Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

Photo by Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

 

Farm dog? Check.

Barn cats? Check.

Muddy work books lined up at the back door? Five checks.

We kick off our fourth season of “My Farm Roots” with the Renyer Family, five farm kids I had the pleasure of meeting.

Driving onto the Renyer farm, out in Nemaha County, Kan., I was struck by the many classic examples of a farm family. After being met by the family dog, a very sweet boy named Salty, I watched as the barn cats scattered and I met Leah coming out the back door, where the knee-high work boots were standing guard.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The potential for further consolidation in the nation’s pork industry could have financial implications for both farmers and consumers. That’s why Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says the Justice Department needs to scrutinize the proposed JBS purchase of Cargill’s pork unit. Currently the two companies rank third and fourth among the nation’s largest pork producers.

Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

Avian influenza has devastated poultry production in Iowa and Minnesota this year. Things might get worse if the virus returns this fall when wild birds migrate south, so the U.S. poultry industry has gathered this week in Des Moines to discuss strategy. 

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency is also working to identify potential disposal sites for bird carcasses affected by the virus. Some poultry producers have complained that removing euthanized birds takes too long, and many landfills have been resistant to take them.          

Photo by Poncie Rutsch/KUNC

 

Many of the more than 3 million migrant farmworkers that plant and pick the fruits and vegetables we eat in the U.S. live on the farms they work for. But the rules that govern farmworker housing may be changing, worrying both farmers and migrant worker advocates.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

On Thursday, the U.S. House passed a bill that would prevent states from passing and enacting laws that require mandatory labels on genetically modified food. Here’s what you should know about it:

The bill would change labels for GMO foods

The bill:

Bee Hotels Give Native Species a Place to Call Home

Jul 23, 2015
Photo by Abigail Wilson for Harvest Public Media

A patchwork of bamboo and paper tubes, with diameters no bigger than a nickel, are stacked artfully inside a 4-by-4 wooden frame near the edge of a public hiking trail in Lawrence, Kan.

Organized by size, each hollow tube is about 8 inches long, designed as nests for Kansas’ wild bees. This structure is called a bee hotel.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

(Editor's note, 5:27pm)  Cathy Cochran, USDA spokeswoman, clarified that Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack misspoke when he used the term "outbreak".  In fact, Cochran said, the agency was preparing for 500 "detections" of bird flu in the fall.  That means the USDA is preparing for an outbreak that is essentially double in size of the one experienced by Midwestern states this spring.  The headline and lead of this story have been changed to reflect this.)

 

 

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

USDA officials say they are planning for a worst-case scenario as there is a possibility of avian influenza returning this fall, when birds migrate south for the winter. 

Dr. Jack Shere with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says it’s worrying that avian flu seems to be slowly moving east. This mean the virus could turn up in states that haven’t yet been affected.

GollyGforce / Flickr

Even when the growing season is ideal, there are problems and diseases that crop up in yards and gardens. As Iowa has experienced this year, extra moisture can really set things off.

On this Horticulture Day edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe sits down with horticulturists to find out how to deal with this summer’s common plant maladies, including a problem many Midwesterners have seen - some trees are already changing colors.

Large Drop in Farm Income Predicted This Year

Jul 17, 2015
IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest are likely to earn far less money this year than they did last year, with some economists predicting that incomes could be less than one tenth of what they were in 2014.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Technology has transformed farming, one of the Midwest’s biggest industries, and while fewer people are now needed to actually work the farm field, new types of jobs keep many office workers tied to agriculture.

Beyond operating a tractor and a combine, today’s farmers need to manage all kinds of information. From information technology to web development, the skills that have changed our economy have transformed the agriculture industry as well.

Flickr / Christopher Paquette

The founder and former owner of a Cedar Rapids-based meat supplier has been found guilty of 15 counts of fraud in federal district court on Monday. Midamar founder Bill Aossey faces more than a century in prison for fraudulently labeling beef so it appeared to meet certain Islamic standards when it did not. He also was convicted of conspiracy and wire fraud.

Flickr / Ben Freeman

Many veterans have a hard time finding employment when they return to civilian life, though some have landed jobs in the wake of bird flu. 

Veteran Enterprises is a veteran-owned business that does government contracting. Owner-operator Garth Carlson says he’s currently involved with the cleaning and disinfecting of six bird flu affected facilities in Iowa and Minnesota.

Carlson served two tours in Kosovo and two tours in Iraq with the army, but today he disinfects livestock facilities. 

Wikimedia Commons

It's mid-summer in Iowa which means it's two things: hot and muggy. This hour on Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with horticulture expert Richard Jauron and Denny Schrock, coordinator for the Iowa Master Gardener's Program.

Schrock says there are some plants that thrive in the heat and humidity.

USDA/Bob Nichols

The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing Tuesday on avian influenza’s impact on the U.S. poultry industry. The USDA has come under scrutiny for its handling of the outbreak. 

One topic of discussion are the indemnities provided to affected producers who must euthanize their entire flock when the virus is detected. The USDA is considering a new indemnity formula in light of criticism that the current calculation short changes producers. 

The founder of a global anti-poverty organization is the recipient of the 2015 World Food Prize. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed created BRAC in his native Bangladesh, but the non-governmental organization has grown to provide economic and social programs to poor communities in many countries. It's one of the largest non-governmental organizations in the world and some say it is the most effective at alleviating poverty.

Photo by Stephanie Paige Ogburn

Food companies the world over are paying close attention to the groundswell of support for food transparency, the “know where your food comes from” movement.

JBS, the largest meat producer in the world, is beginning to take notice as well.

But executives with JBS USA, the North American arm of its Brazilian parent company, at the same time acknowledge that the very nature of their business is grisly, gory and sometimes unpalatable.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

It’s been more than two weeks since the last reported outbreak of avian influenza in Iowa. For now, it appears the virus's spread has stopped.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture says all flocks hit by the disease have been completely euthanized. Efforts are focusing on composting, disinfecting and preventing future outbreaks.

Photo by Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media

Rodeo season is getting into full swing and at most rodeos, bull riding is the main event. But when the bull ride ends, the work begins for rodeo bullfighters, and a young bullfighter is making a name in the business by putting himself in the middle of the action.

At bull riding time at the Plum Creek Rodeo in Lexington, Neb., the rodeo corral is under the lights and the sun is a ripe orange in the west. Rowdy Moon bounces on the balls of his feet like a boxer waiting for the match to start.

Photo by Austin Kirk/Flickr

Current high egg prices are likely to continue, as the nation’s flock of egg-laying hens is at its smallest since 2004 thanks to the massive outbreak of avian influenza this spring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official numbers show nationally egg production dropped five percent in May compared to May 2014. But in Iowa, the nation’s largest egg producer and the state whose hens took the hardest hit from the flu, the figure is 28 percent.

Photo by Abby Wendle/Harveset Public Media

 

It’s Monday, around 9 o’clock, and the library is locked for the night.

Silently, Linda Zellmer appears on the other side of the glass door. She opens it and guides us up four dark floors towards a puddle of light.

“There it is,” she says, gazing down at the swollen bud of an orchid cactus. “It’s slowly opening.”

Zellmer perches on a stool behind her camera and waits in anticipation of the night’s big event: the moment when the bud opens.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Chemical runoff from agricultural land in the Midwest continues to contribute to an oxygen-deprived area in the Gulf of Mexico, and the so-called Dead Zone is not shrinking, despite ongoing efforts.

Graham Wise / Wikimedia Commons

One out of every three mouthfuls of food comes from a plant that required some sort of pollination, so the declining populations of pollinators across the country is a cause for concern, says Iowa State University entomologist Donald Lewis.

“Since 2006, on the action of the U.S. Senate, there is this week in June when we are supposed to focus on pollinators,” says Lewis. “We have changed the habitat around us that are depending on a variety of flowers, and forms are struggling. That’s the point of National Pollinator Week – bring back the pollinators.”

Photo by Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

 

In Iowa, one in eight people struggles with hunger. Nationally, that figure is one in six. Food pantries across the country pass out food to help these people put meals on the table. But what if they could help teach the pantry visitors how to grow their own food, too?

Grow Well Missouri, a program that travels to food pantries around central Missouri, is trying to do just that, passing out seeds and starter plants to low-income locals.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Bill Northey attended an avian influenza support prayer supper in Buena Vista County Wednesday night. The picnic of pulled pork sandwiches and salads was in support of affected poultry producers.

Northey told the group of roughly 175 people that communities need to pull together during difficult times.

“It’s important to do what you’re doing tonight. And that’s put your arms around the folks that went through this, let them know how much you care,” Northey says. “We’ll get through this.”

Photo by Eleanor Klibanoff for Harvest Public Media

It's no longer enough for restaurants to offer roasted chicken or braised beef shank on their menus. They need to be able to tell customers exactly where that chicken came from and how the cow was raised. If they can remember the pedigree of the produce? All the better. 

But serving locally sourced food is a challenge for chefs, and the farmer-foodie connections aren’t always easy to come by.  

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The processes by which different countries regulate genetically modified crops vary, which can lead to billions of dollars in disrupted trade.

Differing regulations led to a huge corn kerfuffle between China and the United States in 2013. U.S. regulators had approved a new GM trait from Syngenta, which sold seeds containing that trait to American farmers. But when the corn arrived at Chinese ports and regulators there found the trait, they rejected all U.S. corn because China had not yet approved the trait. American farmers now allege the stoppage cost them dearly.

Photo by Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Agriculture officials don’t know just how the massive outbreak of avian flu in the Midwest was spread, but they believe the culprits include humans breaking biosecurity measures and the virus going airborne.

Courtesy of Mercy for Animals

A Morgan County, Colorado, dairy farm is at the center of an animal abuse investigation following the release of a video showing workers punching and stabbing dairy cattle.

Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone has yet to press criminal charges against workers shown in the videos, but says he’s working with the farm’s owners Jim and Marie Goedert to locate current and former employees. In a statement, the Goederts say they’ve taken disciplinary action against the employees involved.

Isidre blanc / Wikimedia Commons

More and more gardeners and entrepenuers are getting started growing hops in Iowa. Diana Cochran, a horticulture specialist with Iowa State University, says its for good reason; Iowa is a great place to grow hops, as long as a grower can keep the plants disease free. 

"They grow well here. It's the humidity that is a factor because of disease. They need well drained soil, but otherwise, the problems that you'll see here really have to do with disease," she says. 

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