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.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

  For the first time in nearly 10 years, the nation’s beef herd may be poised for growth, which could mean relief from rising meat prices. But with the fewest cattle in the beef supply since the 1960s, slow growth won’t cut prices anytime soon.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

New herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans are a step closer to reaching farm fields in the U.S. They would help farmers control weeds that are no longer killed by the popular herbicide, Roundup.

Dow Agrosciences has engineered new crops that can withstand the herbicide 2,4-D, giving farmers a new tool against weeds resistant to Roundup.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

A new wheat variety may have cracked the code to marry the fluffiness of white bread with whole grain nutrition.

For a long time, American bread makers have been in a bind. Many consumers like the texture and taste of white bread, but want the nutritional benefits of whole grains.

couleewinds / Flickr--CC

In parts of Kansas, forecasts of biting cold temperatures with lows five or ten degrees below zero has farmers worried about the wheat crop that’s in the ground.

Hard red winter wheat is the most common wheat variety grown in the United States. It’s often used to make bread. Planted in the fall, it lays dormant underground in the winter months. It’s hardy. But bitter cold temperatures for a few consecutive days can lower the temperature of the soil to dangerous levels.

Food Hubs Try To Grow Local Farms

Jan 2, 2014
Sean Powers / Harvest Public Media

Restaurants across the country have jumped on the local food bandwagon. They’re trying to source more of their produce from nearby farms, but it's not easy. Enter: Food hubs.

Food hubs are popping up across the country. These food processing and distribution centers make it easier for restaurants, grocery stores and others to buy local food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that there are more than 220 of them in 40 states plus the District of Columbia.

Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

For the second straight year, farmers are heading into a new year without a farm bill. The massive package provides government support for farmers and ranchers. But, divisions in Congress, including over the nutrition programs that make up the bulk of the spending, have kept it from the president’s desk.

Farmers say it’s difficult to plan their crops and make other business decisions without a farm bill. Instead, Iowa State University agricultural economist Chad Hart says farmers must focus on the information they have.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus continues to plague hog operations across the country, including Kansas and Missouri. The outbreak is raising larger questions about international trade.

The deadly virus has been detected in 19 states. Colorado’s state veterinarian Keith Roehr compares its spread to a wildfire.

“If you have an infectious agent, it’s like a spark. If you have a susceptible population it’s like dry wood,” says Roehr.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

With rootworms building resistance to genetically modified corn that makes its own pesticide, seed companies are working on new crops that target the insects’ genes. But some worry about unintended consequences when the technology moves from the lab to the field.

Big companies made big news. Muddy fields made for major headaches. And a Farm Bill delay makes the list for the second consecutive year.

If you follow Harvest Public Media, you’ll be familiar with the top stories of 2013. Seems this year brought lots of national and international news – a far cry from our first days when we wrote mostly about issues in agriculture and food production.

Sellers Squeezed By High Price Of Popcorn

Dec 24, 2013
Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

U.S. popcorn sellers took a big hit from the 2012 drought, which caused one of the worst popcorn harvests in recent memory. Crops not irrigated were decimated and low supplies continue to force local candy shops and giant movie theater chains alike to pay high prices for the golden grain, biting into their profit margin.

A bipartisan group of senators is pressuring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finalize changes to the way poultry is inspected.

The new system is controversial. Advocates say it would save taxpayer money by shifting certain inspection duties from federal employees to company workers and allowing for faster processing. Some inspectors and consumer groups, though, oppose the changes and say it could compromise food safety.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR

When the people from the drug company came out to visit Tyler Karney at Ordway Feedyard on Colorado’s eastern plains, he was a little skeptical.

They said their product, Zilmax, could put another 30 pounds on an animal in the last days before slaughter. Then he started blending it into the feed for the 6,500 head of Holsteins at this huge feedlot.

“We feed it the last 20 days of the feeding period and when you drive by, you can actually see a physical change in the animal,” Karney said. “They’re chest floor’s wider and just, a boxier animal. It’s kinda hard to believe.”

According to a recent Food and Drug Administration report, FDA regulators inspected less than two percent of the food shipments that were imported to the U.S. in the 2012 fiscal year.

FDA inspectors are responsible for all domestic and imported food except meat, poultry and eggs, which fall under U.S. Department of Agriculture purview.

House Agriculture Committee / Facebook page

If it seems like Congress just can’t get the farm bill done, well … that’s because it can’t.

All year long, Washington lawmakers have been saying they want to pass a full five-year farm bill. But even though leaders of the House-Senate conference committee say they are close, they have acknowledged it just won’t get done this year. They’re pushing it off until January.

FDA Pushing To Limit Livestock Antibiotics

Dec 12, 2013
Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

The FDA wants to phase out antibiotics in meat.

Regulators released a broad plan Wednesday, designed to prevent meat producers from using drugs that are also used to treat sick humans. That means some changes Midwest farmers and ranchers will have to get used to.

Congress won’t pass a farm bill before early next year.

That was the message from Washington Tuesday, when the principal farm bill players emerged from negotiations and announced they won’t have a full bill ready before the House adjourns for the year on Friday.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

As farmers across the Midwest have simplified the landscape and plowed up grassland to grow more corn and soybeans, habitat for pheasants, quail and other grassland birds has become increasingly scarce and their numbers are falling.

In Nebraska, wild pheasant concentrations have fallen 86 percent since their peak in the 1960s. The pheasant harvest during hunting season in Iowa is off 63 percent from the highs reached in the 1970s. In areas that used to be overrun, you’ll struggle to find a pheasant now.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers and scientists have long understood that what lives beneath the soil affects how crops grow. Often, they work to fight plant diseases—warding off infectious viruses and damaging fungi, for example. But now some microbiologists are focused on how to harness the good things microbes can do, with the goal of increasing farmers’ yields and diminishing their dependence on chemical inputs.

Rural Areas Worry About Food Stamp Cuts

Dec 2, 2013
Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

The next farm bill is all but certain to contain cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. Long championed by legislators from urban districts, the food stamp program isn’t just an urban concern. Families living amid fertile farmland struggle to put food on the table and increasingly rely on SNAP benefits. 

Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

This Thanksgiving, hungry families all over the country will finish off their holiday meal with a little slice of the Midwest. That’s because the vast majority of all pumpkin that comes from a can and winds up in a pie got its start on a vine in Illinois.

Pumpkin patches are popular destinations for families seeking fall fun and you’ll find roadside farm stands all over the country. But pumpkins are big business in Illinois, where farmers feed canning factories hungry for a special kind of pumpkin that looks nothing like those you see on Halloween.

Ron Jones / KCUR

Fall is planting time for wheat across the Great Plains and this year’s crop went into the ground while big changes were underway in the wheat market. Some of the biggest players in the flour milling industry are joining forces to make the country’s largest miller even larger.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hot-button food issues of the day, such as the use of genetically modified organisms or the treatment of livestock, tend to pit large industries against smaller activist groups. Often, both sides will claim the science supports what they are saying. That can leave consumers, most of whom aren’t scientists, in a bit of a bind.

News21 – National/Flickr

The Colorado farmers who distributed cantaloupes infected with listeria two years ago pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal charges Tuesday. Jensen Farms, located outside Holly, Colo., was the source of the outbreak that killed 33 people nationwide.

The outbreak was the deadliest in more than 20 years. Cantaloupes processed in the summer of 2011 at Jensen Farms near the Kansas border were laden with listeria. It’s a pathogen infamous for its high mortality rate.

Rennett Stowe / Flickr--CC

American farmers count on a steady supply of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to keep pests from destroying their crops,  but the government shutdown is creating a backlog of chemicals needed to produce the vital tools.

Courtesy / Ben Wheeler/Pheasants Forever and Nebraska Game & Parks Commission

In recent years, farmers in the Midwest have transformed millions of acres of prairie grass to rows of corn. High crop prices are a big motivation, but some also believe crop insurance is encouraging farmers to roll the dice on less productive land.

Rod Christen and his sister Kay farm corn, soybeans and wheat on their land near the small town of Steinauer, Neb. But their main crop is grass.

“Big bluestem is our big producer,” said Rod Christen. “It’s kind of our Cadillac grass.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a clear fall day in central Iowa, Aaron Lehman climbed into the cab of his green combine with a screwdriver to do some maintenance. He was hoping his corn had a couple more weeks to grow before harvesting because the price per bushel this fall is much lower than it has been for the past three years.

Corn farmers have been riding high prices for the last few years. But an expected bumper crop has prices falling this harvest season, and many economists expect the price of corn to drop to its lowest level in recent years.

The farm bill expired at midnight on Monday, leaving farmers and ranchers across the country guessing at what federal farm policy will look like when they next put their crops in the ground.

Of course, they’re used to uncertainty, as this is the second straight year Congress has let the farm bill expire. Last year, farmers were set adrift for three months before lawmakers passed a nine-month extension of older policy in January.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Heritage grains are trendy. Walk through a health food store and see packages of grains grown long before modern seed technology created hybrid varieties, grains eaten widely outside of the developed world: amaranth, sorghum, quinoa.

But there’s another grain with tremendous potential growing on the Great Plains: millet.

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

On a hot day in late August, Kevin Bien stood amid the shade of a large gray piece of farm equipment.  The brand marketing manager for Gleaner Combines gave his best spiel to a group of farmers attending the Farm progress Show  in Decatur, Ill. Torque, efficiency and new technology were among his key points for the prospective buyers of the large machines that can run anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000.

And farmers are buying. Frequently.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

 

The Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” takes a big step forward Oct. 1 when new health insurance marketplaces open for enrollment. Rural families are more likely to qualify for subsidized coverage, but reaching them to sign up will be part of the challenge.

So, will farm country take advantage of new health insurance subsidies? That’s the question in Nebraska.

Almost 200,000 Nebraskans don’t have health insurance. Nearly half of them are spread across the state’s rural areas.

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