agriculture

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.

Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media

Living in the Platte River Valley in central Nebraska means understanding that the water in your well may contain high levels of nitrates and may not be safe to drink.

"When our first son was born in 1980, we actually put a distiller in for our drinking water here in the house," says Ken Seim, who lives in the Platte Valley near the town of Chapman, Nebraska. "And at that time our water level was 12 parts per million."

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Contaminated drinking water isn't just a problem for Flint, Michigan. Many towns and cities across the Midwest and Great Plains face pollution seeping into their water supplies. A big part of the problem: farming and ranching.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

 

In an effort to turn away from chemical pesticides, which have the potential to damage the environment, some farmers are looking in a new direction in the age-old, quiet struggle on farm fields of farmers versus pests. They're warding off intruding insects and noxious weeds with bugs and chickens.

Amy Mayer/IPR

As driverless cars begin to roam the streets, autonomous farm machinery is not far behind. The same fundamental technology that allows a vehicle to maneuver through city traffic may someday let a farmer send his tractor off to work on its own.

New Holland, the Pennsylvania-based equipment maker, demonstrated one of its large tractors outfitted to run autonomously during the recent Farm Progress Show in Boone.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa State Extension's Women in Agriculture Program is recognizing several Iowans as Women Impacting the Land. The awards celebrate farm work ranging from traditional row crops to livestock to perennial trees and nuts. Madeline Schultz, the director of the Women in Agriculture program, says the increased awareness of women's contributions to farming inspired the awards.

Amy Mayer/IPR

A group of agricultural companies, food manufacturers, retailers and environmental groups plant to raise money to further conservation practices in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.

The Midwest Row Crop Collaborative announced its launch at the Farm Progress Show in Boone Wednesday. Founding partners include Cargill, the Environmental Defense Fund, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart and the World Wildlife Fund.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Larry Gerdes is having his barn taken down and disassembled in Malta Bend, Mo. It's about the size of a three-car garage but stands much taller in a clearing surrounded by six-foot stalks of corn.

The barn's exterior is graying, part of its roof is missing and there's a gaping hole looking out from the hayloft. It's about 100 years old and it's not really useful.

"It's deteriorated and it would cost a lot of money to repair it," Gerdes says. "And it doesn't fit into the modern farming. Unless you got two cows to let them loaf inside, nothing fits and it's just obsolete."

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.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a trip to the Midwest last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack offered some advice to the next presidential administration. As the candidates tour the country and remain largely silent on agriculture and food issues, the Agriculture Department’s purview remains important.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a hot, July day in Boone County, farmer Brett Heineman shuttled a semi from one of his family's fields to the local co-op. He and his uncle were harvesting the first crop of oats on this farm in decades.

Before, corn and soybeans almost completely covered the landscape -- today, they account for 95 percent of crop acres in Iowa -- most Corn Belt farmers also grew oats or alfalfa. Now, the Heinemans are among the farmers taking a closer look at re-integrating the small grain into their operations.

Courtesy of Becky Herman

Iowa’s first cricket farm that’s producing crickets for human consumption is up and running. Becky Herman is a co-founder of Iowa Cricket Farmer, and she says right now, she’s got nearly 200,000 cricket living in blue bins at the farm. She’s a school teacher and said the idea came to her in the classroom.

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.

Suzanne Hogan for Harvest Public Media

 

Urban farms and gardens are popping up in cities all over the country, often touted as the key to a sustainable lifestyle, as creating healthy vibrant communities and promoting economic development. A new study by the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, however, says urban agriculture advocates need to be careful about overselling the benefits.

Cultural Impact

Amy Mayer/IPR

Growing up on a family farm in West Bend, Haley Banwart and her brother were like other farm kids.They did chores, participated in 4-H, and even raised cattle together.

"My brother and I have had the same amount of responsibilities. I can drive a tractor, I can bale square hay," Banwart says. "But it was just expected that my brother would return home."

 

She says they never discussed it, she just accepted that she’d find a different path.

 

Rick Fredericksen/IPR file photo

A new study supports planting perennial grasses on current cropland as a way to reduce nutrient loss from farm fields.

 

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Senate late Thursday approved a bill that outlaws states' efforts to put labels on food products made with genetically-modified organisms and instead gives companies more leeway in disclosing GMOs.

The measure must still be passed by the U.S. House, but there are lots of questions. Harvest Public Media has been watching this ongoing battle for more than a year and we have answers for the five big questions about this latest volley in this food fight.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

Peggy Fogle and her dog, Abe, walk among rows of aronia berry bushes on the family property outside Carlisle. Plants on the ends of rows are smaller from years of being nibbled by deer and rabbits. But on nearly nine acres, filling four separate fields, the bushes are reaching maturity, eight years after Fogle and her husband decided to put in their first ones.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The proposed takeover of a major seed company by a Chinese government business is getting some scrutiny on Capitol Hill. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) chairs the Senate Judiciary committee and says he's looking at state-owned ChemChina's plans to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

U.S. Drought Monitor

While northwest and north Iowa farm fields are struggling with too much rain, a good share of southeast Iowa is too dry.   The USDA’s weekly update Monday afternoon lists more than 50-percent of south-central and southeast Iowa short to very short of top-soil moisture.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Midwest farmers may be facing some of the toughest financial times they have experienced in three decades, largely thanks to low prices for some of the region's biggest crops.

The average net farm income for farmers in Kansas, for instance, plummeted in 2015 to just $4,568, according to a report released this week by the Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA). The figure is less than 5 percent of the previous year's average of $128,731.

IPR Photo by Amy Mayer

Consumer demand, public health concerns and new federal rules all are driving the pork industry away from routine use of certain antibiotics. Booths at the World Pork Expo, a three-day event underway this week at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, reflect the move away from antibiotics.

Dean Borg/IPR

Water gleams between green rows of young corn and soybean plants in some north Iowa fields. Wild geese gather in small ponds where corn should be growing.

USDA’s weekly crop update issued Monday says, “Farmers in the northern one-third of the state are struggling with wet spots.”

Iowa State University Extension Agronomist, Paul Kassel, monitors 10 north Iowa counties stretching from Forest City to Sac City.  He says persistent, heavy rains have drowned some corn plants and slowed soybean planting.

Kristi Koser for Harvest Public Media

At the grocery store, processed foods like cereal, crackers and candy usually maintain the same price for a long time, and inch up only gradually. Economists call these prices "sticky" because they don't move much even as some of the commodities that go into them do.

Take corn, for example, which can be a major food player as a grain, a starch or a sweetener.  

Corn prices can fluctuate widely, so why don't products containing corn also see price changes? Why does your cereal pretty much cost $3 per box every week?

It's partly thanks to the futures market.

Flickr/TimSackton

Expansion in the country’s beef cattle herd is bringing cheaper meat prices to the grocery store just in time for the summer grilling season, but those reduced prices might get some scrutiny on Capitol Hill. U.S.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The U.S. Senate Agriculture committee will hold an oversight hearing this week to look at the Farm Credit System. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sits on the committee, says the hearing will examine concerns that the agency has strayed from its mission to lend money to rural Americans with little access to credit.

"There are some interests that have been expressed to us, outside this hearing, who would say that the Farm Credit System has gone beyond its goal and purpose of helping rural America and farming in particular," he said.

USDA/Flickr

An outbreak of a bird flu has hit southwestern Missouri. While less contagious than the strain of avian flu that devastated the Midwest chicken and turkey industry last spring, the infection is still potent enough to call for the destruction of birds.

On Wednesday, when the outbreak was confirmed by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the commercial turkey farm in Jaspar County, near Joplin, was still quarantined. Some 39,000 birds were destroyed last week as a precaution.

USDA/Flickr

The federal Food and Drug Administration calls a report of a new low in poultry salmonella rates "encouraging."

The study is part of a larger government effort to reduce the persistently high rates of the food-borne illness in chicken and turkey, especially illnesses caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.  

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

The population of Northern Colorado is booming. People are flocking to the area and population numbers are on the rise.

The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Weld and Larimer counties already sport high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region's feeding operations. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows to churn out the milk needed to produce bricks of mozzarella cheese and whey protein powder.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

As farmers put their 2016 crops in the ground, they face another year of corn and soybean prices that will make turning a profit on the land challenging. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says already he's seeing early signs of strain in the farm economy.

"We're hearing a little bit from bankers," he said. "We're hearing isolated instances of farmers [hurting]. We're hearing that the 800 number where farmers that are in trouble can call in and ask for help or get advice that they're getting a few more calls now."

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