Peter Gray

Harvest Desk Reporter

Peter has a diverse background in public, independent and commercial media production.  Beginning in 2011, Peter served as reporter and “Morning Edition” host for WUIS.  He completed his work at WUIS in 2014.  Prior to his start in public radio, he covered the Illinois legislature for NBC affiliate WANDTV-17 and helped launch Phenom Features, a non-profit apprenticeship film studio.  Peter hails from Oswego, Ill., where he grew up watching WTTW-11/PBS.  

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Former U.S. Senator Alan Dixon died Sunday in his southern Illinois home.

The 86-year-old Belleville Democrat spent more than four decades in public office - 30 years in state government before going on to serve in Congress from 1981 to 1993.

But Chicago Democrat Carol Moseley Braun unseated Dixon in 1992.  Braun became the first African American woman to serve in the Senate.

On March 17th, 1992, Dixon congratulated Braun for her win, and bowed out of public office with a certain grace uncharacteristic of politicians who've just suffered defeat at the polls.

Peter Gray/WUIS

Farmers are making inroads supplying local food to hungry city "foodies", but many producers are trying to grow more food in urban centers. City real estate is at a premium, so some producers are finding more space by using what’s called “vertical farming,” and going up rather than spreading out.

Growers across the country are heading indoors, using greenhouses and hydroponics – growing plants in a water and nutrient solution instead of soil and using lamps to replace sunlight. Vertical farming takes that to a new level.

Boucher Farms

Fourth-generation family farmer Matt Boucher took his first unmanned aerial vehicle (what we might commonly refer to as a “drone”) out of its box last Christmas.

 An area organization with the goal of propelling women entrepreneurs into "economic and social spheres of power" wants to do the same for female farmers. 

Women Entrepreneurs of Central Illinois, WE-CI, will be talking about the role of gender in farm operation Wednesday, April 9.

Federal regulators say progress has been made in limiting antibiotics given to food animals.

Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources (IDNR)

The Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources wants to add black bears, gray wolves and cougars to the state's list of protected species. But there is disagreement on how much protection should be given when there is a safety concern.

On November 20, 2013, a family near Morrison, Ill. asked state conservation police officers to kill a cougar found hiding under a building on their land.

Peter Gray/WUIS

Unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t just for spies or for the battlefield. Farmers all over the country think drones can give them a leg up, too.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced new data on certified organic food, showing the industry grew just over four percent in 2013, with a record breaking 18,513 farms and businesses in the United States.

Certified organic food has seen a 245 percent increase since 2002, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service's National Organic Program.  Last year the federal government certified 763 producers.  

The following is from USDA:

When the "lobbyist" armed with a free basket of treats is a smiling farm kid, what state lawmaker could say no to the gift? 

That was the scene at Ag Lobby Day in the Illinois State Capitol, its rotunda invaded by a veritable army of bushel basket-toting FFA members.

The FFA lunch hour food distribution lent some younger voices to the chorus of voices advocating on behalf of Illinois agribusiness.

But if anyone knows there's "no such thing as a free lunch", it's farmers.

Farmers, their lobbyists and legislators met in the Capitol Thursday to talk about legislation that would affect one of Illinois’ biggest industries – agriculture.

One proposal “big ag” is fighting would change the way food is labeled in Illinois.

State Senator Dave Koehler says consumers ought to know whether processed food they buy contains genetically engineered ingredients. 

Peter Gray/Harvest Public Media


Lacking the infrastructure of traditional suppliers, many local farms that want to connect to restaurants, schools and other big buyers are using the Internet to reach customers. Groups of farms are banding together to form regional food hubs, leveraging online ordering, tracking and marketing tools to cut down on costs and to try to keep local food systems viable for growers and affordable for consumers.

Truckers delivering much-needed heating fuel to homes and businesses throughout the Midwest will remain on the road longer now that the federal government has extended regional emergency declarations

Liquid propane was in short supply in dozens of states during the month of January.  

Purdue University Extension

Despite what they may be thinking now, Midwest grain farmers and backyard gardeners alike may be thankful for the recent arctic temperatures before 2014 is out.

That’s because soil that’s frozen solid from weeks of below average temperatures isn’t exactly a cozy spot for hibernating insects that feed on crops as soon as the spring thaw comes.

Passage of the Agriculture Act of 2014 brought with it good news for fans of pickles and cherry pies.  

Peter Gray/WUIS

Residents across the Midwest are struggling with tight propane supplies, especially in this bitterly cold, snowy winter. Homes in rural counties are not the only places lacking adequate heating fuel. Farms that put bacon and eggs on your breakfast plate are also feeling the supply pinch.

Hog farmer Phil Borgic of Nokomis, Ill., burns liquid propane – LP - from September through May to support his piglets. His farrowing barn goes through about two semi truckloads of LP each year.

One of the key farm bill negotiators says the nation has entered “a new era of farm and food policy.” 

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) said the legislation President Obama signed into law Friday “values saving money, reforming or repealing government programs and yet still providing an effective safety net for the production of our national food supply and for those Americans who are struggling.”  Read Lucas' full statement here


The U.S. Senate passed the farm bill Tuesday by a vote of 68-32, sending it to the president’s desk and ending years of political wrangling.

Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk were among the 68 "yea" votes.  To view Durbin's video statement on the farm bill vote, click here.


With the price of farmland at record levels across the Corn Belt, many farmers have been renting acres to plant. Now, with the price of corn and soybeans in free fall, farmers that depend on renting risk big losses if they’re unable to negotiate lower rents.


The Department of Justice says a central Illinois farming business has paid $5.3 million to settle allegations it used fake partnerships to avoid limits on federal subsidies its owners could receive.  

The department said Wednesday that Dowson Farms of Divernon has agreed to the out-of-court settlement but the terms do not include an admission of guilt. Divernon is about 15 miles south of Springfield.
Ron Cogswell

  The U.S. House is set to vote on a new farm bill Wednesday, after House and Senate negotiators earlier this week agreed on compromise legislation combining each chambers' drafts.

This 2014 farm bill has been a long time coming.  At least one farm bill watcher from the Midwest is pleased that Congress has finally reached an agreement on the farm bill after years of debate.

  Jonathan Coppess, who teaches law and policy at the University of Illinois, says negotiations dragged due to the size - roughly one trillion dollars - and complexity of the bill.

  Springfield residents curious about raising chickens in their backyard may want to stop by Benedictine University on Saturday, January 25. 

Mad City Chickens is one of five films to be screened at the 5th Annual Slow Food Springfield Film Festival.

The University of Illinois Extension is co-sponsoring the event.  

Kidzeum of Health and Sciences

The non-profit group planning to build a new children’s museum along East Adams Street in downtown Springfield has received $50,000 from Archer Daniels Midland Company to install what museum organizers are calling a Farm to Market exhibit.

CLICK HERE to view the latest concept art for the Kidzeum of Health and Science (subject to change)

Peter Gray/WUIS

With snow and ice still blanketing their fields and greenhouses, vegetable and fruit growers around the state met last week at their annual trade show in Springfield to share ideas for the spring.

Harvest Desk reporter Peter Gray spoke with Harry Alten, Jr. of the Illinois Specialty Growers Association about some of the concerns farmers have about government regulations, and what Illinoisans should know about the people who grow products they find at their area farmers market.


U.S. farmers harvested more corn in 2013 than in 2012, while the soybean harvest declined slightly, according to USDA reports released Friday. 

In 2013, Illinois farmers saw the best soybean yields in the nation, outpacing the soy heavyweight of Iowa. In 2013, the state of Illinois reported 49 bushels per acre, while Iowa farmers only got 45 bushels per acre out of their fields last year.

Visitors to the Peoria Farm Show learn about seeding cover crops in this 2013 file photo (Peter Gray/WUIS)
Peter Gray/WUIS

Midwest farmers who rely on healthy soybean harvests have one more reason to consider adding cereal rye into their crop rotation in 2014.

Research conducted in Illinois indicates certain cover crops left in the ground during the winter make the soil less vulnerable to diseases that attack the leaves and root systems of soybeans planted the following spring.

Peter Gray/WUIS

U.S. popcorn sellers took a big hit from the 2012 drought, which caused one of the worst popcorn harvests in recent memory. Crops not irrigated were decimated, and low supplies continue to force local candy shops and giant movie theater chains alike to pay high prices for the golden grain, biting into their profit margin.

In 2012, commercial corn fetched record prices, and popcorn was no different. The low harvest is still working its way through the supply chain, from grain bins to wholesalers to retailers. Popcorn sellers are being squeezed with high material costs.

The FDA wants to phase out antibiotics in meat.

Regulators released a broad plan Wednesday, designed to prevent meat producers from using drugs that are also used to treat sick humans. That means some changes Midwest farmers and ranchers will have to get used to.

Springfield's top city attorney has submitted his resignation after helping the mayor and aldermen through a difficult legal battle.

Mayor Mike Houston appointed Mehlick this summer, following the departure of former Corporation Counsel Mark Cullen.  Cullen and other city officials are named in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Springfield resident Calvin Christian.  Christian accuses them of knowingly and intentionally destroying the documents he was seeking through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Peter Gray/WUIS

Farmer and philanthropist Howard G. Buffett had several messages for his hometown crowd this week. Among them?  "Everybody who is physically able" can do something to fight hunger.

Buffett spoke Tuesday before signing copies of his latest book, 40 Chances, at a fundraising event for Decatur area charities.  

Peter Gray/WUIS

As farm bill negotiations continue in Washington, D.C., it’s fairly certain that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will be cut.  One proposal would trim the food stamp program by $4 billion over the next decade; the other would cut roughly ten times that much. 

That’s after the Obama Administration’s recession-era boost to SNAP expired November 1st, leaving the average family with about $30 less to spend each month.