Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

Courtesy of Rapid Creek Ranch

There are more than 600 certified organic farms in Iowa, and many others using organic and sustainable practices. Doug Darrow produces beef and chicken near Oxford at Rapid Creek Ranch. He started to make the transition from conventional farming to more sustainable practices after a woman approached him at a farmer’s market.

I had a lady come up to me at a market and asked if we sold grass-fed beef, and I said no. She said that if we did, she’d buy all her beef from us. That really struck a chord,” he explains.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

A Labor Department proposal could make some nitrogen fertilizer more expensive or harder to find. That has Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asking the Labor Department some questions about its new guidance on chemical storage.

Iowa Public Radio / Amy Mayer

Iowa hit a milestone in its avian influenza recovery this week by lifting the last quarantine on a commercial poultry farms affected by the virus. A Sac County turkey farm can now begin repopulation.

Commercial facilities hit by avian flu are required to wait three weeks after disinfection before they can repopulate. Seventy-two Iowa sites were affected by the 2015 bird flu outbreak, and more than 31 million birds were killed.

jacki-dee / Flickr

Iowa may have had a mild fall so far, but winter is just around the corner. With that in mind, it's time to prepare yards and gardens for the arrival of winter.

Aaron Steil, Manager of Public Programs at Reiman Gardens, joins host Charity Nebbe to discuss best practices for winter readiness. Steil provides some tips for care of strawberries, asparagus, perennial care, diseased plants, and even how to take care of the leaves covering lawns.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal will change tariffs on agricultural exports, but for Midwest farmers and ranchers, the devil is in the details.

The TPP agreement could cut tariffs levied by many countries on U.S. exports like pork and rice, making it easier to get some products into markets in Asia.

Midwest cattle ranchers scored a win under the deal with a big tariff cut in Japan, says David Salmonsen of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Cage-free eggs could be coming to a breakfast near you.

Several large food companies and restaurants, from Starbucks to McDonald's to Kellogg's, announced timelines this year for phasing out eggs laid in conventional cages, a victory for animal welfare advocates who have pushed for changes for years.

But there is more to housing hens than square inches and some egg farmers argue the cage-free barns are less humane than traditional hen housing.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

U.S. energy policy that effectively promotes corn ethanol is holding back a generation of more environmentally sound fuels, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.

To grow corn for ethanol, farmers have been plowing up new land and fertilizing big crops. Some research says that means corn-based ethanol can have a larger carbon footprint than traditional fuel.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture, food and natural resource sectors each year for the next five years, according to a report from Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The American agriculture industry has a problem though: there are not enough grads to fill those jobs. The report projects about two open jobs for every qualified graduate. That's left the USDA, land grant universities and private industry scrambling to try and bridge the gap.


The cost of a dozen eggs has dropped about a dollar since August, when the price was roughly double from the previous year as a result of the worst outbreak of avian influenza in the nation’s history. But bird flu is only part of the reason egg prices were so high this summer.

Photo by Amy Mayer

DuPont Industrial Biosciences has opened its cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada.

The company says when it reaches full capacity, the biorefinery will annually convert corn cobs, stalks and other waste left on fields after harvest into 30-million gallons of what is considered a "second generation" renewable fuel. Over the past decade, DuPont received more than $50 million in federal funds to bring its cellulosic technology to the marketplace.

Lori L. Stalteri / Flickr

Growing plants organically, whether done on acres of farmland or a backyard garden, can be tricky work. Iowa State University Extension Organic Specialist Kathleen Delate joins Host Charity Nebbe on this Horticulture Day edition of Talk of Iowa. Delate explains what cover crops are and how they can improve soil quality by infusing it with nitrogen and carbon and preventing soil erosion, nitrate leaching, and ground water pollution. Delate also discusses the uses and benefits of composting.

Photo courtesy of USDA

A senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed a whistleblower complaint on Wednesday accusing the federal agency of suppressing research findings that could call into question the use of a popular pesticide class that is a revenue powerhouse for the agrichemical industry.

Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

Americans eat more chicken than any other meat, an average of 89 pounds per year. That enormous demand for what's considered a relatively inexpensive protein source is feeding the $50 billion poultry industry. 

In recent years, consumer groups have pushed the industry to stop feeding antibiotics and move laying hens to cage-free pens. But while many people are concerned with the welfare of meat animals, there appears to be little consumer concern for how workers in the meat industry are treated.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

As Congress moves toward a budget deal, a $3 billion cut to crop insurance is now on the table. This comes after the money was approved as part of the 2014 farm bill, and the proposal is not sitting well with some Midwest senators. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says in a party caucus Monday, he and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) both expressed frustration over pulling more from farm programs. The current five-year farm bill, which includes crop insurance, other agricultural subsidies and many other programs like school nutrition and rural development, was passed early last year.

Michael Leland/IPR file photo

Corn and soybean crops in southwest Iowa are lagging behind the rest of the state because of too much rain falling too often throughout the growing season. But, Iowa State University agronomist Aaron Sauegling says yields are better than expected.  He has been monitoring fourteen counties in extreme southwest Iowa.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

All week, Harvest Public Media's series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.

Beef, poultry and pork are staples of the American diet, baked into the country's very culture, and backbones of the agricultural economy. But lately, the meats have been saddled with some baggage.

Photo by Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

All week, Harvest Public Media’s series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.


Congress inched closer to setting a national standard for labeling genetically-modified foods Wednesday, even as farm-state Democrats and Republicans championed the safety of GMOs and voiced frustration that most consumers don't agree.

Photo by Amy Mayer

All week, Harvest Public Media’s series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.

One of the most important tools of modern medicine is in jeopardy. In the 20th century, antibiotics turned once-lethal infections into manageable diseases. They also contributed to the transformation of meat production in America.

Massive Corn Crops Form Backbone of Meat Industry

Oct 20, 2015
Photo by Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

All week, Harvest Public Media's series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.

Drive down a dirt road, a two-lane country highway, even many Interstates in the Midwest and the view out the window is likely to get monotonous: massive fields filled with acres of corn sprawled in all directions.

Wikimedia Commons

Some of Iowa's farmers are crediting optimal growing weather into harvest season for a plentiful bounty this fall. Wayne Johnson, who farms near Forest City, says his yield this year could be a once in a lifetime event. 

"We had five farms go over 70 [bushels per acre]. Our typical is in the 50 to 55 bushel range, so it's a lifetime soybean harvest for us," he says. 

According to Iowa State University Extension Agronomist Mark Licht, Johnson is not alone. 


All week, Harvest Public Media’s series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.

Americans have a big appetite for everything meat. We smoke it, grill it, slice it, and chop it.

The typical American puts away around 200 pounds of beef, pork, and poultry every year . That’s true in many of the wealthiest countries. But developing countries are showing a growing appetitefor meat.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Women farmers were at the center of a luncheon in Des Moines sponsored by Oxfam America.

The event was part of the week-long festivities surrounding the World Food Prize and it was meant to highlight the importance of women in food production.

The only woman to hold the job of Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa, Patty Judge, told the audience women are key to feeding a hungry world.

“Chronic hunger most often affects women and children," she says. "Investing in women as farmers raising food to feed their hungry children is just the right thing to do.”

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media


Like all business owners, farmers want to get paid for their work. Sometimes, that work creates problems for the environment, so regulators are advancing the idea of creating environmental markets to allow farmers to make money off of their conservation practices.

Under plans in development, farmers could generate environmental credits by farming in ways that store carbon, filter out water pollution, or preserve wildlife habitat. Those credits could be bought, sold, and traded by companies that need to balance out their own emissions or pollution.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed change to the Clean Water Act, known as the Waters of the United States rule, is now on hold nationwide. But an Iowa senator says Congress may resolve the matter.

Courtesy of the World Food Prize

In the early 1970s in Bangladesh, three significant events happened in sequence. A cyclone killed 300,00 people. A war for independence from Pakistan broke out. And a young man left his job at Shell Oil. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate, had been working for the oil company when he took a short break  to do relief work in the region devastated by the tropical cyclone.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Many farmers are going to lose money on this year's huge harvest because prices are lower than they have been.

Farm bill subsidy programs, which kick in when the average national price of a commodity drops below a certain price, will almost certainly be triggered this year for corn and soybeans. But it is not yet clear the extent to which those programs will help.

"It's going to help, but it's still not going to get the help above the cost of production," says Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. 

Photo by Frank Morris for Harvest Public Media

China's rapid industrialization and economic expansion over the past few decades has been a boon for U.S. farmers — especially soybean farmers. But China's economy is slowing down, leaving American farmers exposed to the downside of being tied to the world's second largest economy.

With tall stands of corn and green soybean fields stretching for miles, the river bottom land around Langdon, Mo., seems a long, long way from Beijing. In an economic sense, though, it's practically right next door. 

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

After years of work, U.S. negotiators on Monday announced agreement on a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that is expected to expand export opportunities for U.S. farmers.

The 11 countries included in the deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, already import some 42 percent of U.S. agricultural exports at a value of $63 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Michael Leland/IPR file photo

Iowa farmers are taking advantage of near-perfect harvesting weather, transforming standing corn and soybeans fields into stubble.                     In central Iowa’s Story County, Dennis Smith is feeling very good about progress harvesting his two-thousand acres of corn.  He says harvest is approaching the halfway mark. Smith’s farm northeast of Ames received heavy summer rains and it’s showing up in the bushels per acre he’s harvesting. “Areas where it was waterlogged, down to sixty to a hundred [bushels per acre]," he said.  "The good areas up to 240.