Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Congress is close to righting an inadvertent wrong, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). At issue is a provision in the tax reform bill passed late last year that favors cooperatively-owned businesses, including many grain elevators.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

As agriculture intensified in the 20th century, summers in the Midwest became wetter and cooler.

Amy Mayer / IPR

No matter how far fruits or vegetables travel, whether they’re grown organically or conventionally, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients. The men and women in the fields try to grow foods with an eye to boosting the health factor, but researchers say it’s hard to measure the precise impact.

About 16.4 million people who receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits would not have a say in how to spend about half of their monthly benefits under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year.

Low-income Americans who receive at least $90 a month would see "about half" of their benefits come in the form of a nonperishable, American-grown “USDA Foods package,” or a "Harvest Box," according to a news release Monday from the USDA, which runs SNAP.

A new, widely debated federal mandate requires truckers to electronically track the number of hours they’re on the road — a rule that’s meant to make highways safer. But there’s a big difference between hauling a load of TVs and a load of cattle destined for meatpacking plants.

2018 Forecast: US Farm Income To Sink To 12-Year Low

Feb 9, 2018

Farm income will likely drop nearly 7 percent from last year to $59.5 billion, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Wednesday. The drop is due to continued low prices for crops like corn and soybeans, as well as higher fuel and labor costs.

Photo by Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

The average American farmer is 60 years old. That means that in the next decade, a lot of land in the country is going to be changing hands.

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Graham Merriweather, director of a new documentary called Farmers for America, which features more than 20 farmers across the country. 

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Supporters of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, based at Iowa State University, are making their case at the statehouse for reinstating the center’s funding.

Many people in Iowa agriculture, and across the region, expressed shock when the legislature took away the funding for the Leopold Center last spring. The center’s existence remains, thanks to a veto from then-Gov. Terry Branstad, but the state funding that made up the bulk of its budget was zeroed out.

Kristofor Husted / file: Harvest Public Media

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union Address Tuesday and the nation’s roads, bridges, rails and rivers will be on many people’s minds in the Midwest.

Trump has said he’s committed to improving the country’s infrastructure and now Mike Steenhoek, director of the Soy Transportation Coalition in Ankeny, wants to hear some specifics. Steenhoek says it’s an issue that cuts across many industries and speaks to people in all corners of the country.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

After two major livestock diseases ravaged Iowa’s poultry and hog industries, state and federal officials are asking farmers to prepare for future outbreaks. They are particularly concerned about viruses not yet found in North America.

Three illnesses they’re most worried about, foot and mouth disease, classical swine fever and African swine fever, wouldn’t sicken humans but could shut-down meat exports, which Iowa producers depend on for much of their income.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

That’s what happened to the Delaneys, a family now trying to save their farm near Fremont, in eastern Nebraska.

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Now that the three-day partial federal government shutdown has ended, Iowa’s senior senator says it’s time to complete some unfinished business.

Republican Chuck Grassley says some 30 tax provisions that expired at the end of 2016 are top on his list, including one for biodiesel.

“Its lapse has created uncertainty for everyone from soybean farmers to biodiesel producers to truck stops,” Grassley says. “I’ve been strongly advocating for acting as soon as possible on extenders legislation that includes an extension of the biodiesel credit.”

Amy Mayer/IPR

In the coming months, Congress will map out how it’ll spend upwards of $500 billion on food and farm programs over the next five years.

The massive piece of legislation known as the farm bill affects all taxpayers — whether they know it or not — and runs the gamut from farm safety net and conservation programs to food stamps and loan guarantees for rural hospitals. Since the bill hasn’t been introduced yet, now is the time when interest groups, farmers and others with a stake clamor to ensure their desires will be heard.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A nine-year study of cereal rye as a cover crop shows it can lead to higher soybean and corn yields, and that’s in addition to the environmental benefits it offers.

Two non-profits, Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers of Iowa, compared strips of fields planted with cereal rye in the fall and those without it. The rye helps keep nutrients and soil in place, and also keeps down some weeds. Plus, in areas with multiple years of the cover crop, some farmers reported harvesting slightly more soybeans and corn.

As President Donald Trump and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue made the rounds this week to reiterate their commitment to rural communities and farmers and ranchers, the federal agency that President Abraham Lincoln established still lacks top appointments.

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China is the largest importer of U.S. soybeans and, as of this week, the country wants more information on incoming containers.

Soybeans are tested for quality and the ones headed for China under most contracts can have up to two percent so-called foreign material—dirt, stems, grass and weed seeds, according to Iowa State University agricultural engineering professor Charles Hurburgh.

“The Chinese have observed certain weeds, the concentration—the levels—of certain weed seeds to be going up,” Hurburgh says.

Pat Blank/IPR

The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts its Census of Agriculture every five years, and farmers have just a few weeks remaining to return their 2017 forms.

Iowa’s deputy secretary of agriculture, Mike Naig, says business, universities, and local and national farm groups use Census of Agriculture data to inform funding and program decisions because the survey gets robust and unbiased results. But only when everyone eligible takes it seriously.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts consumers will be paying less for beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey in early 2018 than at the start of 2017. Not so for eggs.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a lawsuit that argues the federal agency must bring back a proposed rule that defined abusive practices by meatpacking companies.

Farmers from Alabama and Nebraska and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a nonprofit that works on competition issues in agriculture, filed the suit Thursday in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Peyton Manning, the NFL quarterback-turned-pitchman, apparently has another side hustle: Certifying shipments of grain as organic for a Nebraska-based agency called OneCert.

Problem is, OneCert president Sam Welsch doesn’t remember hiring Manning for his business, which is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect everything from small vegetable farms to processing plants and international grain operations.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The value of Iowa’s farmland has increased 2 percent over the past year, but the uptick may not indicate improvements to the overall farm economy.

The annual Iowa Land Values Survey found the small increase this year after three consecutive years of farmland values slipping.

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

A congressional watchdog agency called on the federal government Thursday to better protect meatpacking workers, who are often exposed to dangerous chemicals, not allowed bathroom breaks and refused medical treatment.

The General Accountability Office’s report said the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration faces a challenge when it comes to addressing safety concerns in meat and poultry plants because workers may not report problems out of fear of retaliation.

Mighty Earth

Environmental activists were at the Tyson meatpacking plant in Perry Thursday delivering a petition bearing more than 1,000 names. It was part of a nationwide drive calling for the company to purchase sustainable grains as a way to reduce water pollution.

A group calling itself Mighty Earth is delivering petitions at seven Tyson locations across the country, A field organizer for the Iowa chapter of Mighty Earth, Elise Peterson-Trujillo, says the environmentalists are asking the nation’s largest meat producer to live by its pledge to pursue sustainable practices.

Puerto Rico’s hot winter days and warm nights have played a key role in the global seed business for more than 30 years. So, the devastation wrought on the U.S. territory by Hurricane Maria in September stretches to the croplands of the Midwest and Great Plains.

Fields in Puerto Rico are used for research, development and/or testing of up to 85 percent of the commercial corn, soybean and other hybrid seeds grown in the U.S., according to the Puerto Rico Agricultural Biotechnology Industry Association.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A new partnership between the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, which manages the federal crop insurance program, aims to keep more of Iowa’s farmland green in the off-season.

The cover crop premium discount will give farmers five dollars per acre off on their crop insurance premium for acres they plant with cover crops.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Sarah Carlson says in a national survey farmers indicated they wanted this type of program.

In the hopes of not repeating a problematic year for soybean crops, farmers across the U.S. are deciding how best to protect their crops and their livelihood next year from drift damage caused by the weed killer dicamba.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Now that Iowa farmers have most of their corn and soybeans out of the field and into the bins, the numbers suggest another great year for production… and another down year for prices.

Since 2014, the farm economy has been in a downturn, says Iowa State University extension economist Chad Hart. But he says most farms are muddling through.

Between the time a cut of steak or pound of hamburger goes from cattle farm to grocery shelf, it more than likely passes through one of three companies: Tyson Foods, Cargill or JBS.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top four beef processors hold 85 percent of the market share, controlling the beef market to the point that some farmers believe the companies’ clout unfairly influences livestock prices.

Last month, the USDA withdrew a rule proposed in the final weeks of the Obama administration that would have made it easier for cattle producers to raise objections if they thought meatpackers weren’t giving them a fair price.

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