Farming

Burkey Farms in southeast Nebraska looked into the future a couple of years ago and didn’t like what it saw — a continuation of depressed prices for conventional corn and soybeans. So, the families who run the farm together started discussing how the operation would make money if they couldn’t earn more from their crops.  

Their conversation took a turn toward organics, a $40 billion industry and growing, especially in Iowa and Colorado.

Madeleine King/Iowa Public Radio

What's the solution to Iowa water quality issues? One approach is to get cities, suburbs, and farms together to find solutions.  In this special edition of River to River, hear highlights from a recent panel discussion held at the Iowa Tap Room in Des Moines.  IPR's Clay Masters moderated the conversation.  

Image courtesy of Gary Kelley

Gary Kelley is an illustrator and painter based in Iowa who works have been published in Time Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly and Rolling Stone. His latest project, illustrating the book Next Year: Hope in the Dust by Ruth Vander Zee, centers around the Dust Bowl, the catastrophic wind storms in the 1930s which displaced native prairie protecting the soil of the Great Plains from wind erosion.

There will be new restrictions on the weed killer dicamba for the 2018 growing season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

The broadly defined restrictions, similar to what the state of Missouri imposed over the summer, were announced Friday in a news release. The EPA says it reached an agreement with agriculture giants Monsanto, BASF and DuPont on ways to tamp down on dicamba drift, which has been blamed for destroying or damaging millions of acres of crops in the United States.

Mercy For Animals MFA / Flickr

This week, animal rights and free speech organizations filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa that challenges a state law from 2012, often referred to as Iowa’s ag-gag law or ag-whistleblower law.  The law  made it illegal to get a job at a livestock farm through misrepresentation in order to conduct an undercover animal cruelty investigation.

As soybean and cotton farmers across the Midwest and South continue to see their crops ravaged from the weed killer dicamba, new complaints have pointed to the herbicide as a factor in widespread damage to oak trees.

Monsanto and BASF, two of agriculture’s largest seed and pesticide providers, released versions of the dicamba this growing season. The new versions came several months after Monsanto released its latest cotton and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist dicamba in 2016. Since then, farmers across the Midwest and South have blamed drift from dicamba for ruining millions of acres of soybeans and cotton produced by older versions of seeds.

Now, complaints have emerged that the misuse of dicamba may be responsible for damage to oak trees in Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee.

Precision Agriculture 101

Oct 2, 2017
Flickr Creative Commons

In 1960, the average yield per acre of seed corn in Iowa was 63.5 bushels per acre. Last year, that same measure was 203 bushels per acre, because of advancements in farming technology like precision agriculture.

Precision agriculture includes auto-steering, yield monitoring, precision planting, and  "allows a farmer to really have a window into his machine and see what's going on," said Pete Youngblut, owner of Youngblut Ag, an independent precision agriculture product dealer in Dysart.

New Book Highlights Experience of 25 Women Farmers

Sep 28, 2017
Image courtesy of Barbara Hall

In 2017, women own more than half of the land in Iowa, and more women are farming that land. The new book Women and the Land, written by Barbara Hall and photographed by Kathryn Gamble, details the historical relationship between the women and the land of Iowa. Hall discusses the inspiration for the book, which serendipitously comes from an Iowa Public Radio broadcast she heard in 2014.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Lawsuits brought by farmers against one of the world’s leading seed companies will end in settlements.

 

When Congress gets back to work after the Labor Day holiday, re-upping the farm bill is one many hope can be done in a bipartisan manner. The current law, which funds a wide range of programs including food stamps, farmers subsidies, rural development and agricultural research, expires in 2018.

Traditionally, the farm bill has skirted the worst of partisan politics, but vacancies at the top of the Agriculture Department mean fewer leaders working on it this time around.

CHAFER MACHINERY/CREATIVE COMMONS

Applying large amounts of pesticides to farm fields can have negative effects on babies born to mothers living nearby, according to new research.

The data-crunching study published in Nature Communications looked at the farm-heavy San Joaquin Valley in California, where a variety of pesticides get applied to dozens of different crops including fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Iowa’s efforts to improve water quality could get a boost in the next legislative session.

At a meeting Monday in Des Moines to highlight partnerships among farmers, environmental groups, and state and federal agencies, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says lawmakers would likely send more money to conservation efforts in the coming years.

TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL oil pipeline, is scheduled to go before the Nebraska Public Service Commission next week, the final hurdle before the agency decides whether the pipeline’s path should be approved.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Chemical runoff from Midwest farm fields is contributing to the largest so-called dead zone on record in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Scientists have mapped the size of the oxygen-deprived region in the Gulf since 1985. This year’s is estimated at more than 8,700 square miles, which is about the size of New Jersey.

 

Of all the expensive machinery Tom Giessel worked during the 2017 wheat harvest, his favorite sits in the office of his home.

It’s a microfilm machine, the kind found in a high school library. Giessel uses it for his work as the historian of the National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest farm group.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor, a lightweight plastic frame covered in wire mesh that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days, and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets in eastern Iowa.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

This summer's hot weather could bring down soybean yields for some farmers.

Iowa State University extension is alerting farmers that hot, dry conditions are what the disease charcoal rot waits for. Daren Mueller, an ISU extension plant pathologist, says once it attacks, there's little a farmer can do.

"At this point it's more of trying to scout and figure out what fields would have that pathogen in it to make decisions in future years," he says, "the next time you planted soybeans."

See a bee; hear a buzz.

That is what researchers studying the declining bee population are banking on. A new technique based on recording buzzing bees hopes to show farmers just how much pollinating the native bee population is doing in their fields.  

Vegetable and fruit growers depend on pollinators to do a lot of work in their greenhouses and fields. Pollinators, like bees, flutter about the blossoms on plants and orchard trees, transferring pollen from plant to plant and ensuring that those organisms have a chance at reproducing.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A federal jury in Kansas City, Kansas, awarded nearly $218 million to Kansas corn farmers after finding seed giant Syngenta AG was negligent when it introduced strains of genetically engineered corn seed into the marketplace that were not approved for import by the Chinese government.  

The eight-member jury returned its $217,700,000 verdict after an 18-day-long trial, the first of eight certified class actions lawsuits against Syngenta brought in state court.

Tim Mueller has raised corn and soybeans on 530 acres near the city of Columbus, Nebraska, for decades, but today he is planning to take a big gamble.

Farmers and ranchers, with their livelihoods intimately tied to weather and the environment, may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump Administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

The Timelessness of Feed Sacks

Jun 1, 2017
Terry Eiler

Feed sacks have played an important role in American history. Other than holding flour, seeds, and animal feed corn, feed sacks were often fashioned into clothing by women from before the Great Depression, all the way up to the 1960s. The use of feed sacks as clothing had a direct impact on the way that companies marketed their products.

"One of the first things that happened was that they did figure out a way to make wash-out inks," says Linzee Kull McCray, Iowa City writer and author of "Feed Sacks; the Colorful History of a Frugal Fabric."

Cattle ranchers have spent years battling big meat companies, saying the companies have too much market power. Now, those ranchers worry that a Trump Administration move to delay federal rules that would make it easier for them lodge complaints about unfair treatment may spell the end of the new rules altogether. But the industry is divided by the government’s move to make sure meat companies play fair with farmers.

As the Trump administration takes the initial steps toward renegotiating one of the country’s most influential and controversial trade deals, groups that represent farmers and ranchers are already waving a caution sign.

President Trump has made it clear: he wants changes to NAFTA -- the North American Free Trade Agreement. The wheels of renegotiation are in motion after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a letter to Congressional leaders indicating that intention. The president is required to give Congress 90 days notice before opening up trade talks.

Amy Mayer/IPR

A leading research center focused on local farmers and environmental conservation is hanging on by a thread, even as the movement to diversify agriculture, which it helped launch, continues to thrive.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Belt-tightening has been the trend for row-crop farmers in the Midwest for the past several years as corn and soybean prices remain low. Reducing application of expensive herbicides may be tempting to save money, but that’s a strategy that could result in severe economic consequences down the road.

 

Dwight Sipler

If a farmer grows lettuce and a local school district wants to use it in the cafeteria, who chops it? It proves to be a more challenging question to answer than it might seem.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe explores the middle structure of the local food system by talking with Brandi Janssen about her new book, Making Local Food Work: The Challenges and Opportunities of Today's Small Farmers.

Three months after his nomination, Sonny Perdue faces a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate Monday for the post of secretary of agriculture.

If confirmed, Perdue will find a desk at USDA piled high with priorities and will be one of the last members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to be seated.

A new tractor often costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but not included in that price: the right to repair it. That has put farmers on the front lines of a battle pitting consumers against the makers of all kinds of consumer goods, from tractors to refrigerators to smart phones.  

Imagine you’re a farmer and it’s time to decide what to plant. You need information on supply, demand, prices, outlook -- information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, university extension services, even economists at the Federal Reserve.

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