Michael Leland/IPR

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.

Emily Woodbury

This program originally aired on November 17, 2014.

This year, U.S. farmers are bringing in what is expected to be a record breaking harvest. On this edition of River to River - the modern day harvest.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Farmers in the Midwest are facing a situation they haven't seen in years. Grain prices are down. After some of the most lucrative growing seasons they've ever seen, some producers could lose money on this year's crop. That could slow down the rural economy.

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.

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 Emily Guerin/Inside Energy


Ethanol is one of the most important industries in the Midwest, and it’s an industry about to change. The U.S. EPA says that by June 1 it will propose new targets for the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, which dictates the amount of ethanol the oil industry has to blend into our gasoline.

The RFS has three main goals: prop up rural economies, reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector.

Photo by Amy Mayer

It’s planting time for Midwest farmers and much of the corn they grow will end up feeding livestock in China, which has become a huge importer of grain from the Corn Belt. That means the farmers can’t just select seeds based on which ones will get the best yield. They have to think about where their grain will be sold.

China has its own rules for the kind of crops it wants and when American farmers don’t comply, China can close off its market.

Flickr / TumblingRun

The value of farmland in the Corn Belt is dipping. In Iowa value dropped 7 percent last year. 

At Harvest, These Corn Huskers Still Pick By Hand

Oct 15, 2014
Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

Dick Humes squinted and sweat as he moved down a row of corn. He sliced through the husk with a metal hook in his right hand, snapped the ear from its stalk with his left, and threw it over his shoulder into a wagon rolling alongside him.

Every other second, the corn hit the floor of the wagon with a thud. Humes was setting a steady pace for the men’s 50-and-older division at the 34th annual Illinois State Corn Husking Competition.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo from harvest 2012

Farmers’ can anticipate a sharp drop in income this year, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In fact, the USDA predicts the $113 billion earned in 2014 will be the lowest amount of net farm income in five years. That’s equal to about a 14 percent fall from last year’s record amount, thanks mostly to a massive drop in crop prices.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that over 90 percent of U.S. field corn is genetically modified, meaning the seeds have been embedded with a gene—usually from a bacteria—that  protects the corn from pests or herbicides.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Nathan Anderson stops his red pick-up truck alongside a cornfield on his farm near Cherokee, Iowa. The young farmer pulls on a heavy brown hoodie, thick long, sturdy yellow gloves and a beekeeper’s hat with a screened veil. He approaches a pair of hives sitting on the edge of a field recently planted with corn.

Ben Kieffer

The spring planting season is upon us and farmers are racing to get crops in the ground.

So yesterday morning, host Ben Kieffer hopped aboard a tractor with Jim Sladek, of JCS Family Farms in Johnson County, to get his perspective on the start of a new season and the challenges he faces, including soil erosion. Jim also demonstrated the amazing amount of technology that can be used in farming today.

Amy Mayer/IPR

After a long battle with corn rootworm, Midwest farmers thought they’d found relief in genetically modified seeds with engineered-in toxins to beat back the best. But recent research confirms what farmers have been noticing for several years: the western corn rootworm has been evolving to outwit the technology.

When Aaron Gassmann, a bug researcher at Iowa State University, started answering calls to come look at some cornfields, he went out and quickly had a hunch. Now, his research proves his fear.

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a frigid winter day , Chad Hart tries to warm his economics students at Iowa State University to the idea of managing some of the risk of farming using the commodity markets. Because as he told them on the first day of class, farmers don’t make money planting or harvesting crops; they make money selling them. And Hart knows that marketing—managing those sales for the best profit—can be intimidating.

For Farmers Who Rent, 2014 Could Be a Tough Year

Feb 10, 2014

With the price of farmland at record levels across the Corn Belt, many farmers have been renting acres to plant. Now, with the price of corn and soybeans in freefall, farmers that depend on renting risk big losses if they’re unable to negotiate lower rents.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

A decade ago ethanol was touted as an eco-friendly biofuel that would not only decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but also boost the Midwest's economy. Today however, ethanol’s future is a matter of debate.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed reducing the ethanol mandate for the nation’s fuel supply. Many Iowa and around Midwest believe a reduction to the RFS would be economically devastating. 

New crops could kill insects by targeting their genes

Dec 16, 2013
Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

With rootworms building resistance to genetically modified corn that makes its own pesticide, seed companies are working on new crops that target the insects’ genes. But some worry about unintended consequences when the technology moves from the lab to the field.

Stefanie Seskin

Nearly all gasoline sold in the U.S. contains up to 10 percent of ethanol—a corn-based liquid often added to gasoline. As a renewable fuel ethanol reduces the amount of petroleum-based gasoline on the market and many farmers receive subsidies to grow corn for the biofuel. But now the Environmental Protection Agency is considering a reduction in the required amount of ethanol for the country's gasoline supply.  Harvest Public Media's Ames-based reporter Amy Mayer and host Ben Kieffer discuss the future of ethanol in the U.S.

Sarah McCammon

Critics are challenging an investigative report by the Associated Press that says ethanol production is damaging the environment. As Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters reports, the debate comes as the Environmental Protection Agency is getting closer to finalizing how much ethanol will be blended into gasoline in 2014. 

Bringing in the Harvest

Oct 28, 2013
IPR's Pat Blank

Pam Johnson has just wrapped up a term as president of the National Corn Growers Association. She and her husband and two sons farm in Floyd County in North Iowa. Johnson testified in July before a U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy about the need to continue the Renewable Fuels Standard for ethanol.

Turn Here Sweet Corn

Oct 21, 2013
Univeristy of Minnesota

Through high winds and hail, dry years and wet, and through the pressures of development and corporate interests Atina Diffley and her husband Martin ran one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest.

Diffley has written about her farm and her life in the book, "Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works."

Dean Borg

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly update shows drought worsening and spreading across  the state. The monitor’s report includes Iowa in a Midwest section badly needing rain.  

Iowa State University Climatologist Elwynn Taylor says this week’s report is listing more of Iowa in a severe drought category.

“And it includes now almost all of the southern part of Iowa, and almost all of the central,” he says.

Facebook / Rockwell Collins

Many Iowans work for two companies in recent business headlines. In a nearly 1.4 billion dollar deal, Cedar Rapids-based Rockwell Collins announced it was buying communication system company Airinc. Rockwell Collins CEO, Kelly Ortberg, calls it the biggest deal the company has undertaken.

And the latest quarter of John Deere earnings beat analyst projections. IPR's Clay Masters talks with Sarah McCammon, who's on assignment for Marketplace this summer, about the two news-making companies. They also discuss the state's corn crop and how it compares to the cornbelt as a whole.

Farmers may harvest nearly 14 billion bushels of corn this year – that’s a record and 29% more than last year. However, as a result corn prices have dropped to their lowest since 2010.

Today on River To River, we explore this topic and much more! We travel to the Iowa State Fair, talk weather and corn price predictions, find out what a digitized cemetery is, and explore a new law cracking down on Iowans who register RVs in Montana to avoid paying the 5 percent Iowa registration fee and annual registration fees.

Dust Bowl memories offer present warning

Nov 15, 2012
courtesy Kansas Historical Society

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s is the subject of a new documentary from Ken Burns airing this month on PBS television stations. The man-made disaster left an indelible mark on the Midwest and on history — and, as Harvest Public Media’s Grant Gerlock reports, today’s extensive corn production could make the region vulnerable once again.

Cover Crops Use Expanding

Oct 12, 2012
Amy Mayer

While many farmers were bringing in this year’s harvest, they also were planting.  Cover crops—like oats and winter rye—are becoming more popular, despite the time and expense involved in growing green fields that won’t ever make money—directly.  Together with Harvest Public Media, Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer explains why.

Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio

After the dry summer, this harvest offers a good look at what drought resistant corn can do. In conjunction with Harvest Public Media, Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer reports the big companies may soon be touting their results, but farmers may not rush to plant drought resistant seed next year. 

Dean Borg / Iowa Public Radio

With Halloween approaching, attention is turning to pumpkins. But not all pumpkin fields are filled with orange.

Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

Head to your local filling station and you might see a new blend of gas at the pump. After a three-year regulatory process, the Environmental Protection Agency approved E15 – gas made with 15 percent ethanol – this summer.

Most gas we pump is already blended with ethanol, sometimes it contains as much as 10 percent, but the ethanol industry fought hard to bring E15 to the market. For ethanol backers and the farmers who feed the ethanol industry, getting drivers to pump gas with 50 percent more ethanol is a big win.