Mark Crawford stands at his farm near Danville, Ill. Crawford, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat on his large farm, said the crop insurance programs are important parts of the risk-management safety net for farmers. (Darrell Hoemann/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)
With trillions dollars of government spending up for grabs, lobbyists from all ends of the spectrum – representing environmental interests, biotech companies, food companies, farmers – flocked to Capitol Hill to find their piece of the Farm Bill pie.
A 9-year-old boy died in a grain bin last week in southwestern Wisconsin. While every situation is different, agricultural engineers continue to work on new ways to prevent such deaths. Those involved in the training industry say reaching the younger generation will be an important step to prevent entrapments.
Most family vacations are remembered for endless car rides, packed tourist beaches and a string of poorly decorated hotel rooms.
But not former Nebraskan and current Coloradan Kari Williams. Her family vacation memories center on smells of cow manure, adventures on horseback and roosters with bad attitudes on farms in central Nebraska.
Colorado already draws thousands of visitors each year for skiing, hiking, beer drinking and, most recently, marijuana sampling. In 2012, those visitors spent more than $16 billion in the state. Tourism officials want more and they’re looking to do it by bringing well-educated “traveling foodies” to the state.
According to the USDA, beef prices have increased more than 10 percent and pork prices are up more than 12 percent over last summer. University of Missouri livestock economist Scott Brown says a combination of high feed prices, drought and a hog virus devastating the pork supply are to blame.
“I will say that we are at unprecedented levels in terms of where we are on consumer prices. We have been seeing growth over the last four or five years generally,” Brown said.
And soon, Brown predicts, you’ll see higher prices at restaurants as well.
Farms aren’t just for food any more. With the local food movement growing, more savvy farmers are putting a price tag on more than those organic tomatoes. They are instead marketing and selling the “farm experience” in the form of agritourism attractions.
Farmers and ag groups in the Midwest say the U.S. river system needs an upgrade, and they’re hopeful it will come with proposed improvements in legislation recently passed by Congress.
The nation’s rivers are essential for moving agricultural products to market.
“It’s our third coast, if you will,” said Jim Tarmann, field services director with the Illinois Corn Growers Association. “Over 60 percent of our grain exports move via the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. That’s how things get to our world markets.”
The U.S. market for foods and beauty products that contain hemp is growing, but American manufacturers that use hemp have their hands tied. The crop is still illegal to cultivate, according to federal laws, which means the current American hemp industry, estimated at $500 million per year, runs on foreign hemp.
At Centennial Seeds in Lafayette, Colo., Ben Holmes is testing hemp varieties. Holmes made his name distributing and breeding strains of medical and recreational marijuana, but recently has become a prominent figure in Colorado’s fledgling hemp industry.
Bees at these hives near a corn field in Cherokee, Iowa, must pass through a yellow plastic trap that scrapes off a bit of pollen. Researchers are studying whether insecticide-coated seeds could be harming the bee population.
Nathan Anderson stops his red pick-up truck alongside a cornfield on his farm near Cherokee, Iowa. The young farmer pulls on a heavy brown hoodie, thick, long, sturdy gloves and a beekeeper’s hat with a screened veil. He approaches a pair of hives sitting on the edge of a field recently planted with corn and adjusts a yellow plastic flap that traps some of the pollen the bees bring back to their hive.
Recently processed Asian carp hang in racks at the Two Rivers Fisheries processing plant in Wickliffe, Ky. The fishing industry hopes demand from China can both create a market for, and help rid U.S. rivers of, the invasive species.
Water experts worried about Asian carp may have new hope. They’re turning their eyes to China, where a carp-hungry populace may be the key for stemming the tide of the invasive fish.
Asian carp are taking over U.S. waterways, including the Mississippi River and tributaries like the Illinois and Missouri Rivers, where they out-compete native fish.
In China, carp is cheap and a common meal-time fixture. Now, a carp fishing industry is springing up along carp-infested U.S. waters and processors are exporting the U.S. problem fish to Chinese diners.
As FoodCorps service member Ashley Turk navigates her way through a brand-new greenhouse in the courtyard at Waukon High School in the northeast corner of Iowa, she points to a robust supply of red and green lettuce leaves growing neatly in rows.
“It’s huge,” she says. “We cut it off and it just keeps growing.”
The greenhouse lettuce is among the offerings in the school’s salad bar. And students will soon be growing carrots, tomatoes and other vegetables, Turks says.
The blue corduroy jacket worn by high school students in FFA, formerly the Future Farmers of America, is an icon of rural life. To the average city dweller the jacket is a vestige of dwindling, isolated farm culture, as fewer and fewer young people grow up on farms. The numbers tell a different story however. In spite of that demographic shift, a record number of kids are donning blue jackets this year.
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.
Milk is an extremely popular item on the University of Missouri campus, says purchasing coordinator Sandy Perley. "Our entire campus in a year drinks about 96,000 gallons of milk. And by our best calculation, that’s about 326 gallons a day."
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media
Many of the food terrorism scenarios outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration involve liquid.
And there’s good reason for that.
Liquids like orange juice and milk go through many processing steps -- farm, bottling plant, delivery – before reaching the consumers who drink them. And these liquids are moved, manufactured and stored in huge batches that get distributed and consumed quickly. Should a toxin be injected somewhere along the supply chain, experts believe it could have devastating human health and economic consequences.
A bioterror attack that introduced a virus like foot-and-mouth disease could devastate the U.S. livestock industry. Regulators are proposing new rules meant to protect the food system from terror attack.
It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster. Villains in trench coats scheme ways to cause the most destruction and chaos. They settle on a food company, an easy target, and plan to lace the products with a chemical or pathogen. The hero finds out the plan with enough time to save the day.
Shoppers are already paying more for pork and bacon than they did last year and many economists expect those prices to continue climbing for the next few months.
Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, watches the market for lean hog futures– the anticipated price of hogs heading to market soon. The futures price hit record-highs in early March, Hurt said, which will translate to expensive and bacon in the supermarket in the coming months.
Nearly a third of the food available to be eaten in the U.S. is thrown out instead. And all of that wasted food comes with a steep price tag.
According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans wasted an estimated 133 billion pounds of food in 2010, the most recent year data is available. That’s 31 percent of the food sold at grocery stores and served in restaurants. The study does not include food wasted prior to the retail level.
Donnie Davidson’s family has been producing bottled milk in Holden, Mo., since the 1930s. But the 63-year-old farmer decided to sell his herd of 50 milking cows in November after the roof on one of his barns collapsed from last winter’s snow.
Rebuilding the barn would have cost about $20,000. Then there were the costs of renovating a silo and paying for hired help since Davidson’s children won’t be taking over the business. It made financial sense to close the dairy, and grow crops and build a herd of beef cattle instead.
The days of record high corn prices are gone, at least for now, and they’re only going to continue their decline, according to projections released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (PDF)
You can pin part of the blame on the 2012 drought, when corn hit an all-time high of $8.31 per bushel. The dry conditions made corn a limited commodity.
A poster meant to teach the general public about sustainable ag hangs in Rob Myers’ office. “Everyone can mentally think of a farm scene: the cows out in the pasture, and the crops growing out in the field and a farmer in their pickup but when we talk about sustainability, it’s a step beyond that,” Myers said.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media
Consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for foods they believe were sustainably produced, like free-range chicken, fair-trade coffee and pesticide-free wine. But what does “sustainable” actually mean?
The EPA wants to roll back the amount of ethanol mixed into the fuel supply for 2014, worrying farmers across the Corn Belt. Ethanol supporters warn that if the EPA follows through, the rural economy will take the fall. But many economists predict a soft landing.