Agribusiness

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Farming in the fertile Midwest is tied to an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But scientists are studying new ways to lessen the Midwest's environmental impact and improve water quality.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the so-called "dead zone," an area of sea without enough oxygen to support most marine life, to grow larger than the size of Connecticut, or roughly 6,000 square miles.  

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Standing on a platform above the eastern bank of the Missouri River at the Kansas City, Missouri, Water Services intake plant is like being on the deck of a large ship.

Electric turbines create a vibration along the blue railing, where David Greene, laboratory manager for Kansas City Water Services, looks out across the river. Water the color of chocolate milk is sucked up and forced through screens below, picking up all the debris the river carries downstream.  

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."

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

St. Louis-based Monsanto, a world agribusiness leader, has agreed to be acquired by the German company Bayer. Bayer will pay $57 billion dollars, or $128 per share, in a deal that has been in the works since last spring.

Two other mergers are underway in the industry, with Dow set to combine with DuPont (already the owner of Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer) and ChemChina planning to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to examine proposed mergers among agricultural chemical and seed companies in a September hearing.

 

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa's senior US senator says the proposed mergers of major agricultural seed and chemical companies should get coordinated review from multiple federal agencies.

Chuck Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and often presses government agencies to make sure proposed mergers will not stymie competition. Right now, he says the Department of Justice is looking at the proposed Dow-DuPont merger. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing ChemChina's bid to take over Syngenta.

Liv Martin/IPR

Four years ago, two very different entities in North Iowa began a transition on separate paths. Now, they’ve combined to provide both fresh produce and new opportunities for people with many types of disabilities.

69-year-old Dan Lauters stands on the edge of his sprawling one acre Hancock County garden and attempts to list all the vegetables it holds.

“A row of kale there, and then you see a row of carrots, and then the romaine lettuce, and then this is the kohlrabi, and here is your rainbow chard…” says Lauters.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with four young professionals from Sub-Saharan Africa in Iowa this summer as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. 

This summer, each of the fellows is developing business skills they will be able to take back home, and they are also forming connections with one another - an important aspect of the program, according to Dimy Doresca, director of the UI Institute for International Business.

Pat Blank/IPR

Wright County Supervisors have taken the first step toward a proposed a $240 million pork processing plant by rezoning land near Highway 17. Today’s vote came after both discussion and protest.

Storm clouds loomed on the horizon as about 50 members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement gathered on the lawn of the court house prior to the vote.  That mood continued for some all morning. CCI member and county resident Kathy Schnell says she’s bothered by the speed at which the plan by North Carolina-based Prestage Farms is moving

Flickr / Jason Mrachina

U.S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack will be at the National Governors Association's summer meeting in Des Moines Saturday to discuss the value of local foods to rural economies.

Vilsack says in order to repopulate rural communities, smaller farming operations need consumers that don't put a premium on size and speed. One strategy to carve out markets for these smaller producers is through food hubs.

Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

Food companies and farm groups were the victors Thursday with the passage of a federal bill establishing standards for the disclosure of genetically-modified ingredients in food products.

Amy Mayer/IPR

When I walked onto the floor of the JBS Marshalltown Pork Plant, I expected the sensory assault to hit my nose first. But turns out it was my ears that first felt the most severe impact. The processing line is noisy. It's also chilly, to protect the meat. That also prevents the sort of noxious smell I had anticipated. Instead of an animal stench, my nose mostly registered cleaning products and a raw meat smell as if I just opened a package of pork chops in my own kitchen.

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.

Harvest Public Media file photo by Stephanie Paige Ogburn/KUNC

Hundreds of thousands of people go to work each day preparing the beef, pork and poultry that ends up on our dinner tables. Their workplace is among the most dangerous in the United States.

Photo by Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media

The meatpacking plants that enable American consumers to find cheap hamburger and chicken wings in the grocery store are among the most dangerous places to work in the country. Federal regulators and meat companies agree more must be done to make slaughterhouses safer, and while there are signs the industry is stepping up its efforts, danger remains.

The rate of meatpacking workers who lose time or change jobs because they're injured is 70 percent higher than the average for manufacturing workers overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meatpacking workers call it "the chain." Sometimes "the line," or "la linea." It sets the pace for all work done at meat processing plants, production rates that force workers to make in the tens of thousands of cuts, slices and other movements for hours at a time.

Those repetitions affect workers' muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, causing what is called musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, and resulting in sprains, strains, pains, or inflammation. 

Photo by Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media

The nights were often worse for Gabriel, even after long days working on the production line at a pork slaughterhouse in Nebraska.

He had nightmares that the line – what the workers call "the chain" – was moving so fast that instead of gutted hogs flying by, there were people.

"You've been working there for three hours, four hours, and you're working so fast and you see the pigs going faster, faster," he says. 

Dan Boyce/Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media

On the worst day of Greta Horner's life, she was dressed in a burlap robe, waiting by the window for her husband to come home from work.

The couple was down to one car. The other one was in the shop. She donned the costume for a play, set in Old Jerusalem, later that morning, part of Vacation Bible School at the church. She just needed the car to get there. 

Flickr/USDA

A slaughterhouse is a safer place to work than it used to be, but data gathered by federal regulators doesn't capture all the risks faced by meat and poultry workers, according to a new government report.

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.

Rick Friday

Rick Friday had been drawing editorial cartoons for Farm News for more than two decades, that was until last week when a cartoon criticizing Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer and John Deere cost him his job.

He drew a farmer lamenting to another farmer the downturn in the commodity prices. Friday was as surprised as anyone that the cartoon then cost him his job, especially given that it had gone though the editor of the paper before being printed. 

Prestage Farms

City council members in Mason City this week turned down a proposed $240 million  pork processing plant after approving it twice on a 6-0 vote.The proposal by North Carolina-based Prestage Farms ended in a 3-3 tie. It needed four “yes” votes to pass.

One of the company's executives, Ron Prestage, says they will continue to seek an Iowa location. He says all four counties surrounding Cerro Gordo (where Mason City is located) have expressed an interest.

Prestage Farms

Prestage Farms of North Carolina, doing business as Prestage Foods of Iowa promises to create hundreds of new jobs in North Central Iowa if their proposed 240 million dollar pork processing plant near Mason City wins local government approval.

Neighbors say the need for thousands of hogs will mean more factory farms. They fear the farms will produce odor and foul the air and water. Tom Willett of rural Mason City and others are asking the city council  to delay approval of the project for 90 days.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

North Carolina-based Prestage Farms has announced plans to build a 10,000 head-capacity hog processing plant in Mason City. The company's estimated investment would be $240 million.

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. 

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.

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.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The new agriculture company founded in the wake of the merger of industry titans Dow and DuPont will not be headquartered in Iowa, as local politicians had hoped, the companies announced Friday.

Iowa's Congressional delegation pushed for the companies to put the newly-formed agriculture business in Iowa, but it will be headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware. Still, Johnston, Iowa, where DuPont Pioneer is based, and Indianapolis will serve as what the companies call "Global Business Centers."

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

A proposed merger between two giants of American business, DuPont and Dow, could ultimately result in an agricultural company more focused on farmers than either is today.

At least that's one interpretation of the proposed $130 billion deal, which would create the biggest chemical company in the United States and the second largest in the world.

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