Sondra Pierce had her first child, she decided to forgo daycare.

“Soon as I had my son, because I had my son very early, I would put his car seat in the tractor and he would ride with me,” Pierce says.

During harvest on her sugar beet farm in rural Boulder County, Colo., she’d buckle him up in the seat right next to her.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

In the debate over immigration reform, farm and ranch groups have been among those calling for change the loudest, and most frequently. But after President Obama announced changes to the immigration system, the response from the agriculture industry so far has been mixed.

Esther Honig / for Harvest Public Media

On a warm October afternoon Veronica Jaramillo walks through rows of skinny apple trees on the orchard where she works as the sun sinks behind rolling Missouri hills.

The 30 year-old migrant farmworker reaches into a tree on the Waverly, Mo., orchard, and in one fluid motion, picks a Golden Delicious apple.

“I don’t like picking the Golden,” laughs Jaramillo. “They’re real delicate and you can bruise them with just your fingertips.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The Farm Bill enacted earlier this year was supposed to save taxpayers money, in part by reducing subsidy payments to farmers. But a massive drop in prices for the nation’s largest crops means that many farmers may rely on the farm safety net this year and could herald large government payouts.

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