Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

St. Louis-based Monsanto, a world agribusiness leader, has agreed to be acquired by the German company Bayer. Bayer will pay $57 billion dollars, or $128 per share, in a deal that has been in the works since last spring.

Two other mergers are underway in the industry, with Dow set to combine with DuPont (already the owner of Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer) and ChemChina planning to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

 

In an effort to turn away from chemical pesticides, which have the potential to damage the environment, some farmers are looking in a new direction in the age-old, quiet struggle on farm fields of farmers versus pests. They're warding off intruding insects and noxious weeds with bugs and chickens.

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As driverless cars begin to roam the streets, autonomous farm machinery is not far behind. The same fundamental technology that allows a vehicle to maneuver through city traffic may someday let a farmer send his tractor off to work on its own.

New Holland, the Pennsylvania-based equipment maker, demonstrated one of its large tractors outfitted to run autonomously during the recent Farm Progress Show in Boone.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa State Extension's Women in Agriculture Program is recognizing several Iowans as Women Impacting the Land. The awards celebrate farm work ranging from traditional row crops to livestock to perennial trees and nuts. Madeline Schultz, the director of the Women in Agriculture program, says the increased awareness of women's contributions to farming inspired the awards.

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A group of agricultural companies, food manufacturers, retailers and environmental groups plant to raise money to further conservation practices in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.

The Midwest Row Crop Collaborative announced its launch at the Farm Progress Show in Boone Wednesday. Founding partners include Cargill, the Environmental Defense Fund, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart and the World Wildlife Fund.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Larry Gerdes is having his barn taken down and disassembled in Malta Bend, Mo. It's about the size of a three-car garage but stands much taller in a clearing surrounded by six-foot stalks of corn.

The barn's exterior is graying, part of its roof is missing and there's a gaping hole looking out from the hayloft. It's about 100 years old and it's not really useful.

"It's deteriorated and it would cost a lot of money to repair it," Gerdes says. "And it doesn't fit into the modern farming. Unless you got two cows to let them loaf inside, nothing fits and it's just obsolete."

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to examine proposed mergers among agricultural chemical and seed companies in a September hearing.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a trip to the Midwest last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack offered some advice to the next presidential administration. As the candidates tour the country and remain largely silent on agriculture and food issues, the Agriculture Department’s purview remains important.

 

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On a hot, July day in Boone County, farmer Brett Heineman shuttled a semi from one of his family's fields to the local co-op. He and his uncle were harvesting the first crop of oats on this farm in decades.

Before, corn and soybeans almost completely covered the landscape -- today, they account for 95 percent of crop acres in Iowa -- most Corn Belt farmers also grew oats or alfalfa. Now, the Heinemans are among the farmers taking a closer look at re-integrating the small grain into their operations.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it is expanding its support of new farmers and ranchers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with more than a dozen young, beginning and military veteran farmers at Iowa State University in Ames. He listened to their start-up stories and announced another $18 million in grants to help new farmers get going. Vilsack says he has tried to connect government policy with on-the-ground needs for farmers.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa's senior US senator says the proposed mergers of major agricultural seed and chemical companies should get coordinated review from multiple federal agencies.

Chuck Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and often presses government agencies to make sure proposed mergers will not stymie competition. Right now, he says the Department of Justice is looking at the proposed Dow-DuPont merger. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing ChemChina's bid to take over Syngenta.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Iowa’s corn and soybean crops are moving into final maturity with most of the acreage listed in good-to-excellent condition. Today’s report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has both crops listed as 83 percent good to excellent.

In North Iowa’s Winnebago County, farmer Riley Lewis is anticipating a big harvest.

Suzanne Hogan for Harvest Public Media

 

Urban farms and gardens are popping up in cities all over the country, often touted as the key to a sustainable lifestyle, as creating healthy vibrant communities and promoting economic development. A new study by the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, however, says urban agriculture advocates need to be careful about overselling the benefits.

Cultural Impact

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

 

Rural towns need psychologists, social workers and substance abuse counselors, but there is a chronic shortage. The U.S. needs about 2,700 more clinicians to catch up to demand, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Outside of metropolitan areas there just aren't enough providers to go around.

U.S. Drought Monitor

Iowa’s corn and soybean crops are, for the most part, benefiting from summer heat and timely rains.

Monday’s USDA weekly crop update says statewide corn maturity is five-days ahead of last year, and nearly two-weeks ahead of average. More than a third of the corn acreage is at the dough-stage of maturity.                       

Iowa State University agronomist, Paul Kassel, is based in Spencer, and monitors corn and soybeans in ten northwest and north-central counties.

There’s lots of farmland in Iowa, but only about 1 percent of that land changes ownership in any given year. So if you’re a beginning farmer looking to start out, you’ve got to network with people willing to rent you somewhere to farm or work with your family.

Farms have doubled in size in the last 100 years, and the consolidation of farmland makes it that much harder. That’s according to Chad Hart, an economist at Iowa State University.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Growing up on a family farm in West Bend, Haley Banwart and her brother were like other farm kids.They did chores, participated in 4-H, and even raised cattle together.

"My brother and I have had the same amount of responsibilities. I can drive a tractor, I can bale square hay," Banwart says. "But it was just expected that my brother would return home."

 

She says they never discussed it, she just accepted that she’d find a different path.

 

Flickr / Jason Mrachina

U.S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack will be at the National Governors Association's summer meeting in Des Moines Saturday to discuss the value of local foods to rural economies.

Vilsack says in order to repopulate rural communities, smaller farming operations need consumers that don't put a premium on size and speed. One strategy to carve out markets for these smaller producers is through food hubs.

Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

Food companies and farm groups were the victors Thursday with the passage of a federal bill establishing standards for the disclosure of genetically-modified ingredients in food products.

Rick Fredericksen/IPR file photo

A new study supports planting perennial grasses on current cropland as a way to reduce nutrient loss from farm fields.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The USDA’s latest update of Iowa crop shows the state with areas of “haves” and “have-nots”.

Despite abundant rains with water standing in some north Iowa fields, the USDA says topsoil moisture is short-to-very-short in nearly a quarter of the state. 

But 76 percent of the state has adequate-to-surplus top soil moisture.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Senate late Thursday approved a bill that outlaws states' efforts to put labels on food products made with genetically-modified organisms and instead gives companies more leeway in disclosing GMOs.

The measure must still be passed by the U.S. House, but there are lots of questions. Harvest Public Media has been watching this ongoing battle for more than a year and we have answers for the five big questions about this latest volley in this food fight.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A successful program in Michigan that helps hungry families buy more healthy food is expanding across the country.

This month, Iowa joins more than a dozen other states in offering Double Up Food Bucks. Although the programs vary a bit from state to state, the basic idea is the same: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) dollars are matched (usually up to a certain cap), giving the shopper more money to spend at farmers markets or other places where local fruits and vegetables are available.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

On this sunny, summer morning in late June, Ronnie Russell is "windshield farming."

Driving from field to field in his Ford pick-up, he can see that his corn is about to tassel, his soybeans are mostly weed-free and white butterflies are floating above the alfalfa.

All three crops, adding up to about 1,500 acres, are grown with genetically-engineered seeds, a technology Russell views as a boon to farming.

Amy Mayer/IPR

When I walked onto the floor of the JBS Marshalltown Pork Plant, I expected the sensory assault to hit my nose first. But turns out it was my ears that first felt the most severe impact. The processing line is noisy. It's also chilly, to protect the meat. That also prevents the sort of noxious smell I had anticipated. Instead of an animal stench, my nose mostly registered cleaning products and a raw meat smell as if I just opened a package of pork chops in my own kitchen.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

Peggy Fogle and her dog, Abe, walk among rows of aronia berry bushes on the family property outside Carlisle. Plants on the ends of rows are smaller from years of being nibbled by deer and rabbits. But on nearly nine acres, filling four separate fields, the bushes are reaching maturity, eight years after Fogle and her husband decided to put in their first ones.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley says Vermont's GMO-labeling law will almost certainly go into effect before the senate can vote on a nationwide bill. 

Starting Friday, all products sold in Vermont must have labels disclosing which ingredients are genetically modified. 

Because many products are sold nationwide, this state law is becoming the de facto national standard. 

The food and agriculture industries want a national law overriding Vermont’s legislation. But Grassley, an opponent of the Vermont law, says it’s unlikely the senate will vote on a bill until this fall.

Southern Iowa Gets Drier

Jun 27, 2016
U.S. Drought Monitor

Farm fields in central and southeast Iowa remain abnormally dry. Despite weekend rainfalls totaling two-to-three inches in eastern Iowa near Cedar Rapids, some of the state’s driest areas got only about a half-inch. 

Iowa State University Regional Agronomist Megan Anderson’s monitors a 10-county region from Independence to Washington.  That part of Iowa includes counties the National Drought Monitor has listed as abnormally dry or in moderate drought.  She says things are “precarious”.

Just a week before a Vermont law kicks-in requiring labels on food containing genetically modified ingredients, U.S. Senate agriculture leaders announced a deal Thursday that takes the power out of states' hands and sets a mandatory national system for GM disclosures on food products.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, unveiled the plan that had been negotiated for weeks with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan.

Dan Boyce / Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media

Meat consumers in the U.S. enjoy relatively low prices and an array of choices, but there is a high human price tag. The more than 500,000 men and women who work in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants have some of the most dangerous factory jobs in America.

"If you recall the publication of The Jungle back in 1906 - the meat packing industry is similar to that to this day," says Peggy Lowe of Harvest Public Media, referring to the conditions in the plant and circumstances of the factory workers. 

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