Harvest Desk

KBIA's Harvest Desk covers food and agriculture issues in Missouri and beyond. The desk is a collaboration between KBIA and Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field.  The desk is headed by reporter Kristofor Husted.

Credit Kevin Bradley / University of Missouri

 

    

Pesticide drift during the 2017 growing was historic -- about 3.6 million acres of soybeans were damaged by the weed killer dicamba. The Environmental Protection Agency and several states have slapped on stricter guidelines for the 2018 growing season, but enough damage has been done that stakeholders across the industry are worried that we've forced farmers into a cycle of always needing a stronger chemical to combat weeds that have grown resistant to what's already on shelves.

Courtesy of Kevin Bradley, University of Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture held a public hearing Wednesday to discuss a proposed emergency rule restricting the sales of two popular pesticides.

Generally, the rule would stop sales of the weed killers dicamba and 2,4-D between April 15 and October 1 in Missouri. The department’s goal is to prevent off-label pesticides from drifting onto neighboring property and damaging other crops.

In the hearing, representatives from several agricultural groups stated that 2,4-D should not be lumped in with dicamba. Dicamba allegedly damaged 325,000 acres of soybeans in the state last year.

New U.S. dietary recommendations are in the works. And for the first time in 30 years, the federal government is seeking public comment about what belongs on the plate.

“This is fabulous because we have so many experts in the field of nutrition and diet and health and I think they can all weigh in to suggest questions what needs to be addressed,” says Joan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

No matter how far fruits or vegetables travel, whether they’re grown organically or conventionally, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients. The men and women in the fields try to grow foods with an eye to boosting the health factor, but researchers say it’s hard to measure the precise impact.

Consider the orange, a fruit high in vitamin C, which boosts the body’s immune system. One from a tree in Florida and another of the same variety grown in California won’t have identical values of the scurvy-fighting vitamin.

Farmers depend on productive, sustainable land, clean water and air and healthy animals to make a living. To help create those conditions and protect ecosystems, they get help from conservation programs that make up about 6 percent of the $500 billion federal farm bill.

Credit Kevin Bradley / University of Missouri


As agriculture intensified in the 20th century, summers in the Midwest became wetter and cooler.

An MIT study published this month looked at whether vegetation from crop production, rather than greenhouse gas emissions that are an established source of climate changes, could have driven these regional impacts.

A new, widely debated federal mandate requires truckers to electronically track the number of hours they’re on the road — a rule that’s meant to make highways safer. But there’s a big difference between hauling a load of TVs and a load of cattle destined for meatpacking plants.

A few years ago, Kansas City restaurateur Anton Kotar surveyed the local and national restaurant scenes and concluded his town’s reputation as a steakhouse paradise had slipped.

The problem, he says, is the way conventional beef is raised – bulked up with grain on feedlots, making it cheap and plentiful and changing what Americans expect to taste.

In the coming months, Congress will map out how it’ll spend upwards of $500 billion on food and farm programs over the next five years.

The massive piece of legislation known as the farm bill affects all taxpayers — whether they know it or not — and runs the gamut from farm safety net and conservation programs to food stamps and loan guarantees for rural hospitals. Since the bill hasn’t been introduced yet, now is the time when interest groups, farmers and others clamor to ensure their desires will be heard.

The recent frigid weather across the Midwest has slowed river barges carrying grain to shipment ports, especially those destined for the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois rivers.

In places where the unemployment rate is well below the national average — states like Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — one would think it’d be easier for communities to recruit new residents to fill open jobs.

But the housing market works against rural towns and cities where jobs often stay open because there are too few affordable homes and apartments to buy or rent, or the ones that are affordable need lots of TLC. It’s a situation that threatens to turn low unemployment from an advantage into a liability.

Shoring up rural America’s economy must start with broadband access and technology, a federal task force says in a report released Monday.

The group, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and made up of other Cabinet members, says doing so will bring rural areas increased health care access, better job training, smart electrical grids and more precision farming technology. Little of that can be accomplished, the report says, without closing the broadband gap between urban and rural residents.

Amy Mayer

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts consumers will be paying less for beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey in early 2018 than at the start of 2017. Not so for eggs.

Egg prices during the first three months of 2018 are likely to be more than 35 percent higher than they were during the same period of 2017, USDA’s Economic Research Service says. The increase, from about 80 cents for a dozen grade A large eggs at the start of 2017 to predictions of $1.06 to $1.12 for a dozen, is due to several months of increased sales.

Many rural businesses and farms will benefit from the tax overhaul passed Wednesday by Congress. But there’s a catch: If the changes fail to spur economic growth as intended, programs that rural areas rely on could be on the chopping block.

One provision in the massive bill, which President Trump has yet to sign into law, allows small business owners to deduct 20 percent of their business income. It also expands the deduction for small business investment — a popular provision among farmers, who can write off the cost of things like a new tractor.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

 

Thirteen states filed a lawsuit Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a California law that requires farmers to give egg-laying hens more space.

The lawsuit, filed by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, claims the 2015 California egg law is a violation of two federal laws. One prohibits state laws from discriminating against citizens of other states and another bans one state from imposing its farming regulations on other states.


dicamba, cotton seeds,
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

The herbicide dicamba is thought to have been the culprit in more than 3 million acres of damaged soybeans across the country, destroying plants and leaving farmers out millions of dollars in crops.

 

The chemical has been in use for decades, so why is it today apparently causing farms so much damage?

 

The answer is two-pronged, according to Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri assistant professor and weed specialist who has studied the reported damage. Here’s what he says:

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

 

During the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, spectators will turn their eyes upward to see the moon pass in front of the sun.

But many Midwest scientists will turn their eyes and cameras to the plants and animals here on the ground. And they're not sure what will happen.

“It's never really been studied systematically,” says Angela Speck, director of astronomy at the University of Missouri Columbia. “We have ideas about: Is this an illumination thing? The amount of light they’re receiving goes down. Is that what it is? Is it a temperature effect? Is it all of that?”

On a sweltering summer morning, Rob Mitchell surveys a plot of switchgrass at a research field near Lincoln, Nebraska. The grass is lush, green and nearly six feet tall.

“And it will get a couple feet taller than this,” says Mitchell, an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “So we’re putting on a lot of biomass right now.”

Twenty-four-year-old Kalee Woody says that when she was growing up in Bronaugh, Missouri, she saw the small town slowly fading. Businesses closed, growth stagnated and residents had to drive to other places to see a doctor.

It is a town that, like many towns in rural areas of Missouri and other Midwest and Great Plains states, is recognized by the federal government as having a shortage of healthcare providers.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

Schools in rural school districts often don’t have the budget or the teachers to offer students all of the courses they would like to take. One rural district in a Missouri county decided to offer credit for online classes in an effort to give its students the educational opportunities it can’t otherwise afford.

In Jefferson County in eastern Missouri, the high school, middle school and elementary school that make up the Grandview R-II School District all occupy the same campus.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

 

The Missouri Department of Agriculture announced a temporary ban on the sale and use of agricultural products containing the pesticide dicamba on Friday, following a similar step by regulators in Arkansas.

Dicamba, a popular weedkiller, is suspected in the damage of tens of thousands of farm acres primarily in Arkansas, but also in southeast Missouri and in neighboring states. After farmers sprayed the chemical on their fields -- sometimes with illegal and outdated versions -- the pesticide allegedly drifted over to neighboring farmland, destroying crops.

More than 130 complaints about drift damage have been filed in Missouri this year, according to the state’s Agriculture Department.

Brandon Biesemeier climbs up a small ladder into a John Deere sprayer, takes a seat in the enclosed cab, closes the door, and blocks out most of the machine’s loud engine hum. It is a familiar perch to the fourth-generation farmer on Colorado’s eastern plains.

Zoe Moffett, Colorado College

See a bee; hear a buzz.

That’s what researchers studying the declining bee population are banking on. A new technique based on recording buzzing bees hopes to show farmers just how much pollinating the native bee population is doing in their fields. 

Vegetable and fruit growers depend on pollinators to do a lot of work in their greenhouses and fields. Pollinators, like bees, flutter about the blossoms on plants and orchard trees, transferring pollen from plant to plant and ensuring that those organisms have a chance at reproducing.

Two giants of American agriculture and industry are closer to becoming one.

 

As a group of visiting scientists prepared to board a plane in Hawaii that would take them back home to China, U.S. customs agents found rice seeds in their luggage. Those seeds are likely to land at least one scientist in federal prison.

A leading research center focused on local farmers and environmental conservation is hanging on by a thread, even as the movement to diversify agriculture, which it helped launch, continues to thrive.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

President Trump made campaign promises to pull the U.S. out of big international trade deals and focus instead on one-on-one agreements with other countries. But that has farmers worried they will lose some of the $135 billion in goods they sold overseas last year.

Two years ago, Missouri rancher Mike John expected the U.S. beef industry to grow by providing steaks and hamburgers from the Midwest to hungry eaters in Japan. He was planning on the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a massive trade deal among 12 countries, including the U.S. and Japan. It took eight years of negotiations to get each nation involved to agree to lower tariffs. Some economists expected the pact to add $3 billion dollars to the U.S. agriculture industry. Trump, however, called the TPP a disaster and pulled the U.S. out.

This summer, in cornfields in Iowa and Nebraska, about a thousand small point-and-shoot digital cameras will be enclosed in waterproof cases, mounted on poles and attached to solar-powered battery chargers. They will take pictures every ten minutes as plants grow; all part of a plan to create better seeds.

“We watch plants go through their normal growth and development and also we watch them respond to environmental stressors, like drought and so forth,” says Pat Schnable, director of the Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State University.

Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

Two of the top questions I get as an agriculture reporter for Harvest Public Media are:

  1. What are pesticides, actually?
  2. How are they used on my food?

From foodies to farmers, pesticides are a sensitive subject.

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