Farming

Courtesy of the Office of the State Archaeologist

It's long been taught that the origins of modern agriculture are in the fertile crescent in the Middle East, but recent archaeological finds point to the fact that cultures the world over were developing ways to domesticate plants and animals in the same time period.

"We used to think about the fertile crescent that way because that's where the most excavation had been done," explains Bruce Smith, curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian Institution. "But it's more true that agriculture developed simultaneously all around the world than in just one place." 

Photo by Amy Mayer

Each year, Iowa State University surveys hundreds of bankers, appraisers, and realtors to capture a snapshot of farmland values. The decline of about four percent this year marks the first time since the farm crisis of the 1980s that values have dropped two years in a row. ISU economist Wendong Zhang says that doesn’t mean values will plunge.

"It's still much less than what you see in the 1980s," Zhang says, "and there are a lot of income and cash accumulation over the past few years so I don't think you'll see a large crisis as you've seen in the 1980s."

Photo by Amy Mayer

A fast-spreading virus never before seen in the United States hit the pork industry more than two years ago, racking up roughly $1 billion in losses and spiking prices for consumers.

While researchers are still trying to track the culprit, it appears to be an intrepid world traveler that may have been delivered directly to farmers' barn doors, creating an intriguing international back story traced to China.

Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

The value of farmland is riding high, and so are the taxes farmers pay on that property. But as those numbers remain steady, the actual income farmers make from the land has tumbled, leaving some farmers to push for a discount on their tax bill.

Larry Tegeler raises corn and soybeans along with some cattle in northeast Nebraska. He started farming about 30 years ago, and the first land he ever bought was a field near the small town of Meadow Grove.

On a windy fall afternoon, Tegeler looked over the 160 acres of rolling, sandy soil he purchased in 1987.

Photo by Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

The immigrant workers who pick crops like cotton and melons in the U.S. can have a tough time finding a place to live. The rural areas where they can find work often lack social services and affordable housing. That means many farm worker families end up in dilapidated buildings, which can come with health risks.

Angel Castro's old road is muddy and covered with flooded potholes. He lived here during the 1990s just behind a large John Deere store in Kennett, Mo.

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.

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.

 

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.

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. 

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.

Food Companies Show Concern about Farm Runoff

Sep 16, 2015
Photo by Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

In order to grow massive amounts of corn and soybeans, two crops at the center of the U.S. food system, farmers in the Midwest typically apply hundreds of pounds of fertilizer on every acre they farm. This practice allows food companies to produce, and consumers to consume, a lot of relatively cheap food.

But that fertilizer can leach through soil and wash off land, polluting our drinking water, destroying our fishing rivers, and turning a Connecticut-sized chunk of the Gulf of Mexico into an oxygen-depleted hypoxic zone, suffocating aquatic life.

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.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

A survey of farmland ownership conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture shows that in the next five years about 10 percent of farmland is expected to change ownership.

But Troy Joshua of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service says most of those transfers will happen through gifts, bequests, trusts or sales to relatives.

Wikimedia Commons

Thirty years ago this month, a handful of musicians including Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized a benefit concert for Midwestern farmers struggling to make ends meet during the farm crisis of the 1980’s.

George Naylor, who farms near Churdan and went to the first concert in Champaign, Illinois in 1985, says the morale boost the show afforded family farmers in Iowa was invaluable.

Photo by Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Chert Hollow Farm sits nestled between rows of tall trees and a nearby stream in central Missouri. Eric and Joanna Reuter have been running the organic farm since 2006. That means they don't plant genetically modified crops and can only use a few approved kinds of chemicals and fertilizers.

"We've traditionally raised about an acre and a half of pretty intensively managed produce, so it's a very productive acre and a half," Eric Reuter said. "We're really into cropping things."

Photo by Amy Mayer

The rural economy across the Midwest could take a hit this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects a 36 percent drop in net farm income, according to economic forecasts released Tuesday.

Lower prices for wheat, corn, soybeans and hogs will hurt many Midwest farms, though USDA economist Mitchell Morehart says the impact could be lessened on some farms thanks to lower production costs. Fuel and feed expenses are both lower this year, though labor is higher.

reynermedia / Flickr

Earlier this week, a new report by the US Department of Energy showed that costs continue to decline while turbine technology becomes more efficient. All of this, along with the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, means wind energy is having a moment.

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.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Technology has transformed farming, one of the Midwest’s biggest industries, and while fewer people are now needed to actually work the farm field, new types of jobs keep many office workers tied to agriculture.

Beyond operating a tractor and a combine, today’s farmers need to manage all kinds of information. From information technology to web development, the skills that have changed our economy have transformed the agriculture industry as well.

Jim Wall/flickr

It would be easier for farmers to receive a sales tax exemption on off-road vehicles under a bill still eligible for passage by the 2015 legislature. 

Farmers get a sales tax exemption for machinery and equipment used for farming, including ATV’s.    But the law says the vehicle must be used directly for production agriculture.  

Victoria Daniels at the Department of Revenue says by law you can’t use the vehicle  “in preparation for or subsequent to” agricultural production.   She says that’s hard to enforce.

Photo by Jacob Grace for Harvest Public Media

Wearing latex gloves and digging through a sloppy patch of cow poop on his farm in central Missouri, farmer Ralph Voss spotted his target.

“Okay, here we go!” he said excitedly, plucking out a shiny insect the size of a sunflower seed – a dung beetle.

Food Companies Face Water Risk

May 9, 2015
Photo by Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

America’s biggest food production companies face a growing threat of water scarcity, according to a new report from Ceres, an environmental sustainability group.

The report cites pollution as one of the primary culprits.

Farming can be a major contributor to water pollution through runoff from chemicals and manure. Because food companies depend on clean water, they have an incentive to help farmers keep water in mind.

screen shot from the Kickstarter video

In order to try to produce more local milk, Kalona Supernatural is getting creative. They've just got a few days left in a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to build a fence to expand the pasture available for milking cattle to graze. 

Why do farmers burn their fields?

Apr 28, 2015
Photo by Jacob Grace for Harvest Public Media

Farmers burn their fields to remove plants that are already growing and to help the plants that are about to come up. These burns are often called “prescribed burns” because they are used to improve the health of the field.

What tools do farmers need for a burn?

To keep the fire contained, farmers need to clear away burnable matter around the edges of the field, which usually requires a lawn mower or larger machinery. The burn itself can be managed with some simple, specific tools.

Photo by Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

When President Obama announced in late 2014 that he would work toward ending the embargo on trade with Cuba, it wasn’t just tourists perking up their ears. Midwest farmers and ranchers see communist Cuba as an untapped market for goods from the American Heartland.

One of those farmers is Paul Combs, a rice farmer from southeast Missouri. Cuba can be an important market for farmers like Combs, who already depend on exporting their products.

The Swansons have farmed land in Boone County  for generations. When the great recession hit, it called their sons' future in farming into question. Regardless of the logistics, the connection between farm and family was evident. 

"It was really kind of amazing to watch them work together as a family. There's something beyond the practical that is tied up in their desire to do that, obviously. They want to farm as a family, they know how to work with each other, they enjoy working with each other."

Clay Masters / IPR

It’s that time of year when Midwest farmers are preparing to plant their crops. This year though more may be thinking about the water in their fields, that’s because a lawsuit by Iowa’s largest water utility is targeting the nitrates farms send downstream and polluting the Des Moines metro's drinking water sources. Local governments and big agriculture interest groups alike are now watching this lawsuit.

Photo Courtesy of Ash Bruxvoort

One of the best ways to learn anything is through experience. Farming is no exception.

Over the course of the last year, Iowan Ash Bruxvoort has been traveling the country apprenticing on organic farms. She started out on a small CSA in Atlantic and says getting on farm experience has taught her more than anything else she could have done.

 

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