USDA

Amy Mayer/IPR

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is being recognized for encouraging young people to choose careers that will help farmers combat climate change and feed more people. Since 2011, USDA has partnered with the Des Moines-based World Food Prize to offer fellowships in Washington, D.C. for agriculture students. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa Democratic governor, returned to Des Moines to accept the World Food Prize Medallion on behalf of his department. He spoke directly to...

file: Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Can food be organic even if it's not grown in soil? Many hydroponic growers in the U.S. want access to the $40 billion organic market, but a board that advises the U.S. Agriculture Department on organic industry policy signaled Friday it would recommend excluding produce not in grown in soil from the federal organic program. Currently, fruits and vegetables grown using hydroponics – an artificial system with added nutrients carried in water, but without soil – can be labeled as organic. The...

Flickr / Michael Jenkins

As fall hunting seasons approach, sportsmen and women will be able spread out more due to a USDA grant that incentivizes Iowa landowners to put private property into conservation. The Iowa Habitat and Access Program, or IHAP , pays people to improve natural habitat on their properties. In exchange, they allow the public the hunt on their lands. “Better habitat should lead to better wildlife and good hunting,” says Todd Bogenschutz of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Basically some,...

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. "The next agriculture secretary needs to have a very broad understanding of what this department does, who it impacts – and that it has an impact and effect on every single American," Vilsack says, "not just...

Flickr / Roger W

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is holding a rural LGBT summit Thursday at Drake University. Ashlee Davis is the director of the event, which is the 15th the USDA has held in the rural and southern U.S.. Davis says some there’s a widely-held myth that LGBT people don’t live in rural American, but data from the most recent U.S. Census shows that's not the case. "LGBT people are living in 99 percent of U.S. counties, when you break that down, quite frankly they are calling rural America home...

Photo by Amy Mayer

The path to normalized relations between the United States and Cuba made a stop in farm country Friday. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his Cuban counterpart, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, toured Aaron Lehman's corn and soybean farm in central Iowa. They talked about water, soil, and energy and compared strategies for managing hog manure, which has been a problem in Iowa . Vilsack said he hopes Cuba can increasingly be an export market for farm products like soybeans, rice and,...

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The country's top agriculture official is declining to comment on some of the largest proposed mergers the farm economy has ever seen. Possible deals between Germany-based Bayer and American seed giant Monsanto, Switzerland-based Syngenta and ChemChina, a state-owned Chinese chemical company, and between American chemical companies Dow and DuPont could further consolidate an already consolidated market [.pdf] . That means farmers could face fewer choices when buying seeds or chemicals. "I'm...

Harvest Public Media file photo by Grant Gerlock

The federal government has wiped off the books the controversial law that required grocery stores to label cuts of pork and beef with their country of origin. The rules around Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) require retailers to note where the animal that produced cuts of meat was born, raised and slaughtered. The World Trade Organization, however, said last year that the labels were an unfair trade barrier for meat producers in other countries. Congress repealed mandatory labeling on beef...

Don Graham/Flickr

Cuts to the crop insurance program will again be a talking point on Capitol Hill. The budget drafted by President Obama and released Tuesday would make cuts to the crop insurance system, allocate more funds for agricultural research and fund the summer program that provides free meals to children. The decrease in crop insurance subsidies would amount to a savings of $18 billion over ten years, according to the Department of Agriculture's summary of the budget ( PDF ). The crop insurance...

Food safety regulators are hoping new rules will reduce the number of Americans sickened by salmonella bacteria found on the chicken they eat. Currently, salmonella is estimated to cause about 1 million illnesses a year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is cracking down on the amount of salmonella it will allow on certain poultry products. Poultry companies will be required to keep incidences of salmonella to under 15 percent of the chicken parts they produce under new standards released...

Photo by Amy Mayer

Delays by the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped make the outbreak of a fast-spreading pig virus worse, according to a federal watchdog agency. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a critical report last month on the USDA’s handling of 2013’s outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus. ( pdf ) PED appeared in the United States in 2013 and as we’ve previously reported , it took USDA more than a year to make it mandatory to report cases of the disease. Earlier mandatory...

Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

Americans eat more chicken than any other meat, an average of 89 pounds per year. That enormous demand for what's considered a relatively inexpensive protein source is feeding the $50 billion poultry industry. In recent years, consumer groups have pushed the industry to stop feeding antibiotics and move laying hens to cage-free pens. But while many people are concerned with the welfare of meat animals, there appears to be little consumer concern for how workers in the meat industry are...

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. "It's still difficult for someone that doesn’t have the relationship or the contacts to bring, to break into the farming community," Joshua said. He...

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. "It’s a mixed picture" on...

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

A lawsuit alleging illegal spending of Pork Checkoff money is moving forward, following a federal appeals court decision . Iowa hog farmer Harvey Dillenburg along with the Humane Society of the United States and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, an environmental group, sued U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack over what they say is inappropriate use of checkoff dollars. The way the pork checkoff program is set up, ultimate responsibility rests with USDA, says HSUS attorney Matthew...

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

(Editor's note, 5:27pm) Cathy Cochran, USDA spokeswoman, clarified that Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack misspoke when he used the term "outbreak". In fact, Cochran said, the agency was preparing for 500 "detections" of bird flu in the fall. That means the USDA is preparing for an outbreak that is essentially double in size of the one experienced by Midwestern states this spring. The headline and lead of this story have been changed to reflect this.) U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said...

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

USDA officials say they are planning for a worst-case scenario as there is a possibility of avian influenza returning this fall, when birds migrate south for the winter. Dr. Jack Shere with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says it’s worrying that avian flu seems to be slowly moving east. This mean the virus could turn up in states that haven’t yet been affected. "The major poultry states are beginning to plan on how they're going to deal with this," Shere says. "They're...

USDA/Anson Eaglin

President Obama wants all food safety regulation handled by a single new federal agency. Currently the Department of Agriculture oversees meat, poultry and egg production, while the Food and Drug Administration handles most other foods including produce and fish. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley says though, in theory, he supports consolidating federal responsibilities to one department, he prefers food inspection to stay under the purview of the USDA. "I’m not convinced at this point that the...

Amy Mayer/IPR

The U.S. Department of Agriculture touches Americans from the field to the cafeteria, with a bevy of programs that include subsidies for farmers and for school lunches.

John McGrath/Hale Center for Journalism

Jennifer Brdar’s dream job was to be a meat inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, watching out for unwary consumers and making sure the meat on their dinner tables was clean and disease-free. After earning an associate’s degree in meat science, Brdar was hired in March as a temporary federal meat inspector at a big beef packing operation just up the road in Liberal, Kan. She lasted barely a month, walking away in frustration. The meat inspection agency wasn’t doing its job, Brdar...

Amy Mayer/IPR

Change is coming to the poultry industry, but not everyone is happy about it. Until now, inspections have been governed by a law written in 1957 . It’s nine pages long. The new rule — finalized last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service — fills 379 pages. Even accounting for differences in font type and size, and formatting, there’s a whole lot more in this one. Chicken and turkey industry groups generally support the changes , but critics include...

Bob Hartzler/Iowa State University

New herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans are a step closer to reaching farm fields in the U.S. They would help farmers control weeds that are no longer killed by the popular herbicide, Roundup. Roundup resistant crops dominate corn, soybean and cotton production in the U.S. But the list of weeds that have evolved to withstand Roundup is growing, and as a result, farmers are using more chemicals to keep up. Dow Agrosciences has engineered new crops that can withstand the herbicide 2,4-D...

USDA

Iowa’s school districts spent six percent of their food budgets buying from local farms in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Census . That means efforts to fill cafeteria trays with local foods have plenty of room to grow. Across the Midwest, most states report 25 to 50 percent of their school districts are buying from local farms, growing edible gardens or teaching nutrition—all parts of USDA’s Farm to School effort. Corry Bregendahl ...

Theresa Wysocki / Flickr

A lot of Iowa farmers use a two-year rotation of corn one year and soybeans the next. But what if a longer rotation could yield better crops and was good for the soil? Host Charity Nebbe talks with researchers from Iowa State University whose research found longer crop rotations improved the crops and reduced fertilizer runoff.

Across the Corn Belt, farmers are hoping this falls harvest could be one for the record books. With planting season already off to a roaring start, farmers say theyre putting in more acres of corn than they have since the Great Depression.