News

Amy Mayer/IPR

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that’ll be increasingly important to farmers as wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel.

In a field outside of Ames, Iowa, she swipes the paper towel across the head of a bright yellow-and-red sunflower—bred to feed Iowa State University fans’ frenzy for all things in the school’s colors—and transfers the pollen on the paper towel to a different flower. Researchers recently unlocked the genetic code of the entire plant, which means Barb will more quickly be able to identify the specific genes that play a role in self-pollination.

Sunflowers are a global commodity crop with a growing demand, though they’re currently a minor player on the United States’ agricultural scene. The genome-mapping is likely to create better hybrid seeds, but there’s no reason to expect the picturesque crop, despite its profit potential, will quickly overtake the Corn Belt.

NPR

IPR is excited to announce a new program from NPR that can be heard Sundays on our News and News Studio One stations.

401kcalculator.org

The Iowa economy is still growing, but not as robustly as predicted, and tax receipts for this budget year are off to a slow start.    

That’s the conclusion of members of the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference,  who say unless things pick up, this year’s state budget of $7.3 billion will have to be trimmed by roughly $130 million.

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says there are several drags on the economy.

Jessica Spengler / Flickr

Do you know anybody who can’t sit still? What about someone who doesn't ever seem to want to do anything? Turns out, we are genetically predisposed to be couch potatoes, or not. During this half hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with J. Timothy Lightfoot, director of the Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Texas A & M and an Omar Smith Endowed Professor of Kinesiology. 

Lightfoot says he started looking into the question because he is a person who can't sit still. 

Iowan Norman Borlaug, who grew up in Cresco, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for a lifetime of work to feed the world’s hungry people. Borlaug also founded the World Food Prize, the foremost international honor recognizing the achievements of individuals who have improved the quality, quantity, or availability of food worldwide.

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles

Forest City-based Winnebago Industries is reporting strong revenue growth for fiscal 2017. The results are driven mostly by profits from its towable recreational vehicle division.

Revenue and income at Winnebago are up substantially from a year ago. The manufacturer of RVs brought in more than $1.5 billion in revenue for the fiscal year ending August 26. That’s a nearly 59 percent increase from 2016. Operating income for the year improved by 90 percent to $125 million. Company president and CEO Michael Happe credits robust sales of its Grand Design towable division.

Image courtesy of Witching Hour Festival

Iowa City native Dan Perkins, aka Tom Tomorrow, is the creator of This Modern World, a weekly political and satirical cartoon which has been a mainstay of the alternative press for more than two and a half decades. He says that the country's tense political environment lately has been challenging in many ways, and the speed at which news is made is particularly difficult. 

pills and money
Images Money / flickr

It’s less than two weeks until people have to start signing up for next year’s health insurance plans, and Iowans who buy their own insurance through the Affordable Care Act don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what system they will use to buy insurance, what plans will be available to them, or how much they will have to pay.

Iowa is waiting for a last-minute decision from federal agencies on whether Iowans will buy insurance through the ACA marketplace, or through the state’s proposed "stopgap" system.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t go forward with rules meant to make it easier for small livestock producers to report possible unfair treatment.

The agency’s decision on the proposal, which came at the tail end of the Obama administration, was announced Tuesday and met with mixed response.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds had phone conversations today with both President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about a controversial proposal to scale back the Renewable Fuel Standard, reducing the mandate for Iowa-grown biofuels.    

Iowa politicians are putting a full-court press on the Trump administration, after the EPA proposed  reducing the volume of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol blended into gasoline.   

Reynolds called her conversation with the president “constructive and productive.”  

Image by Rob Holysz

Hari Kondabolu, a New Yorker and first-generation American of Indian descent, is an awarded comedian who has a problem with the negative stereotypes of southeast Asians and Indian people in the media. He explores that frustration in his new documentary “The Problem with Apu,” which highlights the effect of the character on his life growing up. 

Sarah Boden/IPR

A group of state attorneys general, including Iowa's Tom Miller, are suing U.S. Education Sec. Betsy DeVos and her department for what they say is a failure to enforce a rule that protects student borrowers from predatory for-profit schools.

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The West Des Moines shopping district known as Valley Junction is officially joining the National Register of Historic Places. The designation makes buildings in the neighborhood eligible for various preservation tax credits.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Dyslexia is a condition in the brain that makes it hard to read, write, and spell. It's the most common learning disability in children, but it can be difficult to diagnose and manage. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, dyslexia affects anywhere from 5-20 percent of the population depending on the severity of definitions. 

Ernst Hader - painting

Have you ever had a love song written for you by a significant other? Hector Berlioz wrote his Symphonie fantastique to depict “the life of an artist” after he had fallen instantly and wildly in love with actress Harriet Smithson while seeing her in a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in London. But the piece is far from a crooning ballad.

Duane Tinkey

One of opera’s most strikingly theatrical and grandly scaled masterpieces, Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, tells the story of the persecution and destruction of a pure-hearted young sailor by a predatory master-at-arms. From rollicking sea shanties to bombastic choral episodes, Britten’s searing opera roars to life in a spectacular new production featuring baritone Craig Verm in the title role. Based on Herman Melville’s classic American tale, adapted by English novelist E.M. Forster, Billy Budd transforms a British “man o’ war” into a crucible for human faith and error.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

Houses on the near east side of Des Moines, within sight of the Capitol dome, are among the city’s oldest. They are also among the most in disrepair. Some changes are afoot to freshen the look of three low-income neighborhoods.

Stacie Phillips works amidst a whir of construction activity in the shell of a house built in 1907 from a kit popular at the time.

“It’s a wonderful old house with the original trim, the conference ceilings," she says. "It has the original, beautiful swing-out casement windows we have rehabbed. Just a beautiful plan.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

A legislative committee studying Iowa’s opioid epidemic heard testimony today on a serious side effect of increased heroin use in the state.   

Addicts share needles to shoot heroin, and public health experts say that has contributed to a large increase in hepatitis C cases in Iowa. 

Sarah Ziegenhorn with the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition told lawmakers Iowa should join other states 

and approve needle exchange programs.   

Author Sarah Miller remembers first reading the Little House on the Prairie books when she was in 4th grade. She says when she went back to reread them as an adult, she saw there was more going on than she picked up on as a young adult. 

"I thought about Ma. I read a scene where Laura wakes up and Ma is sitting by the window and has a pistol in her lap," she says. "If you're the lady in the rocking chair, it's your job to make everything safe and cozy. And you don't know if it's all going to work out that way."

Image courtesy of Squirrel Cage Jail of Pottawattamie County, Iowa

In 1885, residents of Council Bluffs wanted the city to become a safer community, but did not want to pay more taxes to do so. As a result of this, the Squirrel Cage Jail was implemented, composed of 90,000 pounds of metal standing three stories tall. The design of the jail was a cost-efficient rotary design, where the prisoners were housed in pie-shaped cells that were rotated with a crank and centered around one opening, similar to the design of a "lazy Susan." This design meant that only one jailor was necessary to man each of the three structures, each housing over 90 prisoners.

Flickr / National Renewable Energy Lab

Sen. Chuck Grassley had lunch Monday with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, on the same day he and a group of bipartisan senators sent Pruitt a letter urging him to not reduce the amount of biodiesel in the nation’s fuel supply for 2018.

MitchellShapiroPhotography / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

Can a cake baker refuse to make a cake based on a religious objection to the event it is celebrating? A case relating to that concept will be in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this term. 

In this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined for legal analysis by Todd Pettys, H. Blair and Joan V. White Chair in Civil Litigation and University of Iowa Professor of Law, and also Mark Kende, Professor of Law at Drake University, James Madison Chair in Constitutional Law, and Director of the Drake Constitutional Law Center.

Here are the cases we review:

Joyce Russell/IPR

More than 200 people died from opioid use last year, and in some parts of the state, by the end of this year the total number of overdoses will double. 

A statehouse committee heard two days of testimony on the growing number of deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin in Iowa.  Health care providers urged legislators to expand treatment to those addicted to opioids.

Mike Polich heads the UCS Healthcare drug treatment center in Des Moines.  

He showed lawmakers a photo of patients standing in line to get methadone, a drug that helps addicts get off heroin.

WIKICOMMONS / Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Farmers use fertilizer because it helps crops grow. But according to a new study from Iowa State University, for some native plant species in Iowa a chemical found in fertilizer does the opposite, harming the biodiversity in Iowa’s tallgrass prairies.

Nitrogen is found in fertilizer and is hard to contain as it flows from farm fields to water and gets into the air, reaching other plants.

Mercy For Animals MFA / Flickr

This week, animal rights and free speech organizations filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa that challenges a state law from 2012, often referred to as Iowa’s ag-gag law or ag-whistleblower law.  The law  made it illegal to get a job at a livestock farm through misrepresentation in order to conduct an undercover animal cruelty investigation.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

A former Iowa DCI agent, who was fired after reporting speeding by then-Governor Branstad’s security detail, would not be getting his day in court soon under a motion filed this week in Polk County District Court.  

The motion filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says former agent Larry Hedlund’s case should be put on hold until Branstad completes his assignment as U.S. Ambassador to China.  

John Gayler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

For Carol Bodensteiner, growing up on an Iowa farm meant hard work and connection to the family unit.  She felt her work was valued even when she was very little.  In this final show in our Iowa Week series, Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with Bodensteiner about her childhood experiences and what they say about Iowa. 

Bodensteiner says one aspect of growing up in Iowa that has changed is the freedom she had to roam outside.

MadMaxMarchHere / Wikimedia Commons

Four finalists to be the next president of Iowa State University were on the Ames campus this week for interviews and meetings with faculty, staff and community members. Now, the search committee will review the feedback from the public forums and meet with the Board of Regents. A final decision is expected on October 23rd. The next president will replace Steven Leath who is now president of at Auburn University in Alabama. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Between tragedy within the foster care system that has left two teenagers dead due to starvation, and a highly controversial shift from state management of the Medicaid system to a privately managed care system, Iowa's Department of Human Services has been in the news a lot this year.

Des Moines attorney and new DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven took over for former Director Charles Palmer in mid-June. During this River to River conversation, he talks with host Ben Kieffer.

On the transition to managed care: 

WealthManagement.com

Iowa came out near the top in the current national rankings in Caring.com's new survey "Best and Worst States to Grow Old."  But retiring in Iowa is not without its challenges--especially in rural areas, where retirees may be far away from a heath care clinic, a dentist and a psychologist.   Loneliness also remains a problem for many older people, whether in busy, bigger cities or not.  This hour, we continue our special series of programs on challenges facing our state.  

Pages