Luke Runyon

I'm a reporter with Harvest Public Media based at KUNC, covering the wide range of agricultural stories in Colorado.

I came to KUNC in March 2013, after spending about two years as a reporter with Aspen Public Radio in Aspen, Colorado.

During my time in Aspen, I was recognized by the Colorado Broadcasters Association and Public Radio News Directors, Inc. for my reporting and production work. My reports have been featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

I'm the product of two farm families in central Illinois, which is where I spent most of my formative years. Before moving to Colorado I spent a year covering local and state government for Illinois Public Radio and WUIS in the state's capital. I have a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield, the same place where I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Contaminated drinking water isn’t just a problem for Flint, Michigan. Many towns and cities across the Midwest and Great Plains face pollution seeping into their water supplies. A big part of the problem: farming and ranching.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Few things are more valuable to a farmer in the arid West than irrigation water. Without it, the land turns back into its natural state: dry, dusty plains. If a fast-growing city is your neighbor, then your water holds even more value.

Farm families in Western states like California and Colorado are increasingly under pressure to sell their water. It’s been coined “buy and dry,” as water is diverted from farm fields and instead used to fill pipes in condos and subdivisions.

On the worst day of Greta Horner's life, she was dressed in a burlap robe, waiting by the window for her husband to come home from work.

Ralph Horner, or Ed as his family calls him, should've been pulling in the driveway any minute that morning in June 2014, home from his overnight shift as a maintenance employee at the beef plant in Greeley, Colorado. It's owned by JBS, the world's largest meatpacker, with its North American headquarters a short drive from the Horners' home.

Chickens aren't traditional pets. But with chicken coops springing up in more and more urban and suburban backyards, some owners take just as much pride in their poultry as they do in their dogs or cats — so much so that they're primping and preening them for beauty contests.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Chickens aren't a traditional pet. But with chicken coops springing up in more and more urban and suburban backyards, some owners take just as much pride in their poultry as their dog or cat. So much so that they're primping and preening them for beauty contests.

Dan Boyce / Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media

On the worst day of Greta Horner’s life, she was dressed in a burlap robe, waiting by the window for her husband to come home from work.

The couple was down to one car. The other one was in the shop. She donned the costume for a play, set in Old Jerusalem, later that morning, part of Vacation Bible School at the church. She just needed the car to get there. 

Monarch butterflies are disappearing.

Populations of these distinctive black and orange migratory insects have been in precipitous decline for the past 20 years, but scientists aren't exactly sure what's causing them to vanish.

Sandy and Chuck Harris/Creative Commons-Flickr

Monarch butterflies are disappearing. Scientists agree that in the last 20 years, populations of the black and orange insect have been in precipitous decline. But there's much less certainty on what’s causing them to vanish.

As each new scientific paper on monarch decline is published, the image becomes slightly less opaque. So far, potential culprits include disease, climate change, drought, deforestation, and nectar plants. Blame has been cast on everyone from loggers to farmers to suburban developers.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

 

Genetically-engineered crops are generally safe to eat, but in the 20 years since the first commercial GMO crops hit the market, they haven’t delivered on all their promises, according to a new analysis from a National Academy of Sciences panel released Tuesday.

For more than two decades genetically-engineered crops -- plants in which scientists have transferred genes among species to achieve new traits like herbicide tolerance or insecticide -- have been lightning rods in food discussions.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

 

The population of Northern Colorado is booming. People are flocking to the area and population numbers are on the rise.

The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Weld and Larimer counties already sport high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region’s feeding operations. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows to churn out the milk needed to produce bricks of mozzarella cheese and whey protein powder.

The population of northern Colorado is booming, and we're not just talking about people here.

The number of dairy cows is now higher than ever.

At the northern edge of the state, Weld and Larimer counties are already home to high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region's numerous feedlots, which send the animals to several nearby slaughterhouses. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows.

Americans throw away about a third of our available food.

But what some see as trash, others are seeing as a business opportunity. A new facility known as the Heartland Biogas Project is taking wasted food from Colorado's most populous areas and turning it into electricity. Through a technology known as anaerobic digestion, spoiled milk, old pet food and vats of grease combine with helpful bacteria in massive tanks to generate gas.

Cannabis is beginning to look a lot like a commodity crop.

After spending decades in darkened basements and secreted away on small parcels of land, marijuana growers are commercializing once-illegal plant varieties: industrial hemp, recreational marijuana and medical cannabis.

As more states legalize the growth of certain types of cannabis, those in the industry are turning to traditional farmers for help in an effort to transform the plant from black market scourge to the next big American cash crop.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reversed course on its organic certification of industrial hemp operations throughout the country.

A handful of hemp farms, including Colorado-based CBDRx, had secured or were in the process of securing, certifications from third-party auditors following a directive from the USDA's National Organic Program staff allowing hemp to be certified organic.

Courtesy Bur-Wall Registered Holsteins

 

Once a generation, a diva is crowned. She earns a reputation for being independent, polished, fearless and of limitless talent, unreachable by us normal folk. After years of climbing the ladder, she claims her crown.

Holsteins of the world have their new queen, and her name is Gigi.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Grabbing a quick meal doesn’t just mean fast food anymore. Now there are “fast-casual” options like Chipotle or Panera, restaurants that borrow ideas from both fast food and upscale sit-down restaurants.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

    

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.

The American agriculture industry has a problem though; there are not enough grads to fill them. The report projects about two open jobs for every qualified graduate. That’s left the USDA, land grant universities and private industry scrambling to try and bridge the gap.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

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.

Beef, poultry and pork are staples of the American diet, baked into the country’s very culture, and backbones of the agricultural economy. But lately, the meats have been saddled with some baggage.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

  Nilvio Aquino weaves through a tangled jungle of marijuana plants at an indoor grow facility in Denver.

“Throw your nose in there. It’s nice and pungent,” he said, pulling a seven-foot tall plant down to nose height at one of the company’s grow facilities.

Aquino, the lead grower for Sticky Buds, a chain of marijuana shops in Denver, is in his element among the plants. He’s like a proud gardener showing off blue ribbon varieties, bustling from plant to plant, picking out his favorites.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Jeff Siegfried knows just about anything you’d ever want to find out about a 50-acre corn field in northern Colorado.

The 24-year-old easily rattles off the various gadgets he uses to measure soil moisture, plant health, air temperature.

 

 


Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

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.

 

The marijuana industry has a pesticide problem. Many commercial cannabis growers use chemicals to control bugs and mold. But the plant's legal status is unresolved.

The grow room at Medical MJ Supply in Fort Collins, Colo., has all the trappings of a modern marijuana cultivation facility: glowing yellow lights, plastic irrigation tubes, and rows of knee-high cannabis plants.

"We're seeing a crop that's probably in it third or fourth week," says Nick Dice, the owner.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Nate Storey’s greenhouse in west Laramie is packed with vegetables growing in long, upright plastic towers. Storey’s set-up is an urban farmer’s dream: the waste from fish tanks fertilizes the crops through plastic tubing that drips water onto the vertical garden. The greenhouse is small, but produces a lot of food. Like a proud father he shows off bok choy, butter lettuce and spinach.

“You can grow anything. People have grown some crazy stuff with the towers,” Storey says. “We’ve grown tomatoes and very large statured crops, watermelons. It works until they’re about 20 pounds apiece and then things start falling.”

An urban farmer’s dream in a decidedly not urban place.

Drone above a field
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

A highly anticipated batch of federal laws governing the use of drones could change the regulatory landscape and lead to an explosion in drone use by farmers.

Farmers see drones as a way to get a birds-eye view of their fields to find problem patches with crops. That information can allow farmers to be more precise with fertilizers and pesticides and, ultimately, save them money. But getting them in the sky without running afoul of federal regulation is proving to be a challenge.


Cows to be milked
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

When Jon Slutsky’s dairy farm in Wellington, Colo. is fully staffed, it’s a moment to celebrate. A full roster of employees at Slutsky’s La Luna Dairy is rare these days.

“We’re doing really well with our employee base,” Slutsky said. “A year ago, we couldn’t say that. We were short.”

With the farm’s 1,500 cows waiting to be milked, Slutsky and his wife Susan Moore felt panicked, worried they didn’t have enough hands on deck to milk about 200 cows per hour.

“That’s what pays the bills for a place like this is milk sales,” Slutsky said. “We were short 5 milkers out of 11.”


Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Humans have been growing hemp for centuries. Hemp-based foods have taken off recently. So have lotions and soaps that use hemp oil. 

There’s evidence that different compounds in cannabis could be used as medicine and hope that its chemical compounds could hold keys to treatments for Parkinson’s disease and childhood epilepsy. 

 


The average American farmer is a white man in his late 50s. Or at least, that's who's in charge of the farm, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the number of female-run farms has tripled since the 1970s, to nearly 14 percent in 2012. And if you dig a little deeper, you'll find women are showing up in new roles. But because of the way farm businesses are structured, women's work often isn't included in those USDA counts.

Copyright 2014 KUNC-FM. To see more, visit http://kunc.org.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Voters in Colorado will decide whether or not they want the state to require labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs. The 2014 ballot measure highlights a much larger national conversation about the safety and prevalence of genetically modified foods.

Ben Hamilton walks down the salad dressing aisle at his neighborhood grocery store in west Denver. The human resources consultant usually seeks out organic options and scans nutrition information.

"I am a label reader. I think a lot of people read labels and really are curious to know what is in our food supply," he says. But Hamilton says he wants more information, specifically whether the food he buys includes ingredients derived from genetically modified crops, or GMOs.

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