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.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, is attempting to swallow up the chemical operations of Syngenta, the world’s largest producer of pesticides and other farm inputs. The proposed deal signals a change in focus for the agricultural giant, and could have ripple effects across farm country.

By its own admission, Monsanto lags behind in chemistry research. To boost its research in chemistry, and possibly find new ways to combine chemicals and biotech crops, Monsanto wants to buy the Swiss chemical company.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

The Matthew family farm, M&M&m Farms, outside of La Harpe, Illinois, looks different from the farms surrounding it. It’s not filled with neat rows of soybeans or lines of corn that’s over-my-head high in late July. The Matthew’s place is a bit more disorganized and far more diverse.

Sheridan's Frozen Custard / via Twitter

Even as government officials brace for a recurrence of bird flu this fall, the massive spring outbreak is still affecting food producers.

Kansas City residents, flocking to local favorite Sheridan’s 12 frozen custard stands because of this week’s heat wave, are met with notices that the custard recipe has been changed because of an egg shortage.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Show day at the Pierce County Fair in Nebraska starts early and goes fast.

I arrived around 9 in the morning, but Emily Lambrecht had already spent an hour and a half in the wash stalls, scrubbing and shampooing her calves so they would sparkle in the show barn.

This was showtime. The 17-year-old 4-H and FFA exhibitor spent months working up to this one day.

After the U.S. House passed a bill  last week preventing states from enacting laws requiring labels on genetically modified foods, the debate over GMOs continues to heat up.

On this edition of Up to Date, Steve Kraske spoke with Harvest Public Media reporters about the controversy.


  • Jeremy Bernfeld, editor of Harvest Public Media
  • Peggy Lowe, investigations editor of Harvest Public Media
Poncie Rutsch / KUNC

Many of the more than 3 million migrant farm workers that plant and pick the fruits and vegetables we eat in the U.S. live on the farms they work for. But the rules that govern farmworker housing may be changing, worrying both farmers and migrant worker advocates.

Abigail Wilson / KMUW

A patchwork of bamboo and paper tubes, with diameters no bigger than a nickel, are stacked artfully inside a 4-by-4 wooden frame near the edge of a public hiking trail in Lawrence, Kan.

Organized by size, each hollow tube is about 8 inches long, designed as nests for Kansas’ wild bees. This structure is called a bee hotel.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Food companies the world over are paying close attention to the groundswell of support for food transparency, the “know where your food comes from” movement.

JBS, the largest meat producer in the world, is beginning to take notice as well.

But executives with JBS USA, the North American arm of its Brazilian parent company, at the same time acknowledge that the very nature of their business is grisly, gory and sometimes unpalatable.

Brian Seifferlerin / Harvest Public Media

Rodeo season is getting into full swing and at most rodeos, bull riding is the main event. But when the bull ride ends, the work begins for rodeo bullfighters, and a young bullfighter is making a name in the business by putting himself in the middle of the action.

At bull riding time at the Plum Creek Rodeo in Lexington, Nebraska, the rodeo corral is under the lights and the sun is a ripe orange in the west. Rowdy Moon bounces on the balls of his feet like a boxer waiting for the match to start.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Agriculture officials don’t know just how the massive outbreak of avian flu in the Midwest was spread, but believe the culprits include humans breaking biosecurity measures and the virus going airborne.

Tony Lordi sighs as he reaches into the pocket of his white uniform pants and pulls out his iPhone.

These days, Lordi, the production manager at Judy's Bakery in Kansas City, Mo., checks with his supplier every day. He needs to know the price of what's become liquid gold for commercial bakers: "liquid egg."

"The market's like gas prices at this point," he says.

Brian Seifferlein / Harvest Public Media

Walk down a grocery store aisle today and you’re likely to find lots of food…and lots of marketing claims. Whether a product’s label says its low in fat, produced without hormones, or a good source of protein is largely governed by consumer demand and corporate profit.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The packaged foods found in supermarkets, convenience stores and vending machines are full of ingredients you often can’t pronounce.

They’ve been carefully developed and tested in a lab and likely have been shipped long distances. They can hold up to weeks or even months on the shelf. But most of them began with fresh food you might cook with at home.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

National public health officials are urging their state counterparts to be alert for avian flu infections in humans.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory Tuesday “to notify public health workers and clinicians of the potential for human infection with these viruses” and to detail protocols for health professionals working in infected areas.

Eleanor Klibanoff / KCUR

It's no longer enough for restaurants to offer roasted chicken or braised beef shank on their menus.

They need to be able to tell customers exactly where that chicken came from and how the cow was raised. If they can remember the pedigree of the produce? All the better. 

But serving locally sourced food is a challenge for chefs, and the farmer-foodie connections aren’t always easy to come by.  

USDA / Flickr--CC

Susanne Byerly can laugh now, four years later, talking about how she and her husband were trying to eat healthy food when they bought ground turkey for their spaghetti dinner.

Byerly, along with her husband, Jerry, and their two-year-old, Jack, were on vacation with extended family in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. While buying supplies at a local grocery store, they decided to swap ground beef for poultry because they were watching their weight.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The local food scene has exploded in recent years, which means there’s a lot more local produce on dinner tables. It also means that during the spring season as small farms start ramping back up, they have to work a bit harder to attract new customers.

Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, allow subscribers to connect directly with a farm, and remain a mainstay for local farmers looking to latch on to consistent revenue.

Jacob Grace / for Harvest Public Media

Wearing latex gloves and digging through a sloppy patch of cow poop on his farm in central Missouri, farmer Ralph Voss spotted his target.

“Okay, here we go!” he said excitedly, plucking out a shiny insect the size of a sunflower seed – a dung beetle.

Despite their disgusting homes, dung beetles are worth searching for – it has been estimated that they save U.S. farmers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Some researchers suggest that they could be worth even more, and are searching for new species meant to maximize that value.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Thousands of people get sick every year from E. coli bacteria in their food. While the beef industry has gone to great lengths to limit illnesses in meat, the industry has been slow to adopt an E. coli vaccine that could keep people from getting sick.

Ground beef has a track record of causing some serious outbreaks of food illness, like E. Coli O157 H:7. The problem is, when cows carry E. coli bacteria in their gut it’s totally harmless, but if the bacteria gets on your meat and then you undercook it, you could easily end up in the hospital.

Meat companies have been trying to clean up their E. coli problem. Infections are down 30 percent from the late 90s. Still, most E. coli outbreaks are from beef.

File: Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

As the number of farms hit with avian flu grows over to 100 nationwide, regulators are implementing containment plans meant to stop the virus’ spread, spare millions of at-risk birds and thousands of poultry farms.

  Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees also asked the Obama Administration to direct the USDA to allocate more money toward compensating growers that have lost flocks to avian flu.  

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Once a regular dining option, a mix of cultural and economic factors pushed lamb off the American dinner table. To put the meat back on the menu, ranchers and retailers are being encouraged to reach out to a more diverse set of consumers, specifically American Muslims and Latinos.

Sheep ranchers, feedlot owners, and processors in states like Colorado, Nebraska and Illinois are banking on America becoming a more diverse place. Without more Muslim and Latino communities embracing local lamb, the industry fears this niche meat could slip even further off the dinner plate, or be completely usurped by foreign producers like Australia or New Zealand.

Why Do Farmers Burn Their Fields?

Apr 24, 2015
Jacob Grace / Harvest Public Media

Farmers burn their fields to remove plants that are already growing and to help the plants that are about to come up. These burns are often called “prescribed burns” because they are used to improve the health of the field.

What tools do farmers need for a burn?

To keep the fire contained, farmers need to clear away burnable matter around the edges of the field, which usually requires a lawn mower or larger machinery. The burn itself can be managed with some simple, specific tools.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Big farms are collecting taxpayer dollars that they haven’t necessarily earned by taking advantage of a loophole in government subsidy rules, according to regulators, members of Congress and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking aim at what is known as the “actively engaged” loophole, which has been gaping for nearly three decades, by changing the qualifications for some subsidy payments. But many watchdog groups say a proposed fix fails to address the problem.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

When President Obama announced in late 2014 that he would work toward ending the embargo on trade with Cuba, it wasn’t just tourists perking up their ears. Midwest farmers and ranchers see communist Cuba as an untapped market for goods from the American Heartland.

One of those farmers is Paul Combs, a rice farmer from southeast Missouri. Cuba can be an important market for farmers like Combs, who already depend on exporting their products.

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.

Chafer Machinery

As you’ve probably heard, a well-respected group of World Health Organization scientists said glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s wildly popular Roundup herbicide and its generic cousins, is probably capable of causing cancer in humans.

Here are five things you should know:

1. What the report said: Roundup could cause cancer in humans.

Farmers and ranchers from the Midwest and Plains states were among those who testified before the U.S. Senate agriculture committee Tuesday. Many objected to a proposed change to the rules on how the federal government oversees waterways.

Nearly a year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a change to the Clean Water Act that it says would clarify its authority over certain wetlands and streams. But Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who serves on the agriculture committee, says the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule has met strong opposition in farm country.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

A proposed change to livestock rules has put Nebraska hog farmers at the center of a debate that gets to the very core of what it means to be a farmer today.

In the top pork producing states like Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina, many farmers are under contract with giant meatpackers like Tyson or Smithfield Foods – the companies actually own the pigs and pay the farmers to raise them. That arrangement is illegal in Nebraska.

Like many other Midwest states, Nebraska barred corporations from owning livestock in the late 1990s in order to protect smaller farm businesses. After a slew of court challenges, Nebraska’s ban on meatpacker-owned livestock is one of the only laws still standing. And a bill introduced in the state’s legislature seeks to change that.

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.