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 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.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

 

Drought is re-shaping the beef map and raising the price of steak. Ranchers are moving herds from California to Coloradoand from Texas to Nebraska seeking refuge from dry weather. And cattle producers in the Midwest are making the most of it.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The Missouri River burst out of its banks in epic fashion three years ago. The flood covered thousands of acres of land and dredged up old debates about how the river should be run. Now, flooded landowners are suing the Army Corps of Engineers, saying the agency isn’t protecting their land.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

 

Nebraska hog farmers aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on a proposal that would allow meatpacking companies more control over the state’s hog industry. And farmers all over the country are watching.

Currently, a 1998 state law bans meatpacking companies from owning and raising the hogs the process. But lawmakers have proposed an end to the ban, which would allow for more vertical integration of the hog industry.

petrr/Flickr

 

Nearly a third of the food available to be eaten in the U.S. is thrown out instead. And all of that wasted food comes with a steep price tag.

According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans wasted an estimated 133 billion pounds of food in 2010, the most recent year data is available. That’s 31 percent of the food sold at grocery stores and served in restaurants. The study does not include food wasted prior to the retail level.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

The average age of American farmers has been climbing for decades, and many say rural towns are at-risk without new blood. There are enough people who want to farm, but there’s trouble connecting beginning farmers and the communities that need them.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

When it comes to keeping data secure, farmers are worried about some of the same issues as the rest of us. Precision data from the farm could help drive new levels of productivity, but farmers have to decide just how much they want to share.

Precision agriculture started with satellite-guided tractors and maps recording pinpoint levels of grain yields during harvest. But farmers like Dave Beck are taking the next step. 

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

A steady stream of semi-trailers rolls across the scales at the E Energy ethanol plant near the town of Adams in southeast Nebraska. The smokestack behind the scale house sends up a tall plume of white steam. The sweet smell of fermenting corn is in the air.

E Energy buys 65 million bushels of corn each day from area farmers and turns it into 65 million gallons of ethanol each year.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

For the first time in nearly 10 years, the nation’s beef herd may be poised for growth, which could mean relief from rising meat prices. But with the fewest cattle in the beef supply since the 1960s, slow growth won’t cut prices anytime soon.

Bob Hartzler/Iowa State University

New herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans are a step closer to reaching farm fields in the U.S. They would help farmers control weeds that are no longer killed by the popular herbicide, Roundup.

Roundup resistant crops dominate corn, soybean and cotton production in the U.S. But the list of weeds that have evolved to withstand Roundup is growing, and as a result, farmers are using more chemicals to keep up.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Highway 2/71 north of Crawford, in the Nebraska Panhandle, is a ribbon of pavement in a vast rolling grassland broken by the occasional tree covered butte. It runs through an area rancher Dave Moody calls the “gumbo,” thanks to the thick mud that develops after a long rain.

In recent years, the gumbo has seen a string of disasters. Drought dried up the pastures. Wildfires seared the pine forests. Then, in October, an early blizzard piled on.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public MediaI

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.

“Big bluestem is our big producer,” said Rod Christen. “It’s kind of our Cadillac grass.”

Corn prices are down and the farm bill is stalled in Congress. So there's a lot of uncertainly in the air as harvest season gets into full swing across the Midwest. But this is a time of year when farm families like the Friesens in Henderson, Neb., come together to focus on the big task at hand: the corn harvest.

Everyone in the family has a job to do.

"Like my dad — he drives auger wagon," Curt Friesen says. "He drives auger wagon only. That's all he's done since 1976, I think. ... My wife, Nancy, she drives the combine; that's her job."

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, here's a reality about farming. From the earliest days of this country, it's been an uncertain business, and for many decades, national policies have been designed to smooth out that risk. But, of course, the risk never entirely goes away. You can never control the rain, for example, and lately the uncertainty has been growing. Corn prices are down. The farm bill is stalled in Congress and there's a sense that good times may be fading.

From Nebraska, Grant Gerlock of NET News brings us his report.