Agribusiness

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Two giants of American agriculture and industry are closer to becoming one.

 

Dow and DuPont, both leaders in agricultural chemicals and seeds, among other products, received approval from the U.S. Department of Justice to move ahead with a merger, provided they divest several products.

 

file: Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

President Trump is touting the need to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, and water transportation systems this week and farmers are among those hoping to benefit from new federal attention to infrastructure.

 

As a group of visiting scientists prepared to board a plane in Hawaii that would take them back home to China, U.S. customs agents found rice seeds in their luggage. Those seeds are likely to land at least one scientist in federal prison.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Sales of organic food reportedly climbed to record highs in 2016, an indication organics are edging toward the mainstream.

 

In a new industry report, the Organic Trade Association says American consumers spent $43 billion on organic products in 2016, which accounts for more than 5 percent of total U.S. food sales, a high water mark for the organic industry.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Consolidation of agriculture companies continues, as several deals move toward completion this summer.

The state-owned ChemChina purchase of Syngenta is likely to be the first to close, perhaps as soon as next month. Iowa’s homegrown agribusiness Pioneer, already a subsidiary of DuPont, will be swallowed up by chemical giant Dow. And Bayer, the German maker of aspirin and ag chemicals, is poised to buy Monsanto.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pushed for careful oversight of these deals. He says it’s clear now they’re all likely to move forward.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa State University’s Tractor Pull Club is competing in the International Quarter-Scale Student Tractor Design Competition this week. Students from mechanical, industrial, and agriculture and biosystems engineering build a small tractor, about the size of a ride-on lawn mower, that tries to outperform the others in tests of brute strength, durability and maneuverability.

This year 30 schools are sending teams to Peoria, Illinois and ISU’s club is hoping a winning innovation from last year will help it finish near the top.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

This summer, in cornfields in Iowa and Nebraska, about a thousand small point-and-shoot digital cameras will be enclosed in waterproof cases, mounted on poles and attached to solar-powered battery chargers. They will take pictures every ten minutes as plants grow; all part of a plan to create better seeds.

 

New U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday explained President Donald Trump’s turn-around on the North American Free Trade Agreement as just part of the negotiations in his deal making.

A new tractor often costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but not included in that price: the right to repair it. That has put farmers on the front lines of a battle pitting consumers against the makers of all kinds of consumer goods, from tractors to refrigerators to smart phones.  

Amy Mayer/IPR

Hybrid seed corn and nitrogen fertilizer transformed farming in the 20th century, but they are also closely tied to some of today’s major agricultural challenges. That has prompted some members of two families that played pivotal roles in developing farm innovations to work on putting a lighter, 21st century stamp on the landscape.

In Carlisle, Iowa, Rob Fleming still uses the 1947 Ford 2n tractor he drove on the family farm as a teenager. Back then, his family’s fields were lined with neat rows of corn. Not anymore.

Flickr / Regina Hart

Though there have not been any U.S. cases of the strain of avian flu that has killed more than 140 people in China this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s head veterinarian says the agency is making preparations to combat the deadly virus in case it reaches North America. 

The USDA’s Dr. Jack Shere says it's impossible to predict how far a particular bird flu strain may travel or mutate. In the meantime, however, scientists are on alert. 

WIKICOMMONS / EPA

A hog confinement that could contain nearly 7,500 animals is being proposed in north-central Hancock County. County Supervisor Jerry Tlach says he’s in support of the new Peacock Farms facility. He says it will provide jobs for young farmers hoping to remain in area.

Photo by Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

Mexico may be ready to hit America – and especially Iowa – where it hurts. Namely, in corn exports. Mexico is one of the top buyers of American corn, and Iowa is one of the top corn-producing states. In response to President Trump’s threats against Mexico, a Mexican senator said this week that he would introduce a bill that directs Mexico to buy its corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States.

John Pemble, Iowa Public Radio

President Trump is following through on a campaign promise by halting negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The executive action may lead farm groups to take a different approach to trade.

Pat Blank/IPR

It was a banner year for Iowa’s 100 or so Christmas tree farms, but some producers worry the future may not be as bright.

It’s been a busy month for the Wickiup Hill Tree Farm near Toddville in Eastern Iowa.  Operations manager Tim Andrews says they sold out of trees almost two weeks ago, but the work continues year round.

“This year the weather was warm, so it was enjoyable," he says.  "Some years it’s downright cold, the opposite of it is during the summertime when we’re shearing the trees, the heat index can be 110 or 115, so it’s not for the weak or faint of heart.” 

Fred Knapp for Harveset Public Media

 

A proposal that would jumpstart the chicken business in Nebraska has some residents concerned about the potential impact on the environment and are trying to block or delay its construction.

Costco, the warehouse retailer and grocery chain, plans to build a giant $300 million chicken slaughterhouse on the south side of the town of Fremont in eastern Nebraska.

Flickr / TumblingRun

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to boost the amount of ethanol blended into the nation’s fuel supply under new rules issued Wednesday.

The EPA finalized the rules governing ethanol production, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), for 2017, adding about 1.2 billion gallons in total renewable fuel. That’s an increase of about 6 percent year-over-year.

Pat Blank/IPR

Corn and soybeans weren’t the only bumper crops in Iowa this year.

State Agriculture Department officials say pumpkin production was the best it’s been for many seasons.

Specialty crops expert Maury Wills says the number of local growers who allow customers to pick their own produce has tripled.

“When you can go out and actually pick the pumpkin off the ground, put it in a wagon and haul it up to the apple barn and pay for it there," he says, “It gives the family really good experience up close on the farm."

Amy Mayer/IPR

If Dow and DuPont succeed with their proposal to merge and spinoff three companies, one focused on agribusiness, the new companies will open a fresh chapter in the corporate histories of two titans of American industry.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

Five of the six biggest companies that produce and sell seeds and chemicals to the world's farmers are pursuing deals that could leave a market dominated by just three giant, global companies. They say getting bigger means bringing more sophisticated and innovative solutions to farmers faster, but opponents say consolidation has irreversible downsides.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The massive industry that supplies farmers with the tools to raise crops is on the brink of a watershed moment. High-profile deals that would see some of the largest global agri-chemical companies combine are in the works and could have ripple effects from farm fields to dinner tables across the globe.

Pat Blank/IPR

It’s hard to ignore a blaring train whistle, flashing lights and bells.

But people do it all the time, both in cars and on foot.  Last year, two people in Iowa died in train accidents and another ten were injured.  Last weekend in Linn County, Iowa's second fatal accident this year between a train and a vehicle occurred near Alburnett.  That incident has sharpened the focus of a statewide rail safety campaign.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A lawsuit farmers have filed against seed giant Syngenta will proceed as a class action, potentially involving hundreds of thousands of corn growers nationwide.

U.S. District Court Judge John Lungstrum approved the motion to certify the Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation as a class action Monday in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Farming in the fertile Midwest is tied to an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But scientists are studying new ways to lessen the Midwest's environmental impact and improve water quality.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the so-called "dead zone," an area of sea without enough oxygen to support most marine life, to grow larger than the size of Connecticut, or roughly 6,000 square miles.  

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Standing on a platform above the eastern bank of the Missouri River at the Kansas City, Missouri, Water Services intake plant is like being on the deck of a large ship.

Electric turbines create a vibration along the blue railing, where David Greene, laboratory manager for Kansas City Water Services, looks out across the river. Water the color of chocolate milk is sucked up and forced through screens below, picking up all the debris the river carries downstream.  

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.

Amy Mayer/IPR

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."

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

St. Louis-based Monsanto, a world agribusiness leader, has agreed to be acquired by the German company Bayer. Bayer will pay $57 billion dollars, or $128 per share, in a deal that has been in the works since last spring.

Two other mergers are underway in the industry, with Dow set to combine with DuPont (already the owner of Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer) and ChemChina planning to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to examine proposed mergers among agricultural chemical and seed companies in a September hearing.

 

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa's senior US senator says the proposed mergers of major agricultural seed and chemical companies should get coordinated review from multiple federal agencies.

Chuck Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and often presses government agencies to make sure proposed mergers will not stymie competition. Right now, he says the Department of Justice is looking at the proposed Dow-DuPont merger. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing ChemChina's bid to take over Syngenta.

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