Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed April 17, 2013

Seed companies fight to maintain independence

Burrus Seed employs about 60 workers year-round, more during peak season.
Bill Wheelhouse/Harvest Public Media

The window in Tom Burrus’ office gives him a good look at the wide expanse of Illinois River bottomland where his company produces seed corn for farmers across Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. Hanging on his wall are sketches of his grandfather and others who’ve had a part in the Burrus Seed Co. since it was founded 1935. The 63-year-old company president knows he is  a rare independent in a land of giants.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue April 16, 2013

Seeking profits in private labels

Walmart's "Great Value" brand is an example of private label food. After acquiring Ralcorp, ConAgra is now the largest private label food supplier in the U.S.
Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

You may not think much about store brands as you shop for groceries, but it’s a business worth nearly $60 billion per year. ConAgra, a company based in Omaha, Neb., made a splash recently in what the industry calls private label food when it paid $6.8 billion to buy Ralcorp, based in St. Louis, Mo. The merger created the biggest private label food company in the country.

Every major grocer has its own private label brand. Walmart has Great Value. Kroger stores sell Private Selection. Costco has Kirkland. Almost everything at Trader Joe’s seems to carry the store's name.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon April 15, 2013

New cages and carton labels could come to egg industry

At Mark Tjelmeland’s farm near McCallsburg, this henhouse opens up to three acres of pasture for the chickens.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Mark Tjelmeland wears Carhartt overalls over a faded blue work shirt and his face is framed by a baseball cap from the local farmers’ cooperative and a curly white beard. He shows me around his homestead in McCallsburg, Iowa, about 20 miles northeast of Ames. This third-generation farmer grows traditional corn and soybeans on one of his farms. But on this one, he’s got a four-crop rotation of certified organic corn, soybeans, oats and hay. And three acres of pasture for his 700 laying hens.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed April 10, 2013

Potato industry banks on 'Linda'

Kristin Mastre is the kind of influential shopper the potato industry is targeting, as she buys food for her family, including sons Carter and Logan.
Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

At a Fort Collins, Colo., grocery store, Kristin Mastre paused for a minute in front a large bin of Russet and red potatoes. She picked out a few handfuls and continued on, her two boys, Carter, 4, and Logan, 7, in tow.

“Today is definitely a staples kind of day,” Mastre said, pointing to the potatoes in her shopping cart. Mastre, who does nearly all the cooking and grocery shopping for her family, is a big potato consumer.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon April 8, 2013

Thirsty cities drain Colorado farmland

Fourth-generation farmer Kent Peppler will have a hard time securing irrigation water this year. The ongoing drought has forced cities to hold on to their supplies, which means Peppler will have to fallow some of his fields in Mead, Colo.
Credit Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Farmers throughout the Great Plains are preparing for what could be a tough, dry growing season.  Limited irrigation resources pose a particular problem in Colorado.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue April 2, 2013

Taxing complications for farmers

From his farm’s headquarters in Nevada, Iowa, Mark Kenney can see his childhood home and farm. Not pictured, but also within sight, is the original piece of farmland Kenney’s great-great grandfather bought, which is still part of the family farm.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Farmers will be filing their taxes on April 15 this year—just like most other Americans. But usually farmers have to file and pay by March first. It’s just one of many ways that taxes are different for farmers. 

Roger McEowen runs the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University. He offers trainings for lawyers and accountants all over the country to ready them for preparing farm tax returns.

“Farm tax, in many instances, is totally different from taxation with respect to nonfarmers,” McEowen said.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
7:28 am
Mon March 25, 2013

Rural Post Offices in Crisis

The post office in Nilwood, Ill., serves as an informal community center.
Credit Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

It’s mid-morning on a bleak March day in Nilwood, Ill. And every 10 minutes or so, a car or truck pulls into the gravel parking lot in front of the south-central Illinois town’s post office.   

Rush hour.

Because there is no mail delivery here, the town’s 236 residents must stop in to the post office to stay connected. Staffed by one full-time postmaster and one relief person, this office provides mail service six days a week.    As in many rural communities across the country, the post office serves as an informal community center.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
7:04 am
Fri March 22, 2013

GMO labeling laws on deck in the Midwest

Labels at Swiss Meat and Sausage Co. near Hermann, Mo., do not indicate if products contain genetically modified organisms.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Just south of Hermann, Mo., Swiss Meat and Sausage Co. processes 2 million pounds of meat a year -- everything from cattle to hogs to buffalo to elk.

And everything gets a label.

“No antibiotics added, raised without added hormones, all natural, minimally processed," Glenn Brandt, the production manager for Swiss Meat, reads from a hefty roll of hickory smoked beef sausage stickers.

What this label does not indicate, however, is whether or not the sausage contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
9:28 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Ethanol Plants Caught in 'Blend Wall'

In Atkinson, Neb., a semi rolls past the NEDAK plant, which shut down when corn prices peaked during the summer of 2012 and new demand from E15 failed to materialize.
Credit Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

On Highway 20 outside of Atkinson in north-central Nebraska, semis with trailers full of corn roll past the NEDAK ethanol plant.

The plant, which was built by local investors in 2008, has been offline since June 2012 when the drought pushed corn prices to new highs. When operating, the plant made 44 million gallons of ethanol per year from 17 million bushels of corn.

“We had corn coming in as far as 130 miles out,” said Jerome Fagerland, NEDAK's president and general manager.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed March 6, 2013

Farmers Face Unknowns As Healthcare Overhaul Approaches

Marilyn Andersen of Story City feeds her angora goats, whose wool she spins and weaves. Andersen will soon be buying individual health insurance.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Marilyn Andersen raises angora goats and llamas for wool that she spins and weaves in her studio at Two Cedars Weaving in Story City, Iowa. She also has a part-time job coordinating distribution of local produce through a service called Farm to Folk. Neither effort comes with health insurance.

“Right now I have health insurance through my husband’s job but that is going to end when he retires in a few months,” she said recently, “and so I’ve just begun a search for health insurance for myself.”

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed February 20, 2013

Science of the Seed part 3

Carefully organized ears of corn wait to be hulled at the DuPont Pioneer Dallas Center Corn Research Center.
Amy Mayer/IPR

We continue now with Harvest Public Media’s three-part series on the Science of the Seed. Over the past two days we’ve considered the beginnings of genetic modification and how control of the technology is changing as patents expire. Today, we wrap up with the question that drives seed company executives and farmers alike: how can we grow more crops?  Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer looks at how seed innovations push the boundaries of what the land can produce.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue February 19, 2013

Science of the Seed part 2

Connie Elliott fills envelopes with seed corn at Seitec Genetics, a small seed company in Fremont, Nebraska.
Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

In a case being argued Feb. 19 before the U.S. Supreme Court, Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman is challenging the reach of Monsanto’s patent rights on Roundup Ready soybeans.  But the rights on the first genetically modified seeds expire next year. Grant Gerlock of Harvest Public Media reports on how the introduction of “generic” seeds will – or won’t – fit into the science and business of GM crops.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon February 18, 2013

Science of the Seed Part 1

Corn plants grow in a roof-top greenhouse at Monsanto's Chesterfield Village Research Facility.
Amy Mayer/IPR

The vast majority of the corn and soybeans in United States grow from seeds that have been genetically modified. The technology is barely 30 years old and the controversy surrounding it somewhat younger. But how did it even become possible?

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon January 28, 2013

Poultry rule update sparks controversy

Retired USDA chicken inspector Phyllis McKelvey worked with Change.org and Whistleblower.org to gather signatures on a petition opposing the proposed new poultry slaughter rule. She delivered over 177,000 signatures to the USDA office in Washington.
Courtesy of Whistleblower.org

Every year, more than 9-billion chickens and turkeys are slaughtered, then inspected for defects before heading to market.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to modernize that inspection process, which dates back to 1950s-era poultry law. But while industry, government and consumer groups agree that updating makes sense, there’s widespread disagreement over whether the USDA’s proposals will make things better. Iowa Public Radio and Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Fri January 25, 2013

Farm bill extension doesn’t sit well with many organic farmers

Liz Graznak, who runs Happy Hollow Farm in Jamestown, Mo., is one of many farmers who say they may not be able to afford the cost of organic certification without federal support.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Shoppers looking for organic food may have to look a bit harder this year.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed January 16, 2013

Can small farms produce for Wal-Mart?

Produce broker Herman Farris stands in the parking lot of the east-side Wal-Mart in Columbia, Mo., before heading to St. Louis to pick up a shipment of bananas for Wal-Mart.
(Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media)

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is muscling in on one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture: local food.

Wal-Mart says 11 percent of the produce sold in its stores nationwide comes from local farms, a large increase from the mere 4 percent it sold two years ago when the chain announced its intention to step up local sourcing as part of a larger sustainability platform and a commitment to buy from small businesses.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
6:28 pm
Mon January 7, 2013

Mitas makes tires around the clock

Mitas workers roll the first tire off the line in January 2012
Credit IPR's Pat Blank

Mitas in Charles City started making radial farm tires last year and is now running two 12 hour shifts seven days a week.  The Czech-based company purchased a former Winnebago Industries building in 2009 and after 50 million dollars in renovations, opened for business in January of 2012.  Mitas makes tires for tractors, combines, and other farm implements. The Iowa Department of Economic Development awarded the company more than 900 thousand dollars to support 154 of the nearly 200 jobs that have been created.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
12:12 pm
Mon January 7, 2013

When Conservation Pays

Lindsey Price and father Bob Price look out on the land of their Gracie Creek Ranch near Burwell, in central Nebraska.The Price family recently sold the largest conservation easement in Nebraska history, covering about 40 square miles.
Credit Hilary Stohs-Krause/NET News

Along the winding road to and through Grace Creek Ranch, a 25,537-acre yearling cattle ranch in central Nebraska, there are no houses in sight – no buildings, for that matter. Just acres and acres of gold and amber grass, punctuated by patches of sand and lines of barbed wire fence.

And that’s the way the owners of Gracie Creek Ranch want it to stay.  Lindsey Price, a fourth-generation rancher, her brother Aaron and their father Bob recently sold the largest conservation easement in Nebraska history, covering about 40 square miles.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
8:37 am
Mon December 31, 2012

Drought Update: Iowa Soil Still Drier Than Normal

This summer's drought damaged crops across the region.
Credit Tom Woodward / Flickr

     

Like many Midwestern states, Iowa is closing the 2012 calendar year with soil moisture deficits after this summer's drought. But with the new crop year at least four months away, Iowa State University Climatologist Elwynn Taylor is seeing some spotty

Taylor credits abundant fall rains with helping mitigate the drought, at least for now.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
8:01 am
Thu December 27, 2012

Low Mississippi River levels could leave farmers in fertilizer crunch

A backhoe places a cover on a barge near Cape Girardeau, Mo. The backhoe had just finished removing fertilizer that was shipped up the river from New Orleans.
Credit Jacob McCleland

Southbound barges on the Mississippi River carry grain destined for world markets. Those barges regularly pass northbound tows with thousands of tons of fertilizer heading to Midwestern ports and, later, to farmers’ fields.

But this year’s drought is adding an element of uncertainty to those shipping patterns, as Mississippi River levels reach record lows. Water levels have fertilizer shippers scrambling to get their product to market before low water dries up their most important shipping route.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
1:56 pm
Thu December 20, 2012

New food safety rules apply to bulk grains

At DFS Animal Nutrition, Leland McKinney says quality and safety are inextricably linked.
Amy Mayer/IPR

New food safety regulations are about to be announced by the Food and Drug Administration and they apply to commodity grains.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Thu December 20, 2012

Beef checkoff feud exposes divide within cattle industry

Sale barns like the Green City Livestock Market in central Missouri are where some cow-calf operators sell their stock up the industry foodchain.
Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

People who raise cattle are, as a rule, independent and far flung geographically. But, almost all the beef they raise comes to market through just four enormous packing companies. In the conclusion to Harvest Public Media’s series America’s Big Beef, Frank Morris explores how the cattle industry’s deep divide has come to a head over something called the Beef Checkoff.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed December 19, 2012

Beef feedlots grapple with never-ending waste

Allan Sents co-owns McPherson County Feeders, a beef feedlot in central Kansas, with his wife Deanna. His 11,000 cattle produce a lot of waste.
Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

Had a hamburger lately? The cow it came from likely passed through a feedlot – a huge farm that fattens cattle before they’re slaughtered.  The thousands of cattle housed at a feedlot produce tons and tons of waste and if it’s not properly disposed, it could lead to an environmental disaster. In Part 3 of Harvest Public Media’s series, America’s Big Beef, Jeremy Bernfeld reports. 

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue December 18, 2012

Judging a cow by more than its cover

Maddee Moore, a “cow-fitter,” helps competing heifers look their best at the American Royal livestock show.
Frank Morris/Harvest Public Media

The beef in the cooler at your grocery store is the product of thousands of years of selective breeding. For nearly all of that time, ranchers have made cattle-mating decisions based on the outward appearance of animals. That’s changed, in a big way, and as Frank Morris reports in Part 2 of Harvest Public Media's America's Big Beef series, an emerging understanding of cattle genetics promises to accelerate that change exponentially. 

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon December 17, 2012

Public research for private interests

Dr. Dan Thomson, a Kansas State veterinary professor and director of the Beef Cattle Institute, holds a “Beef Quality Assurance” training at the Beef Fest in Emporia, Kan., in August.
Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Abraham Lincoln established the land-grant colleges 150 years ago as the “peoples’ universities” – places where research could be done to help the common man. But times have changed and some public colleges are now often working for big business. Peggy Lowe has the story in part 1 of Harvest Public Media's series America’s Big Beef

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
6:30 pm
Tue December 11, 2012

Robotic dairies becoming more common in Iowa

An ankle bracelet gathers information as cows are milked
IPR's Pat Blank

A Northeast Iowa dairy is the latest to invest in a mechanical employee to help with the milking chores. The farmers are hoping the device will enable them to stay competitive in an industry that’s losing producers at an alarming rate. Kevin and Cherish Kueker installed a robot in June. They’ve joined with a neighbor to milk 95 cows and raise calves. Each animal is fitted with an ankle bracelet with a computer chip. In the seven minutes it takes to milk the cow, the chip reveals a detailed history.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
1:46 pm
Thu December 6, 2012

Cellulosic ethanol is coming, but future is uncertain

DuPont Industrial BioSciences President Jim Collins speaks to supporters at the site of the company's new cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada.
Amy Mayer/IPR

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard calls for one billion gallons of ethanol produced from non-food plant matter rather than grain next year. It’s a goal industry is woefully unprepared to meet.  But as Iowa Public Radio and Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports, with several plants in the works, cellulosic ethanol is poised to hit the commercial market sometime in 2013. 

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Temple Grandin
3:59 pm
Wed December 5, 2012

Animal welfare expert addresses Farm Bureau

Animal welfare expert Temple Grandin addresses the Iowa Farm Bureau annual meeting.
Amy Mayer/IPR

A leader in animal welfare is encouraging Iowa farmers to continue improving their livestock operations. Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer reports. 

Ag census
10:00 am
Mon December 3, 2012

In the ag census, small farmers count

Justin Jones hopes to expand his fruit and vegetable farm to three or four acres next year. That may seem small, but his business is part of a trend. The U.S. added 110 thousand farms under 50 acres from 2002-2007.
Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Look at the Census of Agriculture and you can learn a lot about farming in Iowa. When the last census was done in 2007, the average farm was 331 acres and worth more than a million dollars. The US Department of Agriculture updates that information every 5 years and is getting ready to send out new surveys in a few weeks. One trend to watch for is the growing number of small farms. As Grant Gerlock of Harvest Public Media reports, they’re easy to miss and some would rather not be counted.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
6:03 pm
Wed November 21, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree

Kris Kringle's Tree Farm owner Danny Moulds stands among the thousands of trees lost to the drought
Pat Blank

Danny Moulds owns Kris Kringle’s Trees just north of Cedar Falls. He says the hot dry summer took a harsh toll on newly planted seedlings. He says he lost around 15 thousand Christmas  trees on his 46 acre farm.

Had those young trees survived they would have been ready for harvest in 2019. Because the drought was so widespread, Iowa Department of Natural Resources District Forester Mark Vitosh says it may be harder to find the more popular varieties in the future.

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