agriculture

File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Large livestock farms likely will have to report high levels of two types of emissions as of Wednesday, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s last-minute effort to further delay a federal rule it’s been trying to modify for years.

The EPA tried to exempt most farms, including concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs, from having to report emissions of two air pollutants — hydrogen sulfide or ammonia — that are considered hazardous.

The World Health Organization released recommendations this week to curb the use of antibiotics in livestock, saying it could help reduce the risk of drug-resistant infections in humans.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says some of the guidelines from the United Nations’ public health agency would place “unnecessary and unrealistic constraints” on farmers and veterinarians. It's a disagreement that could have an impact on farm exports.

On a feedlot in far southwest Kansas, two cowboys on horseback move cattle on the high dusty plains, spread out like dozens of football fields stitched together with miles of fences. Their “Buenos dias! Buenos dias!” greetings mix with moos on a hot summer morning.

They’re two of the 400 employees who work on the feedlot, which is one of the largest in the U.S. in a state that ranks third in meat production. 

An event Monday planned to mark two Midwestern political appointees joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture was partly spoiled by a political dispute over biofuels.  

Burkey Farms in southeast Nebraska looked into the future a couple of years ago and didn’t like what it saw — a continuation of depressed prices for conventional corn and soybeans. So, the families who run the farm together started discussing how the operation would make money if they couldn’t earn more from their crops.  

Their conversation took a turn toward organics, a $40 billion industry and growing, especially in Iowa and Colorado.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Republican and Democratic senators from top corn- and ethanol-producing states say their pressure helped prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from changing rules governing renewable fuel production.

But at least one senator, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, says President Trump was their ace in the hole against an EPA chief who has deep ties to the oil and gas industry.

New Ag Guestworker Program Legislation Headed To US House

Oct 26, 2017

A bill to overhaul the federal agricultural guestworker program cleared its first hurdle Wednesday and is headed to the full U.S. House.

The Republican-majority House Judiciary Committee passed the bill 17-16 after two days of debate and over the objections of many Democrats. It’s likely to clear the House, though its future in the Senate is unclear.

Madeleine King/Iowa Public Radio

What's the solution to Iowa water quality issues? One approach is to get cities, suburbs, and farms together to find solutions.  In this special edition of River to River, hear highlights from a recent panel discussion held at the Iowa Tap Room in Des Moines.  IPR's Clay Masters moderated the conversation.  

Dean Borg/IPR

Iowa’s corn and soybean crops are now racing the fall weather. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly update says all of the state’s corn acreage is mature, but most of it is still in the field.

Only 23 percent of the corn crop is harvested. That’s two weeks behind average, and the smallest percentage at this stage of the season since 2009.

It’s the same for soybeans, the latest in the last eight years, with more than a one third of the Iowa’s soybean crop still in the field.

The USDA’s report says yields are running better than expected.

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Farm lenders in northern Iowa are taking proactive steps to prevent farm foreclosures, and a business consultant says that has kept many struggling farmers in business while commodity prices remain low.    

David Underwood in Mason City, director of CFO On Demand, follows economic trends in that part of the state.   

He says lenders have formed so-called crisis committees to work with farmers before they get into too much trouble.

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.

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.”  

A new report suggests the Environmental Protection Agency should consider lowering the legal limit in drinking water for nitrates, a chemical often connected to fertilizer use.

People who drink water with elevated, but not illegal, levels of nitrates could be at an increased risk of kidney, ovarian and bladder cancer, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group asserts. But a University of Iowa researcher who studies nitrate contamination says the connection to cancer is inconsistent and other chemicals may be involved.

There will be new restrictions on the weed killer dicamba for the 2018 growing season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

The broadly defined restrictions, similar to what the state of Missouri imposed over the summer, were announced Friday in a news release. The EPA says it reached an agreement with agriculture giants Monsanto, BASF and DuPont on ways to tamp down on dicamba drift, which has been blamed for destroying or damaging millions of acres of crops in the United States.

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.

As soybean and cotton farmers across the Midwest and South continue to see their crops ravaged from the weed killer dicamba, new complaints have pointed to the herbicide as a factor in widespread damage to oak trees.

Monsanto and BASF, two of agriculture’s largest seed and pesticide providers, released versions of the dicamba this growing season. The new versions came several months after Monsanto released its latest cotton and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist dicamba in 2016. Since then, farmers across the Midwest and South have blamed drift from dicamba for ruining millions of acres of soybeans and cotton produced by older versions of seeds.

Now, complaints have emerged that the misuse of dicamba may be responsible for damage to oak trees in Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee.

Don Graham / Flickr

Iowa has been the “king of corn” for almost two decades. In 2015, Iowa corn farmers grew 2.5 billion bushels of corn on 13 million acres of land. Iowa is also the number one pork producer in the U.S.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe hosts a conversation exploring how Iowa became the agricultural powerhouse that it is today, as well as how farming has influenced Iowa's culture.

Precision Agriculture 101

Oct 2, 2017
Flickr Creative Commons

In 1960, the average yield per acre of seed corn in Iowa was 63.5 bushels per acre. Last year, that same measure was 203 bushels per acre, because of advancements in farming technology like precision agriculture.

Precision agriculture includes auto-steering, yield monitoring, precision planting, and  "allows a farmer to really have a window into his machine and see what's going on," said Pete Youngblut, owner of Youngblut Ag, an independent precision agriculture product dealer in Dysart.

In the summer of 2002, water pumps in Colorado’s San Luis Valley stopped working.

The center pivot sprinklers that coax shoots from the dry soil and turn the valley into one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions strained so hard to pull water from an underground aquifer that they created sunken pits around them.

“This one right over here,” says potato farmer Doug Messick as he walks toward a sprinkler, near the town of Center. He's the farm manager for the valley's Spud Grower Farms. “I came up to it one day and I could’ve driven my pickup in that hole.”

New Book Highlights Experience of 25 Women Farmers

Sep 28, 2017
Image courtesy of Barbara Hall

In 2017, women own more than half of the land in Iowa, and more women are farming that land. The new book Women and the Land, written by Barbara Hall and photographed by Kathryn Gamble, details the historical relationship between the women and the land of Iowa. Hall discusses the inspiration for the book, which serendipitously comes from an Iowa Public Radio broadcast she heard in 2014.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

As farmers prepare to start the harvest, they have a fresh commitment from one of the leading importers of corn and dried distiller's grains.

A delegation from Taiwan recently visited Iowa and promised to buy 197 million bushels of corn and a half-million tons of dried distiller's grains.

"This represents roughly 20 percent of the US export of corn," says Atalissa farmer Mark Heckman, who met with the Taiwanese visitors and serves on the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. "From a distiller's grains purchasers (perspective), they're number 1 now that China is not in this market."

WIKICOMMONS / EPA

An attempt to toughen environmental standards for confined animal feeding operations has failed as the state’s Environmental Protection Commission says it lacks the jurisdiction to reform the current permitting process.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the D.C.-based Food & Water Watch filed the request. They want the EPC to create stricter rules and complain the current permit process’s scoring system, known at the master matrix, offers no meaningful evaluation of environmental or community protections. 

Dean Borg/IPR

The U. S. Department of Agriculture’s latest estimate for corn and soybean yields was disappointing for Iowa farmers, and concerning for Iowa’s cash-strapped state government budget.

Grain traders and market analysts had been expecting the yield estimates to be lowered because of persistent dry weather.  But, USDA increased projected fall harvest for corn and soybeans Tuesday by about one-half bushel per acre. That sent grains markets sliding.

Fixing Your Late-Summer Patchy Lawn

Sep 6, 2017
Image courtesy of Hans Braxmeier

It can be very frustrating when the picturesque, cloudless blue summer sky is undercut by a patchy, dead-looking lawn. In these last days of summer, it's common to assume that a discolored lawn is dead, but Iowa State University Extension Turfgrass Specialist Adam Thoms recommends inspecting the lawn more closely before assuming anything.

corn on truck
pixabay

Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent tropical storm could cause shipping delays and damage to infrastructure that is necessary for Iowa’s agricultural exports.

About 60 percent of soybean and corn exports leave the U.S. from the lower Mississippi River. 

Mike Steenhoek is executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. He says prolonged rainfall along the Gulf Coast is delaying some barge unloading and ocean vessel loading.

Steenhoek says the rain is also washing out railroads and putting stress on bridges.

CHAFER MACHINERY/CREATIVE COMMONS

Applying large amounts of pesticides to farm fields can have negative effects on babies born to mothers living nearby, according to new research.

The data-crunching study published in Nature Communications looked at the farm-heavy San Joaquin Valley in California, where a variety of pesticides get applied to dozens of different crops including fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Iowa’s efforts to improve water quality could get a boost in the next legislative session.

At a meeting Monday in Des Moines to highlight partnerships among farmers, environmental groups, and state and federal agencies, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says lawmakers would likely send more money to conservation efforts in the coming years.

courtesy Iowans for Sam Clovis

As President Donald Trump continues to fill political appointments, his nomination for the top science job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is raising unique concerns.

Trump has chosen Iowan Sam Clovis to be undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics. Clovis served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, has a doctorate in public administration, and taught economics at Morningside College in Sioux City.

Sioux City is also where he gained a following as a conservative talk show host.

Photo courtesy of Black Valley Films

The Iowa State Fair is known worldwide as a showcase for all things food-related. This year, that includes a new documentary about a controversial topic: genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Food Evolution was commissioned by the non-profit, International Food Technologists and it seeks to "follow the science" to get the truth about GMOs. The science led the filmmakers to produce something that comes down squarely in favor of what they say is a technique that's misunderstood and often vilified.

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