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.
â€śBig bluestem is our big producer,â€ť said Rod Christen. â€śItâ€™s kind of our Cadillac grass.â€ť
Â Â The World Food Prize is commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize of Agriculture. This year it went to three biotechnology pioneers and infuriated environmental groups. The award winners were honored Thursday in Des Moines. Iowa Public Radioâ€™s Clay Masters reports.
The Affordable Care Act, often called â€śObamacare,â€ť took a big step forward Oct. 1, despite being a factor in the federal government shutdown, when new health insurance marketplaces opened 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? Thatâ€™s the question in Nebraska.
Almost 200,000 Nebraskans donâ€™t have health insurance. Nearly half of them are spread across the stateâ€™s rural areas.
Consumers can rest assured that even with the government shutdown that went into effect on Tuesday, all of the meat, poultry and eggs bought from the grocery store will be inspected as usual by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But thatâ€™s not necessarily the case for other foods -- like cheese, produce and boxes of cereal. Inspections for these products fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, which had toÂ furlough 45 percent of its staff on Tuesday.
A study by Purdue University shows the overall death rate from accidents on American farms is declining, but the number of fatalities from grain bin entrapments has been stubbornly steady. The peak was 2010 in which 51 people, mostly teenagers died. Iowa's volunteer firefighters are getting updatedÂ training and newÂ equipment in case a rescue is needed.
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, theyâ€™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 beforeÂ lawmakers passed a nine-month extensionÂ of older policy in January.
The Iowa Department of Transportation is reporting 79 crashes and 5 fatalities involving farm equipment in 2013. Safety officials say drivers need to be alert especially at dusk and dawn when these huge machines tend to be more numerous. They also say farmers need to share responsibility by making sure motorists know when they're about to turn or make a sudden stop. Farmers are asked not to wave motorists by them, but instead pull off to the side of the road if possible.
On a hot day in late August, Kevin Bien stands in the shade of a large gray piece of farm equipment.Â The brand marketing manager forÂ Gleaner CombinesÂ gives his best spiel to a group of farmers attending theÂ Farm progress ShowÂ Â in Decatur, Ill.Â Â Torque, efficiency, and new technology are among his key points for the prospective buyers of the large machines that can run anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000.Â Â Â Â
The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus has the potential to kill entire litters of piglets. It has been confirmed in 17 states including Iowa since its first appearance last spring. Now, hog producers and veterinarians have a new tool to help fight it, thanks to a more sensitive test developed at Iowa State University.
Howard Hill pulls his red Chevy pick-up truck up to a barn near Union, Iowa, that houses 1,000 of his hogs. In the truckâ€™s bed is a 55-pound bag of Rumensin 90, a common antibacterial ingredient in cattle feed that helps reduce bloating. Pigs donâ€™t eat it. Hill brought it here to dump into the manure pit under the hogs.
Hill is among the many Midwestern pork producers who use deep pits under their barns to accumulate manure throughout the year. In the fall, after fields are harvested, the nutrient-rich slurry gets pumped out of the pits and injected into the cropland.
Farmers may now have to wait until Congress makes its decisions about Syria before the farm bill gets any more attention.
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said a farm bill conference committee could meet without disrupting the debate on Syria, but he doesnâ€™t expect that to happen.
â€śSyriaâ€™s going to put the farm bill on the back burner,â€ť Grassley said. â€śI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s justified, but thatâ€™s what weâ€™ve been told. And how farâ€”on how many back burners backâ€”I donâ€™t know.â€ť
Harvesting is underway in Iowa of corn grown for specialized purposes.
In a field near Ankeny, Paul Mens was operating one of two corn pickers this week, specially designed for harvesting the corn ears that will be shelled at a nearby Monsanto seed corn processing plant.
â€śIn my opinion, for what this has been through, the yield is real good," he says, referring to challenging weather this year. "You can tell where the wet spots were, where it was too wet this spring, but overall, itâ€™s doing real well."
The farm bill is, once again, entering a critical stretch. As was the case last year, the current law expires at the end of September. Thereâ€™s no election to dissuade elected officials from tackling the major piece of agriculture and nutrition policyâ€”but Congress does have a pretty full plate, with the crisis in Syria, immigration reform and a measure to continue funding federal government programs all set to come to a head.
Past the razor-wire fences, beyond huge metal gates, behind thick walls, youâ€™ll find one of the most unique dairies in the country. The Four Mile Correctional Center in CaĂ±on City, Colo., is home to what could very well be the countryâ€™s largest herd of domesticated water buffalo â€“ buffalo milked for their rich, frothy milk.
At the Four Mile dairy, inmates run the milking parlor, not a farmer in overalls. And itâ€™s not black and white cows dotting the landscape, instead itâ€™s water buffalo with big, curved horns.
This is the thirteenth installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Mediaâ€™s series chronicling Americansâ€™ connection to the land.Â Click hereÂ to explore moreÂ My Farm RootsÂ stories and to share your own.
Matt Pauly has traveled the world Â â€“ heâ€™s lived in New York, Paris, South Korea â€“ but heâ€™s still a farm boy at heart.
A new disease turned up in the $20 billion United States hog industry in May, and the National Pork Boardâ€™s response illustrates the role it plays in swine research. Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) previously had been found mainly in Asia. It threatened to kill whole litters of piglets.
The Des Moines-based Pork Board sprang into action last spring, making $450,000 immediately available for research on the disease. The Pork Board gets its money from the mandatory pork check-off program, which raised $83 million last year.
A late-summer heat wave has been greeting visitors to this yearâ€™s Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois, one of the countryâ€™s largest agriculture trade shows. Itâ€™s a fitting reminder of a rough year for farmers.Â
Hot weather is no surprise during the late-August exhibition of all things farming.Â But the recent dry spell in the Midwest is causing some worries.Â Â Pam Johnson, a Northern Iowa farmer who is president of the National Corn Growers association says that's been the number one concern she's heard from show visitors:
This is the twelfth installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Mediaâ€™s series chronicling Americansâ€™ connection to the land.Â Click hereÂ to explore moreÂ My Farm RootsÂ stories and to share your own.
One sign that you have strong farm roots is when your rural road is named for your family.
Farmers across the country received more than $17 billion Â in federal crop insurance payouts after last yearâ€™s drought. A report released today by an environmental group blames farmers for not doing enough to shield the soil against the heat. Â
The future of agriculture across the Great Plains hinges on water. Without it, nothing can grow.
Climate modelsÂ and population growthÂ paint a pretty bleak picture for water availability a few decades from now. If farmers want to stay in business, they have to figure out how to do more with less. Enter: super efficient irrigation systems.
Ilya Protopopov stopped at a U-Stop station in Lincoln, Neb., on his way to the track to fuel up his truck and a few dirt bikes. His fuel of choice, 91 octane unleaded, was selling for $4.01 per gallon.
â€śI used to complain about $1.50 gas, now itâ€™s over $4,â€ť Protopopov said. â€śPretty steep.â€ť
But on the same pump there was another fuel selling for under $3. E85 was going for $2.53.
This is the eleventh installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Mediaâ€™s series chronicling Americansâ€™ connection to the land.Â Click hereÂ to explore moreÂ My Farm RootsÂ stories and to share your own.
Danelle Myer owns a small vegetable farm and like many other small farmers, sheâ€™s passionate about the kind of operation she wants to grow: a small, local business.
If you think soybeans are just for livestock and vegetarians, think again.Â
Increasingly, the commodity is being used in manufacturing â€” an ingredient in everything from glue to cleaning supplies to even furniture filling.
â€śEven Henry Ford in the 1930s had built cars using soy oil paint,â€ť said William Schapaugh, an agronomy professor at Kansas State University in Manhattan.Â â€śThey were using soy oil in the shock absorbers of the cars.Â So that goes back a long time.â€ť
Itâ€™s hard not to use the phrase â€śquintessential small townâ€ť when you describe Pittsfield, Ill.Â
The western Illinois community of 4,500 people has a picturesque downtown square with an historic courthouse sitting in the center.Â The small city is the county seat of Pike County and for many years has called itself the Pork Capital of the World in homage to an important sector of farming in this region.Â Â Every year the town holds a two day festival known as â€śPig Days,â€ť which, true to its name, features pig tail and hog calling contests.
This is the tenth installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Mediaâ€™s series chronicling Americansâ€™ connection to the land.Â Click hereÂ to explore moreÂ My Farm RootsÂ stories and to share your own.
Itâ€™s not just lifelong farmers who feel the pull of the land as they get older. For some Americans, retirement is an opportunity to begin the farming dream.
â€śI wanted to be able to be active and have a pastime that ensured physical activity,â€ť said beginning farmer Tom Thomas, who at 65 still has the physical fitness to wrestle and brand steers at his sonâ€™s ranch in Oklahoma.Â
Thomas retired two years ago after teaching exercise physiology for 35 years and he knew what he wanted to do next.