Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

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

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.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The path to normalized relations between the United States and Cuba made a stop in farm country Friday.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his Cuban counterpart, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, toured Aaron Lehman's corn and soybean farm in central Iowa. They talked about water, soil, and energy and compared strategies for managing hog manure, which has been a problem in Iowa.

 

Jocelyn Kinghorn / Flickr

Vines can help spice up many gardens, but it is important to pick one that is going to thrive in its new environment.

On this episode of Talk of Iowa, it’s Horticulture Day! Host Charity Nebbe talks with Aaron Steil, Assistant Director of the Reiman Gardens, about vines. They discuss how to care for different vines and which conditions help ensure vines flourish.

Melissa Wiese/Flickr

Food giant General Mills is recalling millions of pounds of flour milled in Kansas City, Missouri, on suspicions that the product is contaminated by a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria.

Thirty-eight people in 20 states have been infected in the outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten have been hospitalized.

FREEFOODPHOTOS.COM

Agriculture commodity groups should not be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. That’s according to Sen. Chuck Grassley, who opposes House legislation that allows these groups to keep their documents and data private.

Commodity industries have checkoff programs that are tasked with research and promotion of their products, such as pork or eggs. Checkoffs are funded through mandatory fees from producers and are overseen by the USDA.             

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.

Photo by Amy Mayer

A weathered wooden shed that holds wheelbarrows, hoes and other basic tools is the beacon of the Student Organic Farm, a two-acre swath within the Iowa State University Horticulture Research Farm. On a warm spring evening, a half-dozen students gather here, put on work gloves and begin pulling up weeds from the perennial beds where chives, strawberries, rhubarb and sage are in various stages of growth.

Flickr/USDA

A slaughterhouse is a safer place to work than it used to be, but data gathered by federal regulators doesn't capture all the risks faced by meat and poultry workers, according to a new government report.

Photo by Amy Mayer

After several boom years while the rest of the economy struggled, farming is entering its third straight year on the bust side of the cycle. Corn, soybean and other commodity prices are low while expenses like seed, fertilizer and land remain stubbornly high.

So farmers managing the sophisticated businesses that Midwest crop farms have become are spending more time considering business school basics.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The country's top agriculture official is declining to comment on some of the largest proposed mergers the farm economy has ever seen.

Day Donaldson / Flickr

The summer travel season is almost upon us, and this year travelers are thinking more about insects.

Fears about the Zika virus are heightened as the infested mosquitoes spread and more cases are reported in the U.S. Lewis says that currently all the cases in the U.S. came from people traveling, and that there is still no vaccine to help prevent the virus.

Harvest Public Media file photo by Luke Runyon

A group of Nebraska farmers is suing the giant seed and chemical company Monsanto in federal court, saying the company's top-selling herbicide gave them cancer.

Farmers Larry Domina, Robert Dickey, and Royce Janzen, along with agronomist Frank Pollard, have all been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. They were exposed to Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller in their work on the farm.

 

They allege that Roundup caused their illness and that Monsanto downplayed research showing the chemical poses a cancer risk.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Vermont's first-in-the-nation labeling law for foods containing genetically modified ingredients takes effect July 1, and there now appears to be some movement in the U.S. Senate to pass a law to prevent it.

Some food companies have already started to identify products that contain GMOs, in readiness for the Vermont law, but opponents of the requirement continue to press for a Congressional solution that would prevent every state from making its own rules.

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.

Courtesy of Oxfam America

Thousands of chainmail-clad workers with knives and hooks keep a modern poultry plant running, churning out the millions of pounds of poultry we eat every year. The job is difficult and demanding, especially for line employees who make the same motion for hours, struggling to keep up with a fast-moving disassembly line. 

A new report from Oxfam America paints an even bleaker picture. 

Rick Friday

Rick Friday had been drawing editorial cartoons for Farm News for more than two decades, that was until last week when a cartoon criticizing Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer and John Deere cost him his job.

He drew a farmer lamenting to another farmer the downturn in the commodity prices. Friday was as surprised as anyone that the cartoon then cost him his job, especially given that it had gone though the editor of the paper before being printed. 

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Schools across the U.S. served more than 5 billion meals in the national school lunch program to millions of students last year. Each one of the meals has to meet federal rules for nutrition. Now, those rules are up for debate and Congress could impose changes on the cafeteria.

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.

courtesy photo

As a country music singer, Liz Carlisle, who grew up in Montana, says she was interested in the poetry and philosophy of farming and rural life.

"I hadn't been involved in sustainable agriculture at all," she says, "I was a country singer. I think I shared a lot of values, but I didn't really know the language of sustainable agriculture and I wasn't, quite frankly, paying enough attention to economics or to science."

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