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.

Processed foods generally don't experience price spikes.
Kristi Koser / Harvest Public Media

At the grocery store, processed foods like cereal, crackers and candy usually maintain the same price for a long time, and inch up gradually. Economists call these prices “sticky” because they don’t move much even as some of the commodities that go into them do.

Take corn, for example, which can be a major food player as a grain, starch or sweetener.  

Corn prices can fluctuate widely, so why don’t products containing corn also see price changes? Why does your cereal pretty much cost $3 per box every week?

It’s partly thanks to the futures market.

A weekday work session on the Student Organic Farm at Iowa State University has members weeding a perennial bed.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

A weathered wooden shed that holds wheelbarrows, hoes and other basic tools is the beacon of the Student Organic Farm, a two-acre swath within the Iowa State University Horticulture Research Farm. On a warm spring evening, a half-dozen students gather here, put on work gloves and begin pulling up weeds from the perennial beds where chives, strawberries, rhubarb and sage are in various stages of growth.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The path to normalized relations between the United States and Cuba made a stop in farm country Friday.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his Cuban counterpart, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, toured Aaron Lehman’s corn and soybean farm in central Iowa. They talked about water, soil, and energy and compared strategies for managing hog manure, which has been a problem in Iowa.

Vilsack said he hopes Cuba can increasingly be an export market for farm products like soybeans, rice and, eventually, poultry.

Melissa Wiese / Creative Commons

Food giant General Mills is recalling millions of pounds of flour milled in Kansas City, Missouri, on suspicions that the product is contaminated by a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria.

Thirty-eight people in 20 states have been infected in the outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten have been hospitalized.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

One in every five calories people around the world eat, comes from just one grain, wheat. And for generations the U.S. led the world in wheat exports. But, that’s changed, and maybe for good.

Wheat is not something you want to run out of. Wheat shortages helped spark the bloody French Revolution and the Arab Spring.

Expansion in the country’s beef cattle herd is bringing cheaper meat prices to the grocery store just in time for the summer grilling season, but those reduced prices might get some scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

A slaughterhouse is a safer place to work than it used to be, but data gathered by federal regulators doesn’t capture all the risks faced by meat and poultry workers, according to a new government report.

Flickr - CC

Monarch butterflies are disappearing. Scientists agree that in the last 20 years, populations of the black and orange insect have been in precipitous decline. But there's much less certainty on what’s causing them to vanish.

As each new scientific paper on monarch decline is published, the image becomes slightly less opaque. So far, potential culprits include disease, climate change, drought, deforestation, and nectar plants. Blame has been cast on everyone from loggers to farmers to suburban developers.

Through the centuries, technological advancements, from the tractor to developments in crop chemicals, have revolutionized the way we farm. Now, something new is disrupting the farming industry — and that’s big data. We take a look the new normal in one of America's oldest industries.

Guests:

A cow's communications can vary depending on the situation. Researchers have studied cow communications when in distress, such as when a cow is caught in fencing.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

We all learned it as kids: Old MacDonald has a farm and on that farm he has a cow that says “moo.” But why? Why do cows moo?

Whenever I’m out reporting in the field I can tell many ranchers have a powerful connection with their cattle – they can almost understand them. But researchers today are trying to figure out exactly what cows are saying.

I drove out to the beef research farm at the University of Missouri Columbia to meet cattle geneticist Jared Decker and ask him: What’s in a moo?

A curious Brown Swiss dairy cow peers over Casey DeHaan's rotary milking parlor outside Ault, Colorado.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

The population of Northern Colorado is booming. People are flocking to the area and population numbers are on the rise.

The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Weld and Larimer counties already sport high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region’s feeding operations. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows to churn out the milk needed to produce bricks of mozzarella cheese and whey protein powder.

Austin Kirk / Creative Commons

You’re about to start paying less for eggs at the grocery store because egg farms are recovering from last year’s bird flu outbreak a bit faster than expected.

Missouri beef producers voted down a referendum that would have established a fund to promote Missouri beef.
File: Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Missouri’s beef producers roundly rejected a proposal that would have forced them to pay an extra dollar for every head of cattle they sell.

Some in the beef industry wanted to add the fee to create what’s called a state beef checkoff – a fund meant to promote Missouri beef and beef research.

Nearly 75 percent of the beef producers that voted in a state referendum by mail rejected the proposal, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. In all, 6,568 valid ballots were returned, the department said.

A farm hand on the Nelson farm in north Iowa drives a tractor pulling a 24-row planter as it drops corn seeds into the field.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Near Alexander, Iowa, on a cloudy spring Tuesday, Josh Nelson watches a bright red Case IH Magnum tractor pull a 24-row planter and crest a small hill, dropping corn seed at careful intervals. Nelson says his family farm dodged a weather bullet this week, but it’s just one of many hurdles this season promises.

Demand is growing for GMO-free labels on food products, according to the Non-GMO Project, one of the principle suppliers of the label.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

There’s a heated debate happening right now about GMOs and labels.

Big food companies like General Mills, Mars and Kellogg’s say they plan to put labels on their products that tell consumers whether or not the food contains ingredients derived from genetically engineered plants.

So what’s the big deal? What are GMO labels, and what do they tell you?

Watch the video below to get the full scoop on GMO labels.

Along the presidential campaign trail, candidates are deriding free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. But here in the Midwest farmers and ranchers, the people behind one of our biggest industries, are bucking the trend.

Guests:

  • Kristofer Husted is a reporter for KCUR's Harvest Public Media. He's based at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri.
  • Chad Hart is an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University, where he's a crop markets specialist.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Turn on the TV and you can barely escape it: presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle deriding free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a bum deal that will hurt the U.S. economy and especially low-wage workers, according to pols from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton.

But if you venture into the Midwest and ask a farmer about the TPP, you’re likely to get a different answer.

Hungry animals come right up to the feed being delivered at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm, where researchers can test different feed formulas.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a cold windy morning, Kelly Nissen feeds the cows at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm north of Ames. Far from just tossing hay, he weighs out specific rations and carefully delivers them to numbered feed bunks.

“When you’re feeding, you’re always double-checking yourself to make sure it’s going in the right lot,” Nissen says.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Charles Bassett wants you to buy hamburgers made from his Missouri cows. That’s why the Missouri rancher wants to pay an extra dollar into an industry-created fund every time he sells one of his cattle.

Whether it's the debate over GMO labeling, or diseases affecting livestock and the changing business of agriculture, the reporters from Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, are at the scene. We talk with them the state of the food system in the United States today.  

Guests:

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Food waste is an expensive problem. The average U.S. family puts upwards of $2,000 worth of food in the garbage every year.

What some see as a problem, however, others see as a business opportunity. A new facility, known as the Heartland Biogas Project, promises to take wasted food from Colorado’s Front Range and turn it into electricity.

Iowa farmer Kelly Tobin has experimented with cover crops for 10 years in the hopes of increasing the health of his soil.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Take a road trip through the Midwest during the growing season, and it feels like you’re moving through a sea of corn and soybeans grown largely for livestock feed or ethanol. But now, low grain prices and increasing pressure to clean up waterways may push some farmers to consider other options.

Thanksgiving Dinner
vxla / Creative Commons

The food on your kitchen table has a fascinating story.

Suzanne Hogan / For Harvest Public Media

Aubrey Fletcher knew she wanted to work on a dairy farm ever since she was a little girl.

“I do remember my mom asking, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’” Fletcher recalls.

Fletcher knew the work was tough, she grew up milking cows every day. After college she and her husband wanted to return to his family farm, but it wasn’t making financial sense.

“The farm couldn’t necessarily provide both of us with salaries,” says Fletcher. “So we thought, ‘Why not take our premium milk and take that a little further?’”

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Cotton fabric has been a staple in our closets for decades, but times are tough for farmers in the U.S. cotton belt who are caught in the middle of a storm of changing global demand.

Cotton acreage in the U.S. has been declining for years, with 2015 hitting the lowest mark in decades.  It has dropped from nearly 15 million acres to less than 9 million acres in just the past five years.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Senate rejected a bill Wednesday that would have outlawed states from mandating labels on foods with genetically-modified ingredients, leaving the issue in limbo as a state labeling law looms.

The measure by Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, failed to get the 60 votes needed to move ahead, leaving the path open for Vermont’s mandatory labeling law to go into effect July 1. That was quickly applauded by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

During the season of Lent, many Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. Fish, though, is considered fair game, so the Friday night fish fry has become an annual tradition at churches across the country. 

Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter you’ll find hundreds of hungry parishioners lining up at church fish frys around the Midwest.  All of that frying uses up vegetable oil that can just go to waste, but there are some people putting it to good use.

Friday Night Tradition

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

The Western Farm Show in Kansas City, Missouri, is a long way from Silicon Valley.

But here in a huge arena, set in what used to be the Kansas City Stockyards, the high-tech future of agriculture is for sale.

Casey Adams and Scott Jackman, co-owners of Fly Ag Tech, have their large yellow and white drone sitting at center stage in their booth at this huge annual trade show.

“It’s got a GPS, so it knows where it’s at, underneath here you’ll see an autopilot, its an onboard computer,” he said.

Pat Aylward / NET News

Every year Americans spend billions of dollars to grow, process and transport food that’s never eaten.

ReFED, a group of nonprofits and foundations, say they have a roadmap to keep that from happening. Their planfocuses on preventing food from ending up in the trash in the first place, and diverting it to a more beneficial use when it does get tossed out.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hundreds of lawsuits against seed company Syngenta could develop into a major class-action potentially involving almost every corn farmer in the country.

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