Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

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.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

 

Food waste is an expensive problem. The average U.S. family puts upwards of $2,000 worth of food in the garbage every year.

What some see as a problem, however, others see as a business opportunity. A new facility, known as the Heartland Biogas Project, promises to take wasted food from Colorado's Front Range and turn it into electricity.

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.

Wikimedia Commons

Planning outdoor landscaping is one of the more overwhelming outdoor projects. If you're wondering where to start, Lisa Orgler, a lecturer in the horticulture department at Iowa State University says to think about your open spaces first. 

Pat Blank/IPR file photo

April’s winds might have created a bad hair month for many Iowans, but they’ve been beneficial to the state’s farmers who need the soil to be dry enough to plant their crops.

State Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says only a handful of producers have had a chance to plant corn, however, because the soil is still too cold for seeds to germinate.   He says if the weekend is as warm as the weather forecast suggests, everything will kick into high gear.

Photo by Amy Mayer

On a cold windy morning, Kelly Nissen feeds the cows at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm north of Ames. Far from just tossing hay, he weighs out specific rations and carefully delivers them to numbered feed bunks.

"When you're feeding, you’re always double-checking yourself to make sure it's going in the right lot," Nissen says.

 

Kate Dugas / Flickr

It's almost time to start planting seedlings into the soil.

"This is an exciting time of year," says Ajay Nair, assistant professor of horticulture at Iowa State University. "One of the crops that comes to mind is potatoes. Sometime in the first week of April, or the second week of April, is the time to plant potatoes... Other crops that can go out are the cool season vegetables like broccoli and peas." 

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.

Shinya Suzuki / Flickr

Mary Swander, Iowa's Poet Laureate, moved out to the country when she fell ill in 1983. She wanted to be close to where organic, whole foods were grown. Thirty years later, she's gained more than a connection to agriculture--she's gained a connection with a group of people not seen by most of society: the Amish. 

"They are based on the Benedictine monks, so they live like a cloistered community but they have families. They’re supposed to be disconnected from the outside world," she says. "So, now I’m a neighbor, and that’s a very privileged position."

Anita / Flickr

With April, spring has tentatively arrived, grass everywhere is starting to turn green, and Iowan eyes are cast to the lawn. One question facing homeowners is whether or not to rake the leftover leaves on the lawn.

"You can get some damage from it. On the other hand, in most situations those leaves will break down and they won't do a thing, Iowa State University horticulture professor and turf grass expert Nick Christians.

Christians says the leaf breakdown can even be beneficial.

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?'"

Charles Bassett wants you to buy hamburgers made from his Missouri cows. That's why the Missouri rancher wants to pay an extra dollar into an industry-created fund every time he sells one of his cattle.

Corvus moneduloides / Wikimedia Commons

There's nothing quite like the taste of a ripe, red raspberry, but cultivating a berry patch can be thorny and a little confusing. If you want berries in the fall, now's the time to prune them. 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Iowa officials say a new pork processing plant coming to North Iowa will boost the state’s hog industry. Officials announcing a pork processing plant soon to be built near Interstate 35 in the Mason City-Clear Lake area were celebrating the anticipated two-thousand jobs this week.

But Iowa’s Pork Producers Association sees extra capacity.  It says the state’s existing 16-pork processing plants will be straining later this year to accommodate expected large marketings.

Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey also welcomes more capacity.

FLICKR / JEFF KUBINA

Workers at an Iowa slaughterhouse scored a victory for hourly employees at the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday morning.

Workers from the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Storm Lake were awarded $2.9 million in a 2011 class action lawsuit, in which they alleged Tyson underpaid them for the time it takes to put on and take off protective clothing required to do their jobs.

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. 

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill Wednesday that prevents individual states from requiring food to have GMO labeling. Currently only Vermont has such a law. It’s slated to go into effect in July.

"I think common sense tells you that we got to have one standard for all 50 states," says U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican. "Fifty different state laws with 50 different labeling requirements, would be practically impossible for any food processor." 

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.

file: Pat Aylward/NET News

Every year Americans spend billions of dollars to grow, process and transport food that's never eaten.

ReFED, a group of nonprofits and foundations, say they have a roadmap to keep that from happening. Their plan focuses on preventing food from ending up in the trash in the first place, and diverting it to a more beneficial use when it does get tossed out.

Waldo Jaquith / Flickr

Iowa’s Master Gardeners will be stocking community food banks this summer.

Iowa State University Master Gardner coordinator Denny Schrock says it’s expanding existing programs already producing nearly 15-tons of fresh produce.augmenting healthy diets for more than a third of a million Iowans said to be food insecure. And Shrock says the desired foods are surprising.

"They want more zucchini. So, we’ve green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers,  carrots, potatoes, melons, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes are going to be part of the home demonstration gardens.”   

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Hundreds of lawsuits against seed company Syngenta could develop into a major class-action potentially involving almost every corn farmer in the country.

In 2013, China rejected certain American imports because they contained corn grown from Viptera seeds, a Syngenta product with a new genetically engineered trait. The trait was approved for sale in the United States, but China's regulators had not yet approved it, though they have since.

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 Amy Mayer

Take a road trip through the Midwest during the growing season, and it feels like you're moving through a sea of corn and soybeans grown largely for livestock feed or ethanol. But now, low grain prices and increasing pressure to clean up waterways may push some farmers to consider other options. 

Peter Miller / Flickr

Heartening news out of Mexico this week: monarch butterfly populations at the southern end of their migration pattern are up from last year. They covered 10 acres of land, more than five times larger than their all-time population low in 2013. There’s still room for improvement—in 1996, they covered 45 acres. Donald Lewis, Iowa State University extension entomologist, says this news, while good, doesn’t mean the problem is solved.

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.

Pages