Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

Food safety regulators are hoping new rules will reduce the number of Americans sickened by salmonella bacteria found on the chicken they eat. Currently, salmonella is estimated to cause about 1 million illnesses a year.

NIAID

Regulators are taking aim at foodborne illnesses caused by salmonella. The Department of Agriculture has been able to cut the amount of salmonella found on whole chickens. Now it’s putting in place stricter limits on the amount of bacteria it will allow on cut-up chicken parts and on ground chicken and turkey.

“I think it makes the industry look at things in a different way and say we’ve made progress in one aspect of the production and processing, now we need to make progress in some of these other areas,” says James Dickson, who studies food safety at Iowa State University.

Courtesy Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

The U.S. is formally part of the biggest global trade partnership in history after the countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership symbolically signed the deal in New Zealand. For President Obama, now comes the hard work.  

 

Restoring Prairie on the Great Plains

Feb 4, 2016
Courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institute

From the air, the Midwest looks like a patchwork of cropland and pastures. But before the land was turned over to plows and center pivots, most of it was a sea of grass. 

Native grasslands were first plowed by pioneers homesteading on the plains. More land was converted to crops as tractors and machinery arrived on the farm and conversion of land intensified. 

Shanti Sellz is Johnson county's newest hire. Her focus: is going to be on planning and helping bolster the local foods supply chain around the Iowa City area. 

"I would like to focus on the access piece. There is a very large demand in this community, but there are not a lot of people who are involved," Sellz says. "We really want to create opportunities for growers to get connected with institutions – hospitals, the university, the farm to school movement." 

Photo by Amy Mayer

Delays by the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped make the outbreak of a fast-spreading pig virus worse, according to a federal watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a critical report last month on the USDA’s handling of 2013’s outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus. (pdf)

Wikimedia Commons

As demand for fresh, local food intensifies, growers are getting more serious about providing produce outside the growing season. Home gardeners can grow greens at home during the winter months too. Chris Currey is an assistant professor of horticulture at Iowa State University, and he says hydroponic gardening is becoming more popular. 

Iowa Public Radio / Amy Mayer

Iowa’s Agriculture Secretary says his department needs more money to prevent future outbreaks of avian influenza and other livestock diseases. A request for an additional $500,000 in funding was not in the governor’s budget that was released last week, so Sec. Bill Northey reiterated his request to the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. 

The funding would go towards training and equipment. Also, the department says it wants to hire a veterinarian and program coordinator to monitor animal diseases in the state. 

Sally Reick

Candidates running for president have been in and out of Iowa for the last several months outlining their positions on the environment, taxes, gun control and health care. Have you heard any of them talk about their position on food? On this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Richardo Salvador and Mark Bittman about their push to create a conversation about food policy, and how the government subsidizes food production.

Harvest Public Media file photo by Eric Durban

Worried about the price of wheat on the global market, Midwest farmers are planting less.

Nationwide, farmers seeded about 5 million fewer acres in wheat this planting season than they did two years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Winter Wheat Seedings Report (PDF) issued Tuesday.

Varieties of winter wheat, which is mostly grown in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Montana, make up the lion's share of U.S. wheat production.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The time is ripe for the sharing economy in farm country.

Much like other Web-based companies such as Airbnb or Uber, a site dedicated to leasing and using farm equipment is making available expensive machinery during the times producers need it most. And the idea is taking root as crop and livestock prices trend lower and costs climb higher.

"You get innovative when things get tighter," said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University. "We're looking for ways to enhance income right now especially in a low margin environment."

Stan Shebs

During the long, gray days of winter, some gardeners take comfort by looking through seed catalogs, and others find solace in the beauty of indoor houseplants. Cindy Haynes, an associate professor of horticulture at Iowa State University, says there are several indoor plants that are easy to care for during the winter months.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Advocates for listing the monarch butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act are tired of waiting for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make up its mind.

"We filed a notice of intent to sue so that they have to give us a date to make that decision on whether or not they're going to protect the monarch," says Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity which, along with other groups, petitioned the federal agency in 2014 citing an 80-percent decline in the monarch population over the past 20 years.

Pat Blank/IPR

The Meskwaki Tribe near Tama has been awarded a one-point-six million dollar grant from the U.S Department of Human Services.

The money will be used over the course of five years to expand the tribe’s forty acre produce farm known as Red Earth Gardens.

Economic Development Director Larry Lasley says part of the project’s mission is to revitalize the Meskwaki customs of seasonal growing and gathering.

He says the purpose is, “to continue those traditions and help promote and teach younger family members to carry on that heritage."

Harvest Public Media / Peggy Lowe

Iowa isn’t requiring new bio security standards at its poultry facilities in the wake of last spring’s catastrophic outbreak of avian flu, but many farms are creating heightened bio-security barriers. Though there is no concrete proof of how bird flu spread so far and so rapidly, it’s widely believed humans played a large role in spreading the disease across the Midwest. 

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

During the final year of the Obama administration, Congress will likely address several agricultural concerns. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who sits on the Senate agriculture committee, expects the federal government could tackle free trade, childhood nutrition and ongoing implementation of the farm bill.

Flickr / slappytheseal

Iowa’s ban on live poultry exhibitions, swap meets, exotic sales, and other gatherings of birds is ending on New Year’s Day.

The final poultry operation that was infected with avian flu came out of quarantine this month, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship says it considers gatherings of live birds to be safe now.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Corn Belt farmers faced a down year in 2015, according to Agriculture Department numbers. Demand for grain was high, but farmers hauled in an enormous supply of corn and soybeans, keeping prices low. USDA says overall farm income in 2015 is likely to be down 55 percent compared to a peak in 2013.

Courtesy: National Christmas Tree Association

It's the time of the year when Katie Abrams sees her Fort Collins, Colo., neighbors pulling up with real trees tied to car roofs. She feels small pangs of jealousy when friends post woodsy pictures in flannel shirts, cutting down the perfect spruce.

"It all sounds really nice," Abrams says. "And then once you go out and do it I can just imagine all the steps involved."

That's about when she pulls out the fake tree from the garage. An act that terrifies U.S. Christmas tree growers.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Another outbreak of bird flu in the Midwest remains likely, even if farms and public health systems are more prepared to deal with it.

 

Photo by Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

 

The U.S. may be on the verge of a boom in new fertilizer plants, which could be good news for farmers, but not the environment.

Today's farmers can produce more from their land than ever before thanks, in part, to nitrogen fertilizer, a key ingredient that has never been more widely available.

Basher Eyre / Wikimedia Commons

So far this year, winter has been unusually warm. While it feels great to us, it's not the best thing for the flowers and plants around us. 

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Richard Jauron, Iowa State University Extension Horticulturist, and Aaron Steil, Assistant Director of Reiman Gardens, about this year's unusual winter, which has some daffodils flowering early at Iowa State. 

Courtesy of the Office of the State Archaeologist

It's long been taught that the origins of modern agriculture are in the fertile crescent in the Middle East, but recent archaeological finds point to the fact that cultures the world over were developing ways to domesticate plants and animals in the same time period.

"We used to think about the fertile crescent that way because that's where the most excavation had been done," explains Bruce Smith, curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian Institution. "But it's more true that agriculture developed simultaneously all around the world than in just one place." 

Photo by Amy Mayer

Each year, Iowa State University surveys hundreds of bankers, appraisers, and realtors to capture a snapshot of farmland values. The decline of about four percent this year marks the first time since the farm crisis of the 1980s that values have dropped two years in a row. ISU economist Wendong Zhang says that doesn’t mean values will plunge.

"It's still much less than what you see in the 1980s," Zhang says, "and there are a lot of income and cash accumulation over the past few years so I don't think you'll see a large crisis as you've seen in the 1980s."

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Veterinarian and researcher Scott Dee doesn't much look the part of a detective, in his jeans and company polo shirt.

But when a virus never before seen in North America swept through the network of hog farms where he works, Pipestone Veterinary Services, in January 2014, he had his first clue.

"These farms had the same pattern of infection," Dee said.

Photo by Amy Mayer

A fast-spreading virus never before seen in the United States hit the pork industry more than two years ago, racking up roughly $1 billion in losses and spiking prices for consumers.

While researchers are still trying to track the culprit, it appears to be an intrepid world traveler that may have been delivered directly to farmers' barn doors, creating an intriguing international back story traced to China.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

A proposed merger between two giants of American business, DuPont and Dow, could ultimately result in an agricultural company more focused on farmers than either is today.

At least that's one interpretation of the proposed $130 billion deal, which would create the biggest chemical company in the United States and the second largest in the world.

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

Osage oranges, hedge apples, horse apples, monkey brains… these are synonymous for the fruit that falls from the hedge tree. If you don’t live in rural Iowa, you ­may have seen them in craft stores. They’re softball-sized and usually lime green. Sometimes they’re used for decorating. They look a bit like human brains, and folklore says that they keep spiders away if you bring them inside. But, the fruit is inedible, and most farmers consider them a pain. Doug Schock owns a 300-acre farm in southern Iowa near Bloomfield.

Harvest Public Media file photo by Grant Gerlock

Canada and Mexico could impose tariffs on more than $1 billion-worth of U.S. goods as a way to compensate for losses brought on by a U.S. labeling law.

The World Trade Organization set the level of retaliation Monday, the final step in a long-running dispute over the Country-Of-Origin-Labels, or COOL, policy.

As of 2009, retailers must include on meat a label that states where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Meat companies have to track and label products, and Canada and Mexico say that drops demand for their goods.

liz west / Flickr

On this Horticulture Day edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with DNR District Forester Mark Vitosh about the trees of the season. Vitosh describes the labor put into the growing of these trees as well as the interesting weather that has come this winter.

"Iced tea and a Christmas tree. What do you know?" Vitosh chuckles.

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