Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

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

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

 

Rural towns need psychologists, social workers and substance abuse counselors, but there is a chronic shortage. The U.S. needs about 2,700 more clinicians to catch up to demand, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Outside of metropolitan areas there just aren't enough providers to go around.

U.S. Drought Monitor

Iowa’s corn and soybean crops are, for the most part, benefiting from summer heat and timely rains.

Monday’s USDA weekly crop update says statewide corn maturity is five-days ahead of last year, and nearly two-weeks ahead of average. More than a third of the corn acreage is at the dough-stage of maturity.                       

Iowa State University agronomist, Paul Kassel, is based in Spencer, and monitors corn and soybeans in ten northwest and north-central counties.

There’s lots of farmland in Iowa, but only about 1 percent of that land changes ownership in any given year. So if you’re a beginning farmer looking to start out, you’ve got to network with people willing to rent you somewhere to farm or work with your family.

Farms have doubled in size in the last 100 years, and the consolidation of farmland makes it that much harder. That’s according to Chad Hart, an economist at Iowa State University.

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.

 

Flickr / Jason Mrachina

U.S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack will be at the National Governors Association's summer meeting in Des Moines Saturday to discuss the value of local foods to rural economies.

Vilsack says in order to repopulate rural communities, smaller farming operations need consumers that don't put a premium on size and speed. One strategy to carve out markets for these smaller producers is through food hubs.

Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

Food companies and farm groups were the victors Thursday with the passage of a federal bill establishing standards for the disclosure of genetically-modified ingredients in food products.

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.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The USDA’s latest update of Iowa crop shows the state with areas of “haves” and “have-nots”.

Despite abundant rains with water standing in some north Iowa fields, the USDA says topsoil moisture is short-to-very-short in nearly a quarter of the state. 

But 76 percent of the state has adequate-to-surplus top soil moisture.

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 file photo

A successful program in Michigan that helps hungry families buy more healthy food is expanding across the country.

This month, Iowa joins more than a dozen other states in offering Double Up Food Bucks. Although the programs vary a bit from state to state, the basic idea is the same: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) dollars are matched (usually up to a certain cap), giving the shopper more money to spend at farmers markets or other places where local fruits and vegetables are available.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

On this sunny, summer morning in late June, Ronnie Russell is "windshield farming."

Driving from field to field in his Ford pick-up, he can see that his corn is about to tassel, his soybeans are mostly weed-free and white butterflies are floating above the alfalfa.

All three crops, adding up to about 1,500 acres, are grown with genetically-engineered seeds, a technology Russell views as a boon to farming.

Amy Mayer/IPR

When I walked onto the floor of the JBS Marshalltown Pork Plant, I expected the sensory assault to hit my nose first. But turns out it was my ears that first felt the most severe impact. The processing line is noisy. It's also chilly, to protect the meat. That also prevents the sort of noxious smell I had anticipated. Instead of an animal stench, my nose mostly registered cleaning products and a raw meat smell as if I just opened a package of pork chops in my own kitchen.

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.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley says Vermont's GMO-labeling law will almost certainly go into effect before the senate can vote on a nationwide bill. 

Starting Friday, all products sold in Vermont must have labels disclosing which ingredients are genetically modified. 

Because many products are sold nationwide, this state law is becoming the de facto national standard. 

The food and agriculture industries want a national law overriding Vermont’s legislation. But Grassley, an opponent of the Vermont law, says it’s unlikely the senate will vote on a bill until this fall.

Southern Iowa Gets Drier

Jun 27, 2016
U.S. Drought Monitor

Farm fields in central and southeast Iowa remain abnormally dry. Despite weekend rainfalls totaling two-to-three inches in eastern Iowa near Cedar Rapids, some of the state’s driest areas got only about a half-inch. 

Iowa State University Regional Agronomist Megan Anderson’s monitors a 10-county region from Independence to Washington.  That part of Iowa includes counties the National Drought Monitor has listed as abnormally dry or in moderate drought.  She says things are “precarious”.

Just a week before a Vermont law kicks-in requiring labels on food containing genetically modified ingredients, U.S. Senate agriculture leaders announced a deal Thursday that takes the power out of states' hands and sets a mandatory national system for GM disclosures on food products.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, unveiled the plan that had been negotiated for weeks with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan.

Dan Boyce / Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media

Meat consumers in the U.S. enjoy relatively low prices and an array of choices, but there is a high human price tag. The more than 500,000 men and women who work in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants have some of the most dangerous factory jobs in America.

"If you recall the publication of The Jungle back in 1906 - the meat packing industry is similar to that to this day," says Peggy Lowe of Harvest Public Media, referring to the conditions in the plant and circumstances of the factory workers. 

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.

As the summer settles in, the bugs come out, and that includes ants. Iowa State University Extension entomologist Donald Lewis says there are more than 700 species living in Iowa. 

"If you combined all the ants of the world they would weigh about as much as the combined weight of all the humans," Lewis said. 

There are approximately 8,800 different known species that cover the terrestrial surface of the earth, Lewis says, but you need not worry that 8,800 different kinds of ants live in your backyard, as the majority of species live in limited areas of the tropics.

University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment/Flickr

Scientists have discovered a third instance of a bacteria resistant to one of the strongest antibiotics available, raising concerns about the spread of so-called "superbugs."

Researchers found E. coli bacteria resistant to the antibiotic colistin in a pig at an Illinois slaughterhouse, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson said earlier this week. Colistin is often used against bacteria that fail to respond to more common antibiotics.

Harvest Public Media file photo by Stephanie Paige Ogburn/KUNC

Hundreds of thousands of people go to work each day preparing the beef, pork and poultry that ends up on our dinner tables. Their workplace is among the most dangerous in the United States.

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.

Meatpacking workers call it "the chain." Sometimes "the line," or "la linea." It sets the pace for all work done at meat processing plants, production rates that force workers to make in the tens of thousands of cuts, slices and other movements for hours at a time.

Those repetitions affect workers' muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, causing what is called musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, and resulting in sprains, strains, pains, or inflammation. 

Photo by Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media

The nights were often worse for Gabriel, even after long days working on the production line at a pork slaughterhouse in Nebraska.

He had nightmares that the line – what the workers call "the chain" – was moving so fast that instead of gutted hogs flying by, there were people.

"You've been working there for three hours, four hours, and you're working so fast and you see the pigs going faster, faster," he says. 

Dan Boyce/Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media

On the worst day of Greta Horner's life, she was dressed in a burlap robe, waiting by the window for her husband to come home from work.

The couple was down to one car. The other one was in the shop. She donned the costume for a play, set in Old Jerusalem, later that morning, part of Vacation Bible School at the church. She just needed the car to get there. 

U.S. Drought Monitor

The latest weekly crop report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows nearly every day last week was suitable for fieldwork in Iowa.

Farmers were able to make hay and spread fertilizer on their corn and soybeans.

In North Central Iowa’s Winnebago County, producer Wayne Johnson says the sunshine was just what his crops needed.

“We were able to get planting done in pretty timely fashion for the most part,” he says. “Everything went in pretty early except for a couple of soybean field, but the fields are looking great!”

Photo by Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

Thursday was not the day to switch places with Chris Grundler.

Grundler, the director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was in charge of the EPA's one in-person hearing about proposed changes to U.S. ethanol policy

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