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.

Advocate Jamie Manzer, right, shows reporter Mike Tobias a bag of essential items that a nonprofit gives trafficking victims.
David Koehn / NET News

“For most of our trafficking victims this is kind of where we're going to start,” says Jamie Manzer, as she gives a tour of the SASA (Spouse Abuse Sexual Assault) Crisis Center, where she worked until recently.

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.

Maj. Geoff Legler / Oklahoma National Guard

Donald Trump took over the Oval Office two months ago, and his trade policies are having an effect. Today, we'll find out how his search for better deals is creating divisions in Dawson County, Nebraska. Then, learn how building techniques, borrowed from construction practices in hurricane zones, can help Tornado Alley homes stand up to spring's strong winds.

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.

A sign warns visitors to Sunset Farms in Harris, Iowa, which was infected with avian flu in 2015.
File: Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Though there have not been any U.S. cases of the strain of avian flu that has killed more than 140 people in China this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s head veterinarian says the agency is making preparations to combat the deadly virus in case it reaches North America. 

The USDA’s Dr. Jack Shere stresses that it's impossible to predict how far a particular bird flu strain may travel or mutate. In the meantime, however, scientists are on alert. 

A grain elevator in Cozad, Nebraska, spells out the name of the town and represents the largest industry in the area, agriculture.
Grant Gerlock / 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.

Rural voters overwhelmingly chose President Donald Trump in the presidential election. But when it comes to the central campaign promise to get tough on trade, rural voters are not necessarily in sync with the administration.

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.”

Roundup, the Monsanto brand name pesticide built on the chemical glyphosate, is used on farm fields and on lawns and gardens.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

After court documents unsealed Tuesday raised questions about its research methods, chemical giant Monsanto says it did not ghostwrite a 2000 study on the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in its flagship pesticide Roundup.

What is left of the home of O.T. Jackson, the founder of Dearfield, Colorado, sits on the town site in rural Weld County.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Blink while driving on Highway 34 east of Greeley, Colorado, and you might miss the former Great Plains town of Dearfield.

Abandoned towns from the early 20th century are far from unique on this stretch of plains. Withered storefronts and collapsed false-front homes are common. Boom and bust economics and harsh weather made it tough for turn of the century settlers to succeed long-term.

A Colorado farm field
File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

The agriculture sector needs to ramp up its response to climate change, especially in the Midwest, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

Researchers at the University of Maryland used climate projections and historical trends in agricultural productivity to predict how changes in temperature and rainfall will impact food production.

Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students Liz Hada, left, and Melissa Garcia Rodriguez say they have experienced racial tension in some of their classes, despite feeling generally welcomed by most students and faculty.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers in the U.S. like to point out that their products feed people all over the world. And while this is a diverse country, the people working on farms and elsewhere in agriculture often don’t reflect the nation’s demographics. Changing that is becoming a priority, in hopes new people will bring fresh ideas to meet some of our food system’s greatest challenges.

Then-administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy visits a Missouri farm in 2014 to highlight the Clean Water Rule.
file: Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Tuesday directing the Environmental Protection Agency to revise a controversial environmental rule opposed by many Midwest farm groups.

Trump ordered new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to formally revise the Obama Administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was meant to explain which rivers, streams and creeks are subject to regulation by the EPA.

Organic farmer Liz Graznak and her daughter hunt for weeds in the high tunnel at Happy Hollow Farm in central Missouri.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Liz Graznak runs an organic farm in Jamestown, Missouri, which she calls Happy Hollow Farm. She sells her vegetables to local restaurants, in CSA boxes and at the farmer’s market.  But eight years ago, after falling in love with the idea of growing her own local produce, the farm she runs today looked like a near-impossible dream.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts speak to the crowd at a field hearing on the Farm Bill in Manhattan, Kan.
Bryan Thompson / KCUR 89.3

At a stressful time for U.S. farmers, the government’s efforts at calming the agricultural waters took center stage Thursday, when the heads of the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee left Washington for the Midwest to solicit opinions on priorities for the next Farm Bill.

U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-KS, and Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, heard from Midwest farmers at their first field hearing on the 2018 Farm Bill at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

The Green Plains Energy plant near Central City, Nebraska
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The Trump Administration is voicing its support for the ethanol industry, but without specifics it is hard to say what that means exactly for Midwest farmers.

In a letter (PDF) to industry leaders gathered at the National Ethanol Conference, President Donald Trump said renewable fuels “are essential to America’s energy strategy.”

The president wrote that he aims to reduce the regulatory burden on the renewable fuels industry, but did not detail specific plans.

William Shepard Walsh / Flickr - CC

For the 3rd year in a row, Abraham Lincoln topped C-SPAN's presidential leadership survey. On Presidents Day (more accurately known as Washington's Birthday), we explore the struggle over emancipation and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Isra Mohamud, 18, is a member of Fort Morgan Colorado's small East African community.
Luke Runyon / 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.

The bell signals the start of second period. A trio of young women take seats in English class, their attention quickly drifting outside the walls of the high school in Fort Morgan, Colorado, eager to talk about what they’re working toward.

“I want to become an FBI [agent],” says freshman Mariam Mohammed. “It’s my dream.”

Jefferson County farmer Phil Holman-Hebert raises hens and sells their eggs for a premium at farmers markets and restaurants.
Bryan Thompson / KCUR 89.3

Low crop prices have many Midwest wheat and corn farmers looking for ways to supplement their incomes. One possibility for conventional farmers: producing food for farmers markets.

A worker tends to the cows at a dairy farm outside Wellington, Colorado.
File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

After hundreds of arrests of undocumented immigrants by immigration police, the Trump administration’s increased focus on immigration enforcement has some of the country’s largest farm groups worried.

A worker corrals cattle into a chute at Oklahoma National Stockyards in Oklahoma City.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

On a brisk and busy January morning at the Oklahoma National Stockyards, cattle arrive for auction in trailers pulled by pickup trucks — and leave in double-decker cars towed by semis.

The Oklahoma City auction is one of the largest markets for young calves that aren’t quite old enough or fat enough to be slaughtered. The day’s haul was a good one: More than 10,000 head of cattle were sold off.

Meat and egg labels can be crammed with claims about how animals are raised. Many are not backed by formal government definitions.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Is organic meat more humane than conventionally raised meat?

Rules that would create animal welfare standards for livestock certified as organic have been delayed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday, giving opponents new hope that they will be quashed.

At this Natural Grocers store in Lakewood, Colorado, the non-dairy milk section is larger than the actual dairy milk section.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

A war is brewing over what you pour on your breakfast cereal.

Dairy farmers say the makers of plant-based milks – like almond milk, soy milk and a long list of other varieties – are stealing away their customers and deceiving consumers. And they’d like the federal government to back them up.

At its heart, the fight boils down to the definition and use of one simple word: milk.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln inspect a field planted with cover crops.
Jack Williams / for Harvest Public Media

What’s old is new again, at least on some Midwest farms.

Winter cover crops have been used by farmers for centuries, but over the last decade or so they have once again started to become more popular.

The idea is to create biomass in fields that would typically be dormant over the winter. Cover crops like vetch, rye, kale and winter peas can grow after a corn harvest, maintaining live roots in the ground on farm fields in an effort to control erosion, preserve moisture in the soil, and to keep damaging chemicals on fields and out of streams.

Arctic Apples are genetically engineered to produce less of the enzyme that turns sliced apples brown.
Courtesy Okangan Specialty Fruits

Genetically engineered crops are nothing new. But new technology that allows scientists to alter plants more precisely and more cheaply is taking genetically engineered plants from the field to the kitchen.

The first version of the Arctic Apple, a genetically modified Golden Delicious, is headed for test markets in the Midwest in February, according to the company that produced it. It is the first genetically engineered apple, altered so that when it is cut, it doesn’t turn brown from oxidation.

Just one day after directing its researchers not to publicly share their research, and after suffering a public relations backlash, the Department of Agriculture’s main research arm has rescinded its original order, saying it “values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public…”

A researcher with the federal Agricultural Research Service studies a sample at a vault preserving genetic material in Fort Collins, Colorado.
File: Grace Hood / for Harvest Public Media

Update 1/25/2017: The Agricultural Research Service rescinded its initial directive in an email to employees Tuesday evening.

Employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s main research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), received an email from the division’s chief of staff ordering them to stop publicizing their work.

A tractor owned by Nebraska farmer Elliot Chapman stands in a field of alfalfa. Chapman had to sell most of his equipment after experiencing financial trouble.
Courtesy Elliot Chapman

Farmers across the Midwest are trying to figure out how to get by at a time when expected prices for commodities from corn, to wheat, to cattle, to hogs mean they’ll be struggling just to break even.

“Prices are low, bins are full, and the dollar is strengthening as we speak and that’s just making the export thing a little more challenging,” says Paul Burgener of Platte Valley Bank in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

Then-Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue visits the U.S. embassy in Uruguay in 2010.
usembassy_montevideo / Flickr

President-elect Donald Trump plans to pick former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead the Agriculture Department, a transition official and a source close to the process confirmed to NPR.

Trump is expected to make a formal announcement on Thursday, ending a months-long process that left Agriculture Secretary as the final Cabinet post to be filled.

Sweet potato consumption in the U.S. nearly doubled over 15  years, from about 4 pounds per person in 2000.
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

Sweet potatoes are undergoing a modern renaissance in this country.

While they have always made special appearances on many American tables around the holidays, year-round demand for the root vegetables has grown. In 2015, farmers produced more sweet potatoes than in any year since World War II.

War Effort

“A lot of things were hard to get during World War II and potatoes were easier to raise than some of the other vegetables,” my grandmother Joyce Heise tells me.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveils his official portrait at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in December 2016.
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

And then there was Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary is the only post in President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet without a nominee, mystifying many in rural America and spurring worries that agriculture and rural issues will land near the end of the line among the new president’s priorities.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who served for all 8 years of Barack Obama’s presidency, announced Friday was his last day in office.

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