Grant Gerlock

Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.

Photo by Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media

The meatpacking plants that enable American consumers to find cheap hamburger and chicken wings in the grocery store are among the most dangerous places to work in the country. Federal regulators and meat companies agree more must be done to make slaughterhouses safer, and while there are signs the industry is stepping up its efforts, danger remains.

The rate of meatpacking workers who lose time or change jobs because they're injured is 70 percent higher than the average for manufacturing workers overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Flickr/USDA

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.

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.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Schools across the U.S. served more than 5 billion meals in the national school lunch program to millions of students last year. Each one of the meals has to meet federal rules for nutrition. Now, those rules are up for debate and Congress could impose changes on the cafeteria.

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.

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.

At the Lee Valley consignment sale near Tekamah, Neb., dozens of used tractors, planters and other equipment were on the auction block for farmers trying to save a few extra dollars. It was a muddy day, with trucks and four-wheelers leaving deep black ruts — fitting conditions for an industry wallowing in bad news.

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.

For the Midwesterner who likes to eat local, this time of year is a challenge. Browse the produce shelves in middle America — or any place where snow falls in winter — and you'll find carrots from Mexico and peppers from Peru.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Earlier this year, Des Moines, Iowa, made news when the city announced it would sue farmers in a legal battle over fertilizer. The city's water supply from the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers often surpasses the legal limit for nitrates (10 mg/L), which commonly appear in water contaminated by runoff from farm fields.

 

All week, Harvest Public Media’s series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.

Americans have a big appetite for everything meat. We smoke it, grill it, slice it, and chop it.

The typical American puts away around 200 pounds of beef, pork, and poultry every year . That’s true in many of the wealthiest countries. But developing countries are showing a growing appetitefor meat.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

 

Like all business owners, farmers want to get paid for their work. Sometimes, that work creates problems for the environment, so regulators are advancing the idea of creating environmental markets to allow farmers to make money off of their conservation practices.

Under plans in development, farmers could generate environmental credits by farming in ways that store carbon, filter out water pollution, or preserve wildlife habitat. Those credits could be bought, sold, and traded by companies that need to balance out their own emissions or pollution.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Farmers in the Midwest are facing a situation they haven't seen in years. Grain prices are down. After some of the most lucrative growing seasons they've ever seen, some producers could lose money on this year's crop. That could slow down the rural economy.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Show day at the Pierce County Fair in Nebraska starts early and goes fast.

I arrived around 9 in the morning, but Emily Lambrecht had already spent an hour and a half in the wash stalls, scrubbing and shampooing her calves so they would sparkle in the show barn.

This was showtime. The 17-year-old 4-H and FFA exhibitor spent months working up to this one day.

Photo by Matt Brooks for NET News

Farmers count on chemical herbicides to keep their fields weed-free. But an international panel of scientists who studied two of the most heavily used farm chemicals to determine whether they could cause cancer, said exposure to weed-killing chemicals could come at a cost. In the last few months, scientists brought together by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, considered glyphosate and 2,4-D.

Photo by Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media

Rodeo season is getting into full swing and at most rodeos, bull riding is the main event. But when the bull ride ends, the work begins for rodeo bullfighters, and a young bullfighter is making a name in the business by putting himself in the middle of the action.

At bull riding time at the Plum Creek Rodeo in Lexington, Neb., the rodeo corral is under the lights and the sun is a ripe orange in the west. Rowdy Moon bounces on the balls of his feet like a boxer waiting for the match to start.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harveset Public Media

The federal government’s complex set of rules meant to spur a renewable fuels industry has fallen behind one of its main goals: cut greenhouse emissions from gasoline.

Nearly a decade after the rules were drafted, low-carbon fuels have yet to arrive. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will propose tweaks to the nation’s ethanol policy by June 1, and the changes will mark a crucial point for the next generation of biofuels, which have so far failed to flourish.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harveset Public Media

California grows almost half the fruits and vegetables in the U.S. It’s also deep in drought and some farms are short on water. That may sound like a chance for Midwestern farmers to churn out more peppers and broccoli, but it’s not that simple.

The California drought is not the golden opportunity that it may seem. Not yet. Even in a drought California still has big advantages over the Midwest.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harveset Public Media

Thousands of people get sick every year from E. coli bacteria in their food. While the beef industry has gone to great lengths to limit illnesses in meat, the industry has been slow to adopt an E. coli vaccine that could keep people from getting sick.

Grant Gerlock/Harveset Public Media

 

Just over a year ago, Tracy Dethlefs learned she has stage 1 breast cancer. Since then, she estimates she’s charted some 10,000 miles travelling from her farm near Loup City in central Nebraska to area hospitals for treatment. Every surgery, round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment was a road trip.

“Radiation treatments usually (take) only about 5 minutes (on) a day that they have to see you,” Dethlefs said. “But for a week, for seven weeks in a row, you’re driving every single day to the cancer treatment center. We’re about an hour away from cancer centers.”

Grant Gerlock/Harveset Public Media

More than a dozen federal agencies form a patchwork system that aims to keep food from making Americans sick. But critics say the old system has worn thin. And some think we would all be safer if food safety at the federal level was brought under one roof.

Walking through Heartland Gourmet in Lincoln, Neb. shows how complicated the food safety system can be. Inside the warehouse pallets are stacked with sacks of potato flour and the smell of fresh baked apple-cinnamon muffins is in the air.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

 

A proposed change to livestock rules has put Nebraska hog farmers at the center of a debate that gets to the very core of what it means to be a farmer today.

In the top pork producing states like Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina, many farmers are under contract with giant meatpackers like Tyson or Smithfield Foods – the companies actually own the pigs and pay the farmers to raise them. That arrangement is illegal in Nebraska.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

You’ve probably seen, but may not have noticed, labels on the meat at your grocery store.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Scientists have noticed that plants are taking in more carbon dioxide during the growing season and giving off more carbon in the fall and winter.

Eric Durban/Harvest Public Media file photo

The High Plains Aquifer lost enough water over a recent two-year period to cover the entire state of Iowa in a foot of water.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

As drought, feed costs, and urban development wear on West Coast milk producers, states like Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa are pitching themselves as a dairy heaven. 

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media file photo

The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that it won’t release rules for how much ethanol oil refiners have to mix in to our gasoline supply this year.

The ethanol rules, called the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), are meant to prop up the U.S. biofuels industry by creating demand for ethanol. Without the rules, both oil companies and the biofuel sector will be left in the dark as to what the demand for ethanol will be.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media file photo

The Farm Bill was passed in February. But now, piece by piece, it’s taking effect. We’re beginning to see how parts of the farm bill are doing more to help farmers go small.

The Farm Bill contains about half a trillion dollars in spending over five years. The vast majority of that pays for huge programs like food stamps and subsidized crop insurance. But this time around, Congress carved out a little more room for local and organic foods, and it’s starting to show.

Pat Aylward/NET News

It’s a hot summer day outside of Lincoln, Neb., and Jack Chappelle is knee-deep in trash. He’s wading in to rotting vegetables, half-eaten burgers and tater tots. Lots of tater tots.

“You can get a lot of tater tots out of schools,” Chappelle says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s elementary, middle school or high school. Tater tots. Bar none.”

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

When they heard Dan Hromas’ truck rolling in, the chickens came strutting. The auburn-feathered Rhode Island Reds stood out, even in the tall, green brome grass of Hromas’ rented 3-acre pasture outside of York, Neb.

The pasture is the center of Hromas’ new farming enterprise. For a little over a year he’s been selling farm eggs to local restaurants, grocery stores, and direct to customers in southeast Nebraska.

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