agriculture

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

Peggy Fogle and her dog, Abe, walk among rows of aronia berry bushes on the family property outside Carlisle. Plants on the ends of rows are smaller from years of being nibbled by deer and rabbits. But on nearly nine acres, filling four separate fields, the bushes are reaching maturity, eight years after Fogle and her husband decided to put in their first ones.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The proposed takeover of a major seed company by a Chinese government business is getting some scrutiny on Capitol Hill. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) chairs the Senate Judiciary committee and says he's looking at state-owned ChemChina's plans to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

U.S. Drought Monitor

While northwest and north Iowa farm fields are struggling with too much rain, a good share of southeast Iowa is too dry.   The USDA’s weekly update Monday afternoon lists more than 50-percent of south-central and southeast Iowa short to very short of top-soil moisture.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Midwest farmers may be facing some of the toughest financial times they have experienced in three decades, largely thanks to low prices for some of the region's biggest crops.

The average net farm income for farmers in Kansas, for instance, plummeted in 2015 to just $4,568, according to a report released this week by the Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA). The figure is less than 5 percent of the previous year's average of $128,731.

IPR Photo by Amy Mayer

Consumer demand, public health concerns and new federal rules all are driving the pork industry away from routine use of certain antibiotics. Booths at the World Pork Expo, a three-day event underway this week at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, reflect the move away from antibiotics.

Dean Borg/IPR

Water gleams between green rows of young corn and soybean plants in some north Iowa fields. Wild geese gather in small ponds where corn should be growing.

USDA’s weekly crop update issued Monday says, “Farmers in the northern one-third of the state are struggling with wet spots.”

Iowa State University Extension Agronomist, Paul Kassel, monitors 10 north Iowa counties stretching from Forest City to Sac City.  He says persistent, heavy rains have drowned some corn plants and slowed soybean planting.

Kristi Koser for Harvest Public Media

At the grocery store, processed foods like cereal, crackers and candy usually maintain the same price for a long time, and inch up only gradually. Economists call these prices "sticky" because they don't move much even as some of the commodities that go into them do.

Take corn, for example, which can be a major food player as a grain, a starch or a sweetener.  

Corn prices can fluctuate widely, so why don't products containing corn also see price changes? Why does your cereal pretty much cost $3 per box every week?

It's partly thanks to the futures market.

Flickr/TimSackton

Expansion in the country’s beef cattle herd is bringing cheaper meat prices to the grocery store just in time for the summer grilling season, but those reduced prices might get some scrutiny on Capitol Hill. U.S.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The U.S. Senate Agriculture committee will hold an oversight hearing this week to look at the Farm Credit System. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sits on the committee, says the hearing will examine concerns that the agency has strayed from its mission to lend money to rural Americans with little access to credit.

"There are some interests that have been expressed to us, outside this hearing, who would say that the Farm Credit System has gone beyond its goal and purpose of helping rural America and farming in particular," he said.

USDA/Flickr

An outbreak of a bird flu has hit southwestern Missouri. While less contagious than the strain of avian flu that devastated the Midwest chicken and turkey industry last spring, the infection is still potent enough to call for the destruction of birds.

On Wednesday, when the outbreak was confirmed by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the commercial turkey farm in Jaspar County, near Joplin, was still quarantined. Some 39,000 birds were destroyed last week as a precaution.

USDA/Flickr

The federal Food and Drug Administration calls a report of a new low in poultry salmonella rates "encouraging."

The study is part of a larger government effort to reduce the persistently high rates of the food-borne illness in chicken and turkey, especially illnesses caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.  

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

The population of Northern Colorado is booming. People are flocking to the area and population numbers are on the rise.

The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Weld and Larimer counties already sport high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region's feeding operations. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows to churn out the milk needed to produce bricks of mozzarella cheese and whey protein powder.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

As farmers put their 2016 crops in the ground, they face another year of corn and soybean prices that will make turning a profit on the land challenging. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says already he's seeing early signs of strain in the farm economy.

"We're hearing a little bit from bankers," he said. "We're hearing isolated instances of farmers [hurting]. We're hearing that the 800 number where farmers that are in trouble can call in and ask for help or get advice that they're getting a few more calls now."

Environmental journalist, educator and author, Simran Sethi, says she has written a book about food, but it's really a book about love.  And make no mistake: she loves bread, wine, chocolate, beer and coffee--enough to travel to remote locations in six continents to learn about their origins. 

Photo by Amy Mayer

Near Alexander, Iowa, on a cloudy spring Tuesday, Josh Nelson watches a bright red Case IH Magnum 340 tractor pull a 24-row planter and crest a small hill, dropping corn seed at careful intervals. Nelson says his family farm dodged a weather bullet this week, but it's just one of many hurdles this season promises.

 

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Turn on the TV and you can barely escape it: presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle deriding free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a bum deal that will hurt the U.S. economy and especially low-wage workers, according to pols from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton.

But here in the Midwest, ask a farmer about the TPP, and you're likely to get a different answer.

Pat Blank/IPR

As more people look to have control over how their food is grown, many are planting gardens for the first time. And some are even turning their backyards into chicken coops. It’s the time of year when hardware stores and agricultural supply companies share space among the lawnmowers and grass seed with live baby chickens.

Some venues offer informational seminars to help customers get started.  On a recent Thursday night at a Cedar Falls farm store, Cargill animal nutrition specialist Jodi Holmes said people came with a lot of questions.

Iowa Sweet Corn Planting!

Apr 15, 2016
Michael Leland/IPR

Iowa’s sweet corn season is underway! That planting, that is.

Dean Rebal’s roadside stand at his farmhouse adjacent to Highway 1 north of Iowa City won’t be opening until mid-July.  But, on Thursday, Rebal began moving his planter across the twenty-acres where he’ll be growing this year’s sweet corn crop. He usually sells some nine-thousand dozen ears of sweet corn. Last year, Rebal’s selling season began July 17th and he sold the final ears for the season on September 16th.

Harvest Public Media file photo by Grant Gerlock

Some of the most important medicines doctors prescribe to fight infections are losing effectiveness and the Obama Administration is calling on farmers to help turn the tide against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A recent report by the president's advisors on antibiotic resistance charts some progress but also left some critics urging for more immediate action.

Not everyone is pleased with the idea of a proposed $240 million pork processing plant near Mason City. North Carolina-based Prestage Farms said last month it expects to employ up to 2,000 people at its hog slaughtering facility, after it opens sometime in 2017.

But environmental watchdog group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement says the need for thousands of hogs will mean more factory farms in North Central Iowa.

Group spokesperson Jess Mazour says the project will have long-term, irreversible consequences.

Suzanne Hogan for Harvest Public Media

Aubrey Fletcher knew she wanted to work on a dairy farm ever since she was a little girl.

"I do remember my mom asking, `Are you sure that's what you want to do?'" Fletcher recalls.

Fletcher knew the work was tough, she grew up milking cows every day. After college she and her husband wanted to return to his family farm, but it wasn't making financial sense.

"The farm couldn't necessarily provide both of us with salaries," says Fletcher. "So we thought, `Why not take our premium milk and take that a little further?'"

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa poultry producers are on the alert for a possible reoccurrence of the deadly avian flu which decimated flocks last year.  

The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is taking steps to more efficiently euthanize birds if the disease strikes again.    

The agency helped coordinate the statewide response last year.   That included hauling water to affected areas to create the foam to kill birds, and coordinating hazardous materials teams for cleanup. 

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Newly published research shows the pig virus that swept through the United States beginning in 2013 and killed more than six million piglets could survive a trip around the world, if it catches the right ride.

 

Peggy Lowe/Harveset Public Media

 

The Western Farm Show in Kansas City, Mo.., is a long way from Silicon Valley.

But here in a huge arena, set in what used to be the Kansas City Stockyards, the high-tech future of agriculture is for sale.

Casey Adams and Scott Jackman, co-owners of Fly Ag Tech, have their large yellow and white drone sitting at center stage in their booth at this huge annual trade show.

"It's got a GPS, so it knows where it's at, underneath here you'll see an autopilot, its an onboard computer," he said.

David Cavagnaro, born and raised in California, started taking pictures of insects and plants at 14, becoming fascinated with what he calls "the land of the small."  Throughout his life, he has used this love of plants to push hard to save our agricultural diversity.

courtesy of Ben & Jerry's

Calling a Vermont law that creates mandatory labeling of food that has genetically engineered ingredients a "wrecking ball," Republican Sen. Pat Roberts won first-round approval Tuesday of his bill that would circumvent the state law.

Photo by Grant Gerlock

There are mounting concerns about the direction of the farm economy. The U.S. Department of 

Agriculture expects farm income to fall for the third year in a row in 2016. At the same time, farmers are borrowing billions more from banks to get by.

The change in farm fortunes follows a drop in prices for corn and soybeans, the top Midwest crops. Supply and demand are both working against the commodity markets. Farmers have raised an oversupply of grain, while at the same time the slow global economy has brought down demand.

Courtesy Programa Nacional de Acrídios/Senasa

The normally dry northern region of Argentina has a problem of biblical proportions.

Farmers there are struggling with a massive outbreak of locusts. Dark clouds of the green-brown bugs cast shadows when they fly overhead and when they land, they cover the ground.

"It is really, really, amazing when you see the locusts because you see millions of them together," said Juan Pablo Karnatz, who raises cattle in Santiago del Estero, about 600 miles northwest of Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. "When you think they can be more millions flying around, it could be a disaster."

Courtesy Oxfam America

In the first nine months of 2015, workers in meat-packing plants owned by Tyson Foods averaged at least one amputation a month. 

That report was gleaned from a Freedom of Information Act request by Celeste Monforton, a George Washington University occupational health professor.

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.

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