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Nestled among acres of wheat fields and rows of corn, the Land Institute of Salina, Kansas, may seem an unlikely Mecca for environmental activists. After decades of leading the charge to develop alternative ways of raising grain, however, the facility still attracts crowds hunting for sustainable agricultural solutions.

File: Courtesy Stephen Carmody/Michigan Radio

The next Congress may take up the farm bill a year ahead of schedule.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Supporters and opponents of several proposed mergers among agricultural seed and chemical companies are making their case to lawmakers in Washington.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday to, as committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grasley (R-Iowa) put it, get everything out on the table. Grassley says public testimony can raise concerns the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission may need to consider as they evaluate the proposed new pairings.

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On a gray day, just as the rain begins to fall, Roger Zylstra stops his red GMC Sierra pick-up truck on the side of the road and hops down into a ditch in Jasper County, Iowa. It takes two such stops before he unearths amid the tall weeds and grasses what he’s looking for.

"Here is one of the tiles," he says, pointing to a pipe about six or eight inches in diameter. Water trickles from it into a culvert that runs under the road after flowing through a network of underground drainage lines below his farm field. "That's where it outlets."

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Living in the Platte River Valley in central Nebraska means understanding that the water in your well may contain high levels of nitrates and may not be safe to drink.

"When our first son was born in 1980, we actually put a distiller in for our drinking water here in the house," says Ken Seim, who lives in the Platte Valley near the town of Chapman, Nebraska. "And at that time our water level was 12 parts per million."

Amy Mayer/IPR

As driverless cars begin to roam the streets, autonomous farm machinery is not far behind. The same fundamental technology that allows a vehicle to maneuver through city traffic may someday let a farmer send his tractor off to work on its own.

New Holland, the Pennsylvania-based equipment maker, demonstrated one of its large tractors outfitted to run autonomously during the recent Farm Progress Show in Boone.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa State Extension's Women in Agriculture Program is recognizing several Iowans as Women Impacting the Land. The awards celebrate farm work ranging from traditional row crops to livestock to perennial trees and nuts. Madeline Schultz, the director of the Women in Agriculture program, says the increased awareness of women's contributions to farming inspired the awards.

There’s lots of farmland in Iowa, but only about 1 percent of that land changes ownership in any given year. So if you’re a beginning farmer looking to start out, you’ve got to network with people willing to rent you somewhere to farm or work with your family.

Farms have doubled in size in the last 100 years, and the consolidation of farmland makes it that much harder. That’s according to Chad Hart, an economist at Iowa State University.

Rick Fredericksen/IPR file photo

A new study supports planting perennial grasses on current cropland as a way to reduce nutrient loss from farm fields.


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Peggy Fogle and her dog, Abe, walk among rows of aronia berry bushes on the family property outside Carlisle. Plants on the ends of rows are smaller from years of being nibbled by deer and rabbits. But on nearly nine acres, filling four separate fields, the bushes are reaching maturity, eight years after Fogle and her husband decided to put in their first ones.

Photo by Amy Mayer

After several boom years while the rest of the economy struggled, farming is entering its third straight year on the bust side of the cycle. Corn, soybean and other commodity prices are low while expenses like seed, fertilizer and land remain stubbornly high.

So farmers managing the sophisticated businesses that Midwest crop farms have become are spending more time considering business school basics.

Harvest Public Media file photo by Luke Runyon

A group of Nebraska farmers is suing the giant seed and chemical company Monsanto in federal court, saying the company's top-selling herbicide gave them cancer.

Farmers Larry Domina, Robert Dickey, and Royce Janzen, along with agronomist Frank Pollard, have all been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. They were exposed to Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller in their work on the farm.


They allege that Roundup caused their illness and that Monsanto downplayed research showing the chemical poses a cancer risk.


An outbreak of a bird flu has hit southwestern Missouri. While less contagious than the strain of avian flu that devastated the Midwest chicken and turkey industry last spring, the infection is still potent enough to call for the destruction of birds.

On Wednesday, when the outbreak was confirmed by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the commercial turkey farm in Jaspar County, near Joplin, was still quarantined. Some 39,000 birds were destroyed last week as a precaution.

courtesy photo

As a country music singer, Liz Carlisle, who grew up in Montana, says she was interested in the poetry and philosophy of farming and rural life.

"I hadn't been involved in sustainable agriculture at all," she says, "I was a country singer. I think I shared a lot of values, but I didn't really know the language of sustainable agriculture and I wasn't, quite frankly, paying enough attention to economics or to science."

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

As farmers put their 2016 crops in the ground, they face another year of corn and soybean prices that will make turning a profit on the land challenging. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says already he's seeing early signs of strain in the farm economy.

"We're hearing a little bit from bankers," he said. "We're hearing isolated instances of farmers [hurting]. We're hearing that the 800 number where farmers that are in trouble can call in and ask for help or get advice that they're getting a few more calls now."

Photo by Amy Mayer

Near Alexander, Iowa, on a cloudy spring Tuesday, Josh Nelson watches a bright red Case IH Magnum 340 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.


Pat Blank/IPR file photo

April’s winds might have created a bad hair month for many Iowans, but they’ve been beneficial to the state’s farmers who need the soil to be dry enough to plant their crops.

State Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says only a handful of producers have had a chance to plant corn, however, because the soil is still too cold for seeds to germinate.   He says if the weekend is as warm as the weather forecast suggests, everything will kick into high gear.

Photo by Amy Mayer

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.


Harvest Public Media file photo by Grant Gerlock

Some of the most important medicines doctors prescribe to fight infections are losing effectiveness and the Obama Administration is calling on farmers to help turn the tide against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A recent report by the president's advisors on antibiotic resistance charts some progress but also left some critics urging for more immediate action.

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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?'"

Wikimedia Commons

In January of 2011 when Ginnie Peters retired from the Perry Public Library, she was looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Matt, but she never really got the chance.

He died of suicide in May of that year.  “One day he told me he had torment in his head, and then the next day he was gone," she says. 

The two farmed 1500 acres between Perry and Panora, Iowa for most of their lives. Today, Peters blames the stress of planning for the future of her husband’s century farm for what happened. 

Harvest Public Media file photo by Grant Gerlock

The federal government has wiped off the books the controversial law that required grocery stores to label cuts of pork and beef with their country of origin.

The rules around Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) require retailers to note where the animal that produced cuts of meat was born, raised and slaughtered. The World Trade Organization, however, said last year that the labels were an unfair trade barrier for meat producers in other countries.

Photo by Grant Gerlock

There are mounting concerns about the direction of the farm economy. The U.S. Department of 

Agriculture expects farm income to fall for the third year in a row in 2016. At the same time, farmers are borrowing billions more from banks to get by.

The change in farm fortunes follows a drop in prices for corn and soybeans, the top Midwest crops. Supply and demand are both working against the commodity markets. Farmers have raised an oversupply of grain, while at the same time the slow global economy has brought down demand.

Courtesy Programa Nacional de Acrídios/Senasa

The normally dry northern region of Argentina has a problem of biblical proportions.

Farmers there are struggling with a massive outbreak of locusts. Dark clouds of the green-brown bugs cast shadows when they fly overhead and when they land, they cover the ground.

"It is really, really, amazing when you see the locusts because you see millions of them together," said Juan Pablo Karnatz, who raises cattle in Santiago del Estero, about 600 miles northwest of Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. "When you think they can be more millions flying around, it could be a disaster."

Courtesy Adam Dolezal

The persistent decline of honeybees has scientists scrambling to understand what's causing the problem and how to correct it. Humans may be part of the problem.


U.S. beekeepers report losing about a third of their colonies each year and the figure increased from 2014 to 2015.


Photo by Amy Mayer

Delays by the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped make the outbreak of a fast-spreading pig virus worse, according to a federal watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a critical report last month on the USDA’s handling of 2013’s outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus. (pdf)

Photo by Amy Mayer

For almost a year, presidential candidates have been crisscrossing Iowa, wooing voters in a state that relies on agriculture for about one-third of its economy. But even here, most voters live in cities or suburbs and don't have a first-hand connection to the farm.

That makes it difficult to get candidates talking about food system issues from school lunches, to crop supports, to water quality. Yet these all fall under the federal agriculture department. If candidates aren't talking about them in Iowa, it's possible they'll be left out of the campaigns entirely.

Harvest Public Media file photo by Eric Durban

Worried about the price of wheat on the global market, Midwest farmers are planting less.

Nationwide, farmers seeded about 5 million fewer acres in wheat this planting season than they did two years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Winter Wheat Seedings Report (PDF) issued Tuesday.

Varieties of winter wheat, which is mostly grown in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Montana, make up the lion's share of U.S. wheat production.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Advocates for listing the monarch butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act are tired of waiting for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make up its mind.

"We filed a notice of intent to sue so that they have to give us a date to make that decision on whether or not they're going to protect the monarch," says Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity which, along with other groups, petitioned the federal agency in 2014 citing an 80-percent decline in the monarch population over the past 20 years.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Corn Belt farmers faced a down year in 2015, according to Agriculture Department numbers. Demand for grain was high, but farmers hauled in an enormous supply of corn and soybeans, keeping prices low. USDA says overall farm income in 2015 is likely to be down 55 percent compared to a peak in 2013.