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.
Driving out of the western Iowa town of Panora, the winding roads offer broad vistas of rolling hills. Many of the mailboxes along Redwood Road show the name Arganbright. Jim Arganbright grew up in this area, one of 10 children. He and his wife, Beverly, have eight kids.
Though Jim Arganbright farmed here his whole life, three years ago at the age of 80 he started renting his cropland to his son Tom, the only one of his children who farms full-time. Now, all Jim Arganbright has to worry about is the livestock â€” and he doesnâ€™t have too much of that.
Working beyond retirement is a fairly common refrain these days. In 2012, 5 percent of the U.S. workforce was beyond retirement age. But farmers seem to work longer than most. In the last Agriculture Census 25 percent of all farm operators were over 65 years old.
Why do farmers keep working? For one thing, modern machinery makes it easier to work longer.
â€śItâ€™s more you use your mind rather than your back, so you can go longer,â€ť said Mike Duffy, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University.
Next weekÂ IPR is launching a 5-part series during Morning Edition from Harvest Public Media on the role of age in farming. It's called "Changing Hands, Changing Lands." It includes a television documentary on Iowa Public Television that airs on August 16th.
IPR's Clay Masters spoke with IPR's Harvest Public Media reporter, Amy Mayer, about the series and some of the research and reporting that went into the project.Â
Across the rural Midwest, landscapes are dotted with tall, cylindrical storage containers for grain. Commercial grain elevators and on-farm bins hold commodity crops so they can be sold throughout the year. With yields growing and prices fluctuating, stored corn or soybeans can be as good as money in the bank.Â But only if the quality is maintained.
Thatâ€™s something Kevin Larsonâ€™s been monitoring during more than 40 years of farming in Story County. When he started with his dad, he says everyone stored corn, still on the cob, in their own cribs.
This is the ninth 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.
At the same time utility companies erect modern wind turbines across the Iowa countryside, old fashioned windmills are rusting away on abandonedÂ farmsteads. But there's one man who is out to preserve the crumpled icons, one windmill at a time. Meet the Windmill Wizard.
Congress is set to leave town for its summer recess Aug. 2 without passing a new farm bill. The current farm bill extension expires just weeks after lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington and thatâ€™s leaving some farmers feeling stymied about planning.
This is the eighth 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.
A new report out Tuesday shows millions of wetland acresÂ and highly erodible grassland and prairie are being plowed under and planted into row crops. This in turn causes intense soil erosion especially in a wet spring like this year. The four year, multi state study was conducted by Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/research/going-going-gone.
When unapproved genetically modified wheat was found growing in Oregon earlier this year, it didnâ€™t take long for accusations about how it ended up there to start flying.Â A flurry of initial finger-pointingÂ cast potential blame on aÂ federal seed vault in Fort Collins, Colo., which housed the same strain of wheat, developed by Monsanto Corp., for about seven years up until late 2011.
The U.S. Department of AgricultureÂ predicts the nationâ€™s farmerswill deliver a record 3.42 billion bushels of soybeans this year. TheÂ USDA is also forecastingÂ that this year for the first time Brazil will overtake the United States as the worldâ€™s leading producer of soybeans.
This is the seventh 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.
The worldâ€™s soil is in trouble. Ecologists say without dramatic changes to how we manage land, vast swathes of grassland are at risk of turning into hard-packed desert. To make sure that doesnâ€™t happen, researchers are testing out innovative ways to keep moisture in the soil.
In eastern Colorado, one way could be in the plodding hooves of cattle.
Conventional wisdom tells you, if ranchland ground has less grass, the problem is too many cows. But thatâ€™s not always the case. It depends on how you manage them, if you make sure they keep moving.
A Midwest summertime tradition is in full swing: corn detasseling.Â Every summer, seed corn companies hire thousands of seasonal workers to remove the top of the corn plant to produce hybrid varieties.Â The minimum age in Iowa to do the work is 14. Those as young as 12 can detassel in Illinois and Nebraska.Â Many crew leaders who started in their teens are now in their 50s and 60s.Â Workers say even thoughÂ it's often hot in the cornfield and the work is tedious,Â they return year after year because they are paid good money by the companies.
The worldâ€™s soil is in trouble, even in the fertile Midwest. Â Some experts warn that if degradation continues unchecked, topsoil could be gone in 60 yearsâ€”with implications for agriculture and the broader environment.
Restaurants across the country have jumped on the local food bandwagon. Theyâ€™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 areÂ more than 220 of themÂ in 40 states plus the District of Columbia.
This is the sixth 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.
Amy Konishi says when her obituary is written itâ€™ll read, â€śAll she knew was work.â€ť
There are numerous opportunities this summer for young people to attend day camps, anything from sports to how to be Annie in a Broadway show. The Iowa Veterinary Medical Association offers hands-on opportunities for teens to see what it takes to be a vet. IPR's Pat Blank has the story from the Dallas County Fair in Adel.
Along the 1200 Road in Windsor, Mo., there is plenty of gravel and farmland. But one thing it is short of is people.
Miles of green fields separate the farms that occupy this area of Windsor, a rural town of 3,000, making area farms easy targets in a series of metal thefts that robbed farmers of the tools they needed to do their jobs.
Mike Obermann was among the victims. He owns a farm of row crops and cattle northwest of Windsor with his wife. In the theft, he lost $500-600 worth of fencing material and an aluminum boat.
The U.S. House passed its version of farm bill legislation Thursday. The revamped bill strips out funding for food aid and deals only with farm policy, exposing a hefty rift in decades-old alliances between urban and rural legislators and between food aid and farm policy interests.
Now, that alliance has been battered.
â€śAgriculture has joined many of the other topics that are discussed in Congress in becoming a partisan debate of policy,â€ť said Chad Hart, an economist with Iowa State University.
This is the fifth 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.
Kelly Hagler, 25, is among the millions of young people who have left rural communities for the bright lights of the city, in this case Chicago.
The wet spring has delayed the growth of corn used for seed by Iowa companies including the largest, DuPont Pioneer. That, in turn, has pushed back the schedule of hundreds of part time workers who make money in the fields by removing the top of the plant known as the tassel.Â Production manager for the Reinbeck facility, Colby Entriken says ,"we're hoping to start pulling tassels next week which is about a week behind schedule.
Forager Adam Hintz said knowing how to find food in nature gives him a sense of food security, knowing that even if a natural catastrophe disrupts the food production chain, he can still feed his family.
Â Itâ€™s a humid, windy day in southeast Nebraska, and Adam Hintz is hunting for morels. The mushroom, which kind of looks like a shrunken brain, is known for being elusive, and so far, nothingâ€™s turned up.
But lots of other edibles have.
â€śThis is a common milkweed,â€ť Hintz said, eying a patch of knee-high green plants with veiny leaves. â€śYou can eat it in three different forms throughout the year.â€ť
This is the fourth 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.
Trent Johnson didnâ€™t grow up on a farm, but he was always enamored with the cowboy lifestyle.
Many farmers say they would like to grow genetically engineered wheat to help them feed a hungry world, but itâ€™s not what everyoneâ€™s hungry for. And now, with the mysterious appearance of Roundup Ready wheatÂ in a farmerâ€™s field in OregonÂ a few weeks ago, consumer resistance may grow even stronger.
Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified, but GMO wheat has never been approved for farming.
This is the third 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.
After foregoing insecticides for a decade, Iowa corn farmers are returning to chemicals to control theirÂ number oneÂ pest, the corn rootworm. Â Thatâ€™s because the insect has developed resistance toÂ Bt corn. Â Â Â Experts say thatâ€™s Â bad for farmers' profits Â and the environment.
Eleven miles northeast of Centralia, Mo., five U.S. Geological Survey scientists don waders and bright reflective life jackets to wade into Goodwater Creek. Plenty of fish live in the streamâ€™s murky slow-moving waters, along with snakes, crayfish, mussels and snapping turtles. On this overcast morning, the team collects water samples and checks submerged cages of fathead minnows for eggs.
Air Philavanh is a new farmer in central Iowa who came to this country from Laos as a refugee more than 30 years ago. Today, heâ€™s living on an 11-acre farm in Milo, Iowa about an hour from Des Moines. He bought the place three years ago and heâ€™s built a brand-new shelter for his four beef calves off the end of a decrepit old barn. Heâ€™s made many other improvements, too, as he gets his farm up and running. In addition to the cattle, he hopes to add ducks. Itâ€™s a far cry from his day job with Citigroupâ€”and not what he initially imagined for himself.