Harvest Desk

For almost a year, presidential candidates have been crisscrossing Iowa, wooing voters in a state that relies on agriculture for about one-third of its economy. But even here, most voters live in cities or suburbs and don’t have a first-hand connection to the farm.

The time is ripe for the sharing economy in farm country.

The U.S. may be on the verge of a boom in new fertilizer plants, which could be good news for farmers, but not the environment.

Fuel: It's What's For Dinner

Jan 8, 2016

There are few places where the connection between energy and food is more obvious than at the Bright Agrotech warehouse in Laramie, Wyo.

It's the time of the year when Katie Abrams sees her Fort Collins, Colo., neighbors pulling up with real trees tied to car roofs. She feels small pangs of jealousy when friends post woodsy pictures in flannel shirts, cutting down the perfect spruce.

Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture, food and natural resource sectors each year for the next five years, according to a report from Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Move over turkey. Step aside stuffing.

Green Bean Casserole, an iconic Thanksgiving dish, turns 60 years old this year and it’s as popular as ever.

Mike Berners-Lee may not be an expert on the American Thanksgiving. A native of the UK, he’s never actually had the pleasure of experiencing one. But as one of the world’s leading researchers on the carbon footprint of—well—everything (he even wrote a book subtitled “The Carbon Footprint of Everything”), he’s plenty familiar with the impacts of the foods that star in the traditional Thanksgiving Day spread.

In The Fields, A Search For Monarch Butterflies

Nov 18, 2015

The population of monarch butterflies has declined so dramatically in recent years that the iconic insect is being considered for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list. In Nebraska and across the other areas of the Midwest, a stop on the monarch migration route, efforts are underway to determine the scope of the decline.

Earlier this year, Des Moines, Iowa, made news when the city announced it would sue farmers in a legal battle over fertilizer. The city’s water supply from the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers often surpasses the legal limit for nitrates (10 mg/L), which commonly appear in water contaminated by runoff from farm fields.

Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

Erik Terstriep, perched in the captain’s chair of his combine, glides through eight rows of corn at a time.

Known for their calm temperaments and soft fleece, alpacas were at one time the next hot thing to backyard farmers. A decade ago, the market was frenetic, with some top of the line animals selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the bubble burst, leaving thousands of alpaca breeders with near-worthless herds. Today, craigslist posts across the country advertise “herd liquidations” and going-out-of-business deals on alpacas, some selling for as little as a dollar.

All week, Harvest Public Media’s series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.

All week, Harvest Public Media’s series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet. Drive down a dirt road, a two-lane country highway, even many Interstates in the Midwest and the view out the window is likely to get monotonous: massive fields filled with acres of corn sprawled in all directions.

Americans have a big appetite for everything meat. We smoke it, grill it, slice it, and chop it. The typical American puts away around 200 pounds of beef, pork, and poultry every year.

China’s rapid industrialization and economic expansion over the past few decades has been a boon for U.S. farmers — especially soybean farmers. But China’s economy is slowing down, leaving American farmers exposed to the downside of being tied to the world’s second largest economy.

In order to grow massive amounts of corn and soybeans, two crops at the center of the U.S. food system, farmers in the Midwest typically apply hundreds of pounds of fertilizer on every acre they farm. This practice allows food companies to produce, and consumers to consume, a lot of relatively cheap food.

Throughout the cropland of the Midwest, farmers use chemicals on their fields to nourish the plants and the soil. But excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients can wash off the fields and into streams, rivers and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

New tools can help farmers monitor their soil and water so they can become part of the solution to this widespread problem.

Farmers and agriculture officials are gearing up for another round of bird flu this fall, an outbreak they fear could be worse than the devastating spring crisis that hit turkeys and egg-laying hens in the Midwest, wiped out entire farms and sent egg prices sky-high.

The potential target of the highly pathogenic avian flu this fall could be broilers, or meat chickens, as the outbreaks have been triggered and carried by wild birds, which will be flying south in great numbers this fall through several U.S. flyways.

The Matthew family farm, M&M&m Farms, outside of La Harpe, Ill., looks different from the farms surrounding it. It’s not filled with neat rows of soybeans or lines of corn that’s over-my-head high in late July. The Matthew’s place is a bit more disorganized and far more diverse.

“A lot of people grow corn or beans,” Mitchell Matthew tells me as we take an afternoon stroll around his parent’s hilltop property. “Here, we grow everything. Everything you can think of.”

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, is attempting to swallow up the chemical operations of Syngenta, the world’s largest producer of pesticides and other farm inputs. The proposed deal signals a change in focus for the agricultural giant, and could have ripple effects across farm country.

By its own admission, Monsanto lags behind in chemistry research. To boost its research in chemistry, and possibly find new ways to combine chemicals and biotech crops, Monsanto wants to buy the Swiss chemical company.

Farm dog? Check.

Barn cats? Check.

Muddy work books lined up at the back door? Five checks.

We kick off our fourth season of “My Farm Roots” with the Renyer Family, five farm kids I had the pleasure of meeting last week.

Driving onto the Renyer farm, out in Nemaha County, Kan., I was struck by the many classic examples of a farm family. After being met by the family dog, a very sweet boy named Salty, I watched as the barn cats scattered and I met Leah coming out the back door, where the knee-high work boots were standing guard.

Farmers count on chemical herbicides to keep their fields weed-free. But an international panel of scientists who studied two of the most heavily used farm chemicals to determine whether they could cause cancer, said exposure to weed-killing chemicals could come at a cost. In the last few months, scientists brought together by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, considered glyphosate and 2,4-D.

Bee Hotels Give Native Species A Place To Call Home

Jul 14, 2015

A patchwork of bamboo and paper tubes, with diameters no bigger than a nickel, are stacked artfully inside a 4-by-4 wooden frame near the edge of a public hiking trail in Lawrence, Kan.

Organized by size, each hollow tube is about 8 inches long, designed as nests for Kansas’ wild bees. This structure is called a bee hotel.

Driving down a two-lane highway in rural Missouri, Matt Plenge squinted at a patch of gray clouds hanging low over his farm fields in the distance.

“Does it look hazy up there?” he asked. “We only had a 20 percent chance today. We shouldn't get any rain.”

Plenge, like most farmers, always keeps one eye on the weather. But this spring, it’s been his primary and constant concern.

Thursday was not the day to switch places with Chris Grundler.

Grundler, the director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was in charge of the EPA’s one in-person hearing about proposed changes to U.S. ethanol policy.

California Drought Not A Windfall For Midwest Farmers

Jun 24, 2015
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

California grows almost half the fruits and vegetables in the U.S. It’s also deep in drought and some farms are short on water. That may sound like a chance for Midwestern farmers to churn out more peppers and broccoli, but it’s not that simple.

The federal government’s complex set of rules meant to spur a renewable fuels industry has fallen behind one of its main goals: cut greenhouse emissions from gasoline.

Nearly a decade after the rules were drafted, low-carbon fuels have yet to arrive. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will propose tweaks to the nation’s ethanol policy by June 1, and the changes will mark a crucial point for the next generation of biofuels, which have so far failed to flourish.

Ethanol is one of the most important industries in the Midwest, and it’s an industry about to change. The U.S. EPA says that by June 1 it will propose new targets for the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, which dictates the amount of ethanol the oil industry has to blend into our gasoline.

Eleanor Klibanoff / Harvest Public Media

It's no longer enough for restaurants to offer roasted chicken or braised beef shank on their menus. They need to be able to tell customers exactly where that chicken came from and how the cow was raised. If they can remember the pedigree of the produce? All the better.

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