Harvest Desk

Corn Husking Can Still Be A Hands On Job

Oct 13, 2014

Dick Humes squinted and sweat as he moved down a row of corn. He sliced through the husk with a metal hook in his right hand, snapped the ear from its stalk with his left, and threw it over his shoulder into a wagon rolling alongside him.

Every other second, the corn hit the floor of the wagon with a thud. Humes was setting a steady pace for the men’s 50-and-older division at the 34th annual Illinois State Corn Husking Competition.

With Curbside Composting, Food Waste Not A Total Loss

Oct 7, 2014

Wasting around 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. certainly has its drawbacks: It's not feeding people in need, it's expensive and it does a lot of environmental damage.

But across the country, cities, towns and companies are finding food waste doesn't have to be a total loss. In fact, it can be quite valuable – in making fertilizer, electricity or even fuel for cars, trucks and buses.

Lunch time at Harris Bilingual Elementary School in Fort Collins, Colo., displays all the usual trappings of a public school cafeteria: Star Wars lunch boxes, light up tennis shoes, hard plastic trays and chocolate milk cartons with little cartoon cows. It’s pizza day, the most popular of the week, and kids line up at a salad bar before receiving their slice.

Grocery stores and restaurants serve up more than 400 million pounds of food each year, but nearly a third of it never makes it to a stomach.

With consumers demanding large displays of un-blemished, fresh produce or massive portion sizes, many grocery stores and restaurants end up tossing a mountain of perfectly edible food. Despite efforts to cut down on waste, the consumer end of the food chain still accounts for the largest share of food waste in the U.S. food system.  

The long line of semi-trucks waiting to get in the gates of the Farmland Foods plant could simply wait around for a few hours to head back, fresh products on board.

The trucks are loaded with hogs from several confinement operations near this factory in Milan, a small town in northeast Missouri. Within just 19 hours, those pigs will be slaughtered, butchered and boxed into cuts that consumers see in the grocery store and in restaurants.

But that effort will use only about half of the animal.

On a wet, grey day in Grinnell, Iowa, the rain beats a rhythm on the metal roof of a packing shed at Grinnell Heritage Farm. Crew member Whitney Brewer picks big bunches of kale out of a washing tank, lets them drip on a drying table and then packs them into cardboard boxes.  

It’s a hot summer day outside of Lincoln, Neb., and Jack Chappelle is knee-deep in trash. He’s wading in to rotting vegetables, half-eaten burgers and tater tots. Lots of tater tots.

“You can get a lot of tater tots out of schools,” Chappelle says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s elementary, middle school or high school. Tater tots. Bar none.”

HOOKER, Okla. – Jennifer Brdar’s dream job was to be a meat inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, watching out for unwary consumers and making sure the meat on their dinner tables was clean and disease-free.

After earning an associate’s degree in meat science, Brdar (pronounced Ber-dar) was hired in March as a temporary federal meat inspector at a big beef packing operation just up the road in Liberal, Kan.

She lasted barely a month, walking away in frustration.

Monsanto has agreed to settle some of the lawsuits brought by U.S. farmers who allege they lost money when an Oregon field was discovered to have been contaminated with an experimental genetically modified strain of wheat.

Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States is genetically modified, but GMO wheat has never been approved for farming.

Amanda Vinicky

There's a farm town about 50 miles to the west of Springfield, in between Jacksonville and Beardstown, called Arenzville. Only about 400 people live there. It's the sort of place where old men gather at the only restaurant in town every Saturday morning for coffee. The sort of place where many of the last names carved into the tombstones at the local cemetery are the same as the last names a teacher is reading off of the class list when she takes attendance at school each morning.

Harvest Public Media/Luke Runyon

When the wind picked up from the south on John Schweiser’s farm outside Rocky Ford, Colo., the sky would go black. A charging wall of dust would force the 80-year-old farmer and his wife to hunker down in their ranch-style farmhouse.

“You’d look up and here’d come this big ol’ rolling dirt,” Schweiser said. “You couldn’t see how high it was.”

Bill Wheelhouse / WUIS/Harvest Public Media

Farmers’ can anticipate a sharp drop in income this year, according to a new report from the U-S Department of Agriculture. The U-S-D-A predicts the lowest amount of net farm income in five years.

The USDA expects farmers’ profits to fall by about by fourteen percent from last year’s record amount, thanks mostly to a massive drop in crop prices.

Although farmers are expected to produce record levels or corn and soybeans this year, the bumper crop will cause prices to slide and Midwest farmers will feel the pinch.

What Goes Into The Price Of Your Tomato?

Aug 22, 2014

Late summer in the Midwest is tomato season. For tomato growers around that country, it’s time to pick their bounty and calculate their earnings.

While sun and rain might be free, tomato farmers have to carefully weigh everything else they put in to growing their crop. Research and the development of new tools – from novel seed varieties resistant to diseases to additional fertilizers – has changed the input costs for growers.

HPM

Farmers will produce a record-breaking corn harvest this year, surpassing earlier expectations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has revised upward its estimate of this year's corn harvest to 14 billion bushels.  
That exceeds last year's 13.9 billion bushel record.  

Soybean production also will set a new record at 3.8 billion bushels, beating the 2009 harvest of 3.4 billion bushels.  

Harvest Public Media

  When ever food prices start to rise – even a little – the national news finally starts doing stories about agriculture. We get frantic calls from editors in New York and Los Angeles – will they ration bacon? Will there be enough beef for backyard barbeques? Will children get their milk?!

To me, all those stories are great big clichés – lots of speculation told with heavy breathing and a remarkable lack of insight. Rarely are Americans ever hit with significant food shortages and sky-high prices.

Crop Insurance Programs Subject Of Intense Farm Bill Lobbying

Jul 19, 2014

After two years of debate, the U.S. Congress passed a Farm Bill this year that replaced direct subsidies to farmers with an ever increasing multi-billion dollar federal crop insurance program.

During that time, at least 80 groups spent more than $50 million in lobbying efforts that included ensuring their interests in the often criticized program were well-represented.

Out Of Public Eye, A Bitter Farm Bill Fight

Jul 16, 2014

The “who” part of the Farm Bill is pretty clear.

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.

Lobbyists Of All Kinds Flock To Farm Bill

Jul 15, 2014

When U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced passage of the Farm Bill in February, she echoed a refrain from a car commercial.

“This is not your father’s Farm Bill,” she said.

Jenna Dooley

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.

   

Rescue Tools

My Farm Roots: Smells Like Home

Jul 14, 2014
Harvest Public Media/Luke Runyon

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.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is touring farm country, trying to assure farmers that the agency isn’t asking for more authority over farmers and ranchers’ lands.

States Working Out Kinks In Agritourism

Jul 8, 2014
Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

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.

Meat Prices Higher This Independence Day

Jul 4, 2014
flickr/Clemensv.Vogelsang

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.

Agritourism A Growing Opportunity On The Farm

Jun 19, 2014
Harvest Public Media/Luke Runyon

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 Hope For River System Improvements

Jun 9, 2014
Kenneth Spencer/flickr

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.”

Canada Jonesing For Piece Of American (Hemp) Pie

Jun 5, 2014
Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

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.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

A handful of farmers are set to plant the country’s first hemp crop in decades, despite federal regulations that tightly restrict the plant’s cultivation.

Is Corn Dust Killing Bees?

May 29, 2014
Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

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.

Jacob McClelland/Harvest Public Media

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.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

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.

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