Farming

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.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Competition and consolidation in the meat industry may drive a wedge between President Donald Trump and one of Iowa's U.S. senators.

Republican Chuck Grassley says he's introducing a bill to prevent meat packing companies from owning livestock, which he hopes will protect family farms by preserving their ability to compete in the open market.  

But the proposal contrasts with the president's efforts to reduce business regulations. Grassley says if the president opposes his bill, that's okay with him.

Amy Mayer/IPR

President Donald Trump has nominated former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as Agriculture Secretary, bucking a recent trend of Midwest leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and making many in the farm country of the Midwest and Great Plans a little leery.

Coupled with the appointments of leaders from Oklahoma and Texas to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, respectively, there looks to be a shift in the power center of the parts of the federal government that most directly impact agriculture.

Harvest Public Media file photo

The agriculture sector needs to ramp up its response to climate change, especially in the Midwest, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Researchers at the University of Maryland used climate projections and historical trends in agricultural productivity to predict how changes in temperature and rainfall will impact food production.

 

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Liz Graznak runs an organic farm in Jamestown, Missouri, which she calls Happy Hollow Farm. She sells her vegetables to local restaurants, in CSA boxes and at the farmer’s market.  But eight years ago, after falling in love with the idea of growing her own local produce, the farm she runs today looked like a near-impossible dream.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media file photo

The Trump Administration is voicing its support for the ethanol industry, but without specifics it is hard to say what that means exactly for Midwest farmers.

In a letter to industry leaders gathered at the National Ethanol Conference, President Donald Trump said renewable fuels “are essential to America’s energy strategy.”

The president wrote that he aims to reduce the regulatory burden on the renewable fuels industry, but did not detail specific plans.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Jeanne Crumly’s introduction to the Keystone XL oil pipeline came seven years ago. That’s when she learned the 36-inch pipe could someday carry up to 830,000 barrels of heavy crude through her land each day on its way from Hardisty, Alberta, to a pipeline hub at Steele City, Nebraska.

“The pipeline would be about 400 yards north of my house, running through a creek out here where cattle water and where we draw irrigation water,” Crumly says.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

How low can it go?

That’s what many in farm country asked about the farm economy Tuesday, after the Agriculture Department forecast another plunge this year in profits for farmers.

Net farm income will fall 8.7 percent from last year’s levels, according to the year’s first forecast produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS). If realized, that would mark the fourth-straight year of profit declines, after 2013 saw record-highs.

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a clear, cold winter evening, the sun begins to set at Lost Lake Farm near Jewell, Iowa, and Kevin Dietzel calls his 15 dairy cows to come home.

"Come on!" he hollers in a singsong voice, "Come on!"

Brown Swiss cows and black Normandy cows trot across the frozen field and, in groups of four, are ushered into the small milking parlor.

Courtesy Elliot Chapman

Farmers across the Midwest are trying to figure out how to get by at a time when expected prices for commodities from corn, to wheat, to cattle, to hogs mean they’ll be struggling just to break even.

“Prices are low, bins are full, and the dollar is strengthening as we speak and that’s just making the export thing a little more challenging,” says Paul Burgener of Platte Valley Bank in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A federal court has sided with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a case that environmental groups had hoped would hasten water clean-up efforts.

 

The Gulf Restoration Network and environmental groups from states that border the Mississippi River argued the EPA needs to enforce numerical standards for water quality. In other words, the agency should establish maximum allowable levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, and then have a means to penalize states that exceed those amounts.

Charity Nebbe/IPR

Wintry weather brings the risk of blowing and drifting snow to Iowa's roads.

A partnership between the Iowa Department of Transportation and farmland owners to reduce that risk is raising its public profile this year.

For about 20 years, standing corn has helped create a barrier to contain the blowing and drifting snow, preventing it from reaching the highways where it can create slippery surfaces and dangerous driving conditions. Craig Bargfrede, winter operations administrator for the DOT, says it works just as well as temporary snow fences and is a lot cheaper.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

With farmers coming off a third straight year of lower incomes, 2017 may require more belt-tightening for many.

Persistently low prices for major commodity crops including corn and soybeans may inch up slightly in the New Year. But farmers may find they still need to adjust their strategies to ride out the slump.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Bacteria containing a gene that confers resistance to an important class of antibiotics have been found at a swine farm in the U.S., raising the troubling concern that one of the last lines of defense against hard-to-fight infections may be failing.

The drugs, called carbapenems, are used to fight infections resistant to more-common medicines and are banned for use in livestock.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Cropland in the Midwest is losing its value as the downturn in the agriculture economy continues, according to a number of surveys by agricultural economists. Record-high crop prices contributed to record-high land values in 2012 and 2013, but now, that party is over.

 

"Now what we have is [an] overproduction, oversupply issue," says Wendong Zhang, an Iowa State University economist.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Americans may find more meat on their holiday tables this year, at cheaper prices.

U.S. livestock production is in full swing. Beef and pork together set a new record recently -- commodity analysis firm Urner Barry reported an all-time high of 1.0618 billion pounds of beef and pork produced in U.S. slaughterhouses the week that ended November 19. Meanwhile, Midwest turkey producers have recovered from a massive 2015 avian flu outbreak.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

As another harvest season wraps up, Midwest farmers are once again facing low commodity prices amid enormous supplies. And when they recover from the long days bringing in the grain, they will eventually sit down with their books and try to figure out how best to farm again next year.

Frank Morris/Harvest Public Media

Nestled among acres of wheat fields and rows of corn, the Land Institute of Salina, Kansas, may seem an unlikely Mecca for environmental activists. After decades of leading the charge to develop alternative ways of raising grain, however, the facility still attracts crowds hunting for sustainable agricultural solutions.

File: Courtesy Stephen Carmody/Michigan Radio

The next Congress may take up the farm bill a year ahead of schedule.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Supporters and opponents of several proposed mergers among agricultural seed and chemical companies are making their case to lawmakers in Washington.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday to, as committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grasley (R-Iowa) put it, get everything out on the table. Grassley says public testimony can raise concerns the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission may need to consider as they evaluate the proposed new pairings.

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a gray day, just as the rain begins to fall, Roger Zylstra stops his red GMC Sierra pick-up truck on the side of the road and hops down into a ditch in Jasper County, Iowa. It takes two such stops before he unearths amid the tall weeds and grasses what he’s looking for.

"Here is one of the tiles," he says, pointing to a pipe about six or eight inches in diameter. Water trickles from it into a culvert that runs under the road after flowing through a network of underground drainage lines below his farm field. "That's where it outlets."

Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media

Living in the Platte River Valley in central Nebraska means understanding that the water in your well may contain high levels of nitrates and may not be safe to drink.

"When our first son was born in 1980, we actually put a distiller in for our drinking water here in the house," says Ken Seim, who lives in the Platte Valley near the town of Chapman, Nebraska. "And at that time our water level was 12 parts per million."

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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