Harvest Public Media

Harvest Desk
8:08 am
Tue December 17, 2013

New Labeling Rules Could Help Consumers Learn More About Meat

About 94 percent of our meat comes from livestock that was born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

A new labeling rule that went into full effect Saturday requires meatpackers and retailers to provide consumers with more information about where their meat comes from.

The country-of-origin labeling mandate (COOL) forces retailers and meatpackers to detail where the livestock from which meat came was born, raised and slaughtered. It applies to certain cuts of beef, veal, chicken, pork, lamb and goat sold in the supermarket. Processed, deli and ground meats are exempt from the new rules.

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Harvest Desk
5:00 am
Mon December 16, 2013

2012 Drought Still Pinching Popcorn Sellers

Del’s Popcorn first opened in Decatur, Ill., in 1934.
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.

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Harvest Desk
5:46 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Pheasants Losing Habitat To Farmland

Farm-raised pheasants like this one, wearing blinders so it doesn't fight other birds, are being transported to areas that used to be known for pheasant hunting in order to prop up declining population.
Credit Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

As farmers across the Midwest have simplified the landscape and plowed up grassland to grow more corn and soybeans, habitat for pheasants, quail and other grassland birds has become increasingly scarce and their numbers are falling.

In Nebraska, wild pheasant concentrations have fallen 86 percent since their peak in the 1960's. The pheasant harvest during hunting season in Iowa is off 63 percent from the highs reached in the 1970's. In areas that used to be overrun, you’ll struggle to find a pheasant now.

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Harvest Desk
5:43 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

No Farm Bill This Year

Credit Flickr/Andrewmalone

Congress won’t pass a farm bill before early next year.

That was the message from Washington Tuesday, when the principal farm bill players emerged from negotiations and announced they won’t have a full bill ready before the House adjourns for the year on Friday.

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Harvest Desk
9:33 am
Mon November 25, 2013

Why The 'Turkey Shortage' Won't Affect Your Thanksgiving Meal

No need to panic, there's still plenty of turkey to be had. The "shortage" was only from one company, Butterball, and affected large fresh birds.
Credit tuchodi via Flickr/Creative Commons

Watched the news lately? Then you might’ve heard about impending doom for Thanksgiving dinners across the country.

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Harvest Desk
1:00 pm
Tue November 19, 2013

Joel Salatin: Local Food Evangelist

Joel Salatin on his Virginia farm.
Credit Creative Commons

Joel Salatin is one of the rock stars of the local food movement. He’s written books, appeared in documentaries and scheduled speaking engagements nationwide. Among foodies, he’s a celebrity.

He’s also a vocal critic of industrialized agriculture. Salatin criticizes the use of pesticides, herbicides, genetic modification in crops, and hormones and antibiotics in livestock.

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Harvest Desk
6:00 am
Wed November 13, 2013

Illinois Pumpkins On Thanksgiving Tables

John Ackerman's family farm, just east of Morton, Ill.
Peter Gray/WUIS

This Thanksgiving, hungry families all over the country will finish off their holiday meal with a little slice of the Midwest. That’s because the vast majority of all pumpkin that comes from a can and winds up in a pie got its start on a vine in Illinois.

Pumpkin patches are popular destinations for families seeking fall fun, and you’ll find roadside farm stands all over the country. But this is big business in Illinois, where farmers feed canning factories hungry for a special kind of pumpkin that looks nothing like those you see on Halloween.

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Harvest Desk
2:51 pm
Mon November 11, 2013

Higher Beef Prices: Good For Producers; May Be Tough On Consumers

These cattle on Jeff Longnecker's farm in Story County, Iowa, are part of a herd he's hoping to grow.
Credit Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Once again, the prognosticators are saying beef prices are on the rise. We’ve seen this before—last year, the drought and high feed prices were being blamed.

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Harvest Desk
11:07 am
Fri November 8, 2013

Harvest Blog: Changing Illinois, Hungry World

Peter and father, Bert, tilling a backyard garden in 1987
Credit Cheryl Gray

I come to Harvest Public Media as a reporter standing at the intersection of rural and urban life.  It is a fascinating place to be in the young 21st century.

Growing up in Oswego, Ill., I watched my backyard turn from cornfield to the carefully trimmed suburban lawns of Chicagoland’s residential expansion. The land my Norwegian immigrant great-grandparents tilled in the 1900s is likely a restaurant, big box retail store or strip mall today.

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Harvest Desk
6:40 am
Tue November 5, 2013

Noel, Mo.: Schools Build Safety Net For Immigrant Children

At the primary school in rural Noel, Mo., teachers and staff function as educators about as often as they do de facto social workers.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Noel, MO - It’s almost 9 a.m., and Noel Primary School teacher Erin McPherson is helping a group of Spanish-speaking students complete English language exercises. But it’s tough going.

One student in a bright blue T-shirt – 9-year-old Isac Martinez – has not yet picked up his pencil. He’s clearly sick. When McPherson asks him what’s wrong, Isac’s small voice is barely audible in between coughs. He says he threw up four times last night but did not go to a doctor.

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Harvest Desk
1:03 pm
Fri November 1, 2013

Rural Neighbors Split On Wind Energy Lines

In O’Brien County, Iowa, Jay Hofland has agreed to sell part of his land to an energy company for a conver station that would mark the beginning of a high voltage transmission traversing the state.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren/Harvest Public Media

The rolling plains of Midwest farm country are being tapped for their natural resources again. This time, though, the bounty would be wind energy, instead of corn, wheat or soybeans.

Houston-based utility company Clean Line Energy Partners wants to produce a massive amount of wind energy on the plains. To do that, the company plans to build five large-scale high voltage transmission lines that would criss-cross the country, three of which would bring energy from Midwestern windmills to the energy grid to the east.

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Harvest Desk
11:41 am
Wed October 23, 2013

Expected Bumper Crop Has Corn Prices Dropping

Farmers have been riding a wave of high corn prices in recent years, but an expected bumper crop has corn prices dropping.
Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

On a clear fall day in central Iowa, Aaron Lehman climbed into the cab of his green combine with a screwdriver to do some maintenance. He was hoping his corn had a couple more weeks to grow before harvesting because the price per bushel this fall is much lower than it has been for the past three years.

Corn farmers have been riding high prices for the last few years. But an expected bumper crop has prices falling this harvest season, and many economists expect the price of corn to drop to its lowest level in recent years.

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Harvest Desk
7:32 am
Thu October 17, 2013

The Long, Slow Decline Of The U.S. Sheep Industry

Once a staple part of the American diet, we’re eating a lot less lamb. The U.S. sheep herd today is just one-tenth the size it was in the 1940's.
Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in this country has been cut in half. In fact, the number has been declining since the late 1940's, when the American sheep industry hit its peak. Today, the domestic sheep herd is one-tenth the size it was during World War II.

The decline is the result of economic and cultural factors coming together. And it has left ranchers to wonder, “When are we going to hit the bottom?”

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Harvest Desk
1:38 am
Tue October 15, 2013

Shipping Containers Can Open Export Market To Farmers

Agribusiness giant ADM recently opened a 275-acre container shipping rail yard near Decatur, Ill., in part to export more grain.
Credit Bill Wheelhouse/Harvest Public Media

A huge new rail yard has been buzzing on the outskirts of Decatur, Ill. Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) recently opened the 275-acre facility that would be at home at any major port city on the coast. But it’s in the heart of Illinois farm country because farmers have been taking advantage of a new method of shipping out their products.

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Harvest Desk
11:18 am
Thu October 3, 2013

Government Shutdown Slows USDA

The USDA headquarters in Washington D.C.
Credit brittreints/flickr

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was forced to send home tens of thousands of employees because of Tuesday’s government shutdown.

As a result, the agriculture department and its nearly two dozen agencies are operating at limited capacity – or not at all.

But even though important agencies such as the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency will be shut down almost entirely, agriculture officials said that Midwest farmers and producers won’t be affected that much.

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Harvest Desk
12:08 pm
Tue October 1, 2013

Millet Could Be The Next Trendy Grain

Millet, long an ingredient in bird feed, could be the next food to capitalize on the heritage grain trend.
Credit Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Heritage grains are trendy. Walk through a health food store and see packages of grains grown long before modern seed technology created hybrid varieties, grains eaten widely outside of the developed world: amaranth, sorghum, quinoa.

But there’s another grain with tremendous potential growing on the Great Plains: millet.

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Harvest Desk
2:45 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Farm Bill Expires; What's Next?

Without a farm bill in place, farmers all over country are left to guess at what federal policy will look like.
Credit Frank Morris/Harvest Public Media

The farm bill expired at midnight on Monday, leaving farmers and ranchers across the country guessing at what federal farm policy will look like when they next put their crops in the ground.

Of course, they’re used to uncertainty, as this is the second straight year Congress has let the farm bill expire. Last year, farmers were set adrift for three months before lawmakers passed a nine-month extension of older policy in January.

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Harvest Desk
6:09 pm
Tue September 24, 2013

Largely Unpopular, Direct Payment Subsidies Persist

Farmer Bill Wendel says he doesn’t need his direct payments, sometimes known as “welfare for farmers.”
Credit Frank Morris/Harvest Public Media

Congress is bitterly divided on food stamps and other issues contained in the farm bill, but both political parties agree on something: the $5 billion-a-year farm subsidy called Direct and Countercyclical Payments has got to go.

The program shells out to farmers and land owners regardless of need or loss. It’s a hold-out from a farm bill that promised an end to subsidies and it’s holding on only because Congress is so dysfunctional.  

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Harvest Desk
11:26 am
Tue September 24, 2013

Sticker Shock - It's Not Just On New Tractors Anymore

Some estimates peg the market for used farm equipment in the U.S. at more than $100 billion annually, about five times the amount spent on new equipment each year.
Credit The Knowles gallery/flickr

Buying a new farm tractor costs almost as much as a new home in a decent suburb.  

Shelling out $200,000 or more for shiny new John Deere, Case IH, New Holland or other name brand horsepower to work the fields of a 21st century Midwestern farm isn’t unusual, farmers and dealers say.

What seems more unusual, to newcomers to farm economics at least, is that those shiny new models aren’t the hottest selling big iron on many dealers’ lots.  That would be the used tractors that were traded in when the new models rolled off the dealers’ flatbed trucks.

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Harvest Desk
9:21 am
Tue September 24, 2013

Obamacare Could Be Tough Sell In Rural Areas

Bob Bernt and his wife, Kristine, have gone without health insurance for the last 20 years, and don’t plan on buying coverage to meet the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

The Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” takes a big step forward Oct. 1 when new health insurance marketplaces open for enrollment. Rural families are more likely to qualify for subsidized coverage, but reaching them to sign up will be part of the challenge.

So, will farm country take advantage of new health insurance subsidies? That’s the question in Nebraska.

Almost 200,000 Nebraskans don’t have health insurance. Nearly half of them are spread across the state’s rural areas.

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Harvest Desk
8:27 pm
Mon September 23, 2013

Singer-Songwriter's Ode To Agriculture

Susan Werner's family has worked the land in Iowa for generations since emigrating from Germany in the 1860s.

Chicago-based singer-songwriter Susan Werner has worked on concept albums before – from jazz standards to pop classics to Gospel music for agnostics. But now she's turned to her farm roots for inspiration.

Werner, who's currently touring in the Midwest, desribes her new CD, Hayseed, as "egg meets art," celebrating agriculture through music.

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Harvest Desk
3:12 am
Mon September 23, 2013

Why Farmers Want New Equipment

Illinois farmer Len Corzine is surrounded by some of his brand new farm equipment.
Bill Wheelhouse/Harvest Public Media

On a hot August day in late August, Kevin Bien stands in the shade of a large gray piece of farm equipment.  The brand marketing manager for Gleaner Combines gives his best spiel to a group of farmers attending the Farm progress Show  in Decatur.   Torque, efficiency, and new technology are among his key points for the prospective buyers of the large machines that can run anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000.    

And farmers are buying. Frequently.

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Harvest Desk
1:50 pm
Wed September 11, 2013

U.S. Corn Exports On The Rebound

Corn thrives along a road in central Illinois in mid-August 2013.
Credit Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Last summer’s drought knocked the nation’s corn exports to the mat.  And while U.S. farmers may be getting up from that punch, it may take them longer to regain their footing in international markets.  

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Harvest Desk
3:11 pm
Tue September 10, 2013

Horse Slaughter Divides Horse Lovers

At the Hilltop Saddle Club’s annual rodeo in Kansas City, Kan., most members of the group said they oppose horse slaughter.
Credit Frank Morris/Harvest Public Media

Most Americans don’t eat horse meat, and they don’t like the idea of horses being slaughtered, but a handful of investors are struggling to restart a horse slaughter industry in the United States.

The investors argue that reviving horse slaughter plants would be both good for the horse business and more humane than the current situation. They’re hoping to open a new horse slaughter plant near Gallatin, Mo., but opposition has the project mired in the legal system. The issue cleaves horse owners into two camps: one that views horses as pets and another that see them as livestock.

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Harvest Desk
1:59 pm
Wed September 4, 2013

Report: Farmers Could Do More To Lessen Impact Of Drought

Credit plantcovercrops.com

Farmers across the country received more than $17-Billion in federal crop insurance  payouts after last year’s drought. A report by one environmental group blames farmers for not doing enough to shield the soil against the heat. 

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Harvest Desk
6:03 am
Tue September 3, 2013

My Farm Roots: Community Counts

Matt Pauly grew up in rural Kansas. After living in Europe and Asia, he moved back to the Midwest and now lives in Lawrence, Kan.
Credit Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

This is the thirteenth installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. Click here to explore more My Farm Roots stories and to share your own.

Matt Pauly has traveled the world  – he’s lived in New York, Paris, South Korea – but he’s still a farm boy at heart.

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Harvest Desk
5:17 am
Tue September 3, 2013

Illinois County Relied Heavily On Crop Insurance Last Year

Tim Kelly, a John Deere dealer in Pontiac, Ill, says crop insurance payments kept business going as normal. Unlike after the drought of 1988.
Darrell Hoemann/ Midwest Center For Investigative Reporting

Farmers in the Midwest were devastated by a crippling drought in 2012. The federal crop insurance program paid out a record $17.3 billion. And in rural America, that money is still paying dividends. To understand the impact, Harvest Public Media reporter Bill Wheelhouse took a tour of Livingston County, Illinois. Farmers here received by far the biggest insurance payout in the nation.

On this sweltering day in mid-August, surrounded by healthy 8-foot tall corn stalks, Doug Wilson peels back the husks to see how his corn is looking. The verdict?

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Harvest Desk
10:39 am
Mon August 26, 2013

Vineyards Face Threat From Herbicide Drift

Tom Zumpfe holds a bunch of Frontenac grapes he said were stunted by herbicide drift. “At least half the grapes are either BBs or they’re non-existent,” Zumpfe said.
Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

As Midwest vineyards move in next door to longstanding fields of corn or soybeans, they don’t always make good neighbors. Occasionally, herbicides like 2,4-D drift beyond their target, and for nearby vineyards the results can be devastating.

2,4-D is a common herbicide used by farmers because it kills weeds but doesn’t kill their corn. Landscapers and golf courses use it on lawns and fairways. Highway crews often spray 2,4-D on road ditches.

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Harvest Desk
5:47 am
Mon August 26, 2013

My Farm Roots: Born To Farm

Despite suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, Steve Quandt still farms outside Grand Island, Neb.
Credit Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

This is the twelfth installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. Click here to explore more My Farm Roots stories and to share your own.

One sign that you have strong farm roots is when your rural road is named for your family.

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Harvest Desk
8:39 am
Mon August 19, 2013

Howard Buffett: Farmer Of The World

Admitting he’s a boy who loves big toys, Howard Buffett stands on his John Deere tractor on his Arizona research farm.
Credit Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

Five years ago, Howard G. Buffett was at a meeting of an international food aid agency when he was told that feeding the millions of starving people in Africa was simple.

Just give them better seeds, someone said.

That advice might work on some philanthropists. But Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett, happens to be an Illinois farmer.

“This guy was explaining to me how to farm and he’d never been on a farm in his life,” he said. “So it really kind of irritated me. I came home and said, ‘OK, I’m going to have data to show these guys.’”

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