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.

 

Imagine you’re a farmer and it’s time to decide what to plant. You need information on supply, demand, prices, outlook -- information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, university extension services, even economists at the Federal Reserve.

All of those agencies depend on data pulled from surveys sent out to farmers. The answers are often compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which makes data available free. Fewer farmers are responding to surveys, the Agriculture Department says, which could throw the accuracy of the data off, leaving farmers to fend for themselves when making choices for their businesses.

Hybrid seed corn and nitrogen fertilizer transformed farming in the 20th century, but they are also closely tied to some of today’s major agricultural challenges. That has prompted some members of two families that played pivotal roles in developing farm innovations to work on putting a lighter, 21st century stamp on the landscape.

Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor nominated by President Donald Trump, is one step closer to becoming U.S. Secretary of Agriculture after the Senate Agriculture Committee approved his nomination Thursday.

Yet Perdue remains one step shy of the post; the full Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on his nomination. Perdue, however, is widely expected to be approved.

US Embassy Montevideo/Flickr

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, testified in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture committee today, but remains far from the head job at USDA.

The committee did not indicate when it would vote on whether to advance Perdue’s nomination.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Blink while driving on Highway 34 east of Greeley, Colorado, and you might miss the former Great Plains town of Dearfield.

Abandoned towns from the early 20th century are far from unique on this stretch of plains. Withered storefronts and collapsed false-front homes are common. Boom and bust economics and harsh weather made it tough for turn of the century settlers to succeed long-term.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

 

After court documents unsealed Tuesday raised questions about its research methods, chemical giant Monsanto says it did not ghostwrite a 2000 study on the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in its flagship pesticide Roundup.

As the New York Times reported, the unsealed records suggest that Monsanto had contributed to research attributed to academics and that a senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had worked to stall a review of Roundup’s main ingredient by U.S. regulators.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers in the U.S. like to point out that their products feed people all over the world. And while this is a diverse country, the people working on farms and elsewhere in agriculture often don’t reflect the nation’s demographics. Changing that is becoming a priority, in hopes new people will bring fresh ideas to meet some of our food system’s greatest challenges.

Take monoculture, the long-standing practice of planting only corn or soybeans on millions of Midwest acres. While it has resulted in massive crops and billions of dollars in revenue for decades, the strategy can also contribute to problems.

Bryan Thompson for Harvest Public Media

Low crop prices have many Midwest wheat and corn farmers looking for ways to supplement their incomes. One possibility for conventional farmers: producing food for farmers markets.

“Food is a multi-billion-dollar economy in Kansas,” says Missty Lechner of the American Heart Association, who works with local governments to encourage the development of local food systems. (PDF) “If we can change that to increase local food sales by just 1 percent in Kansas, we’re talking multi-million-dollar impact on our local food economy.”

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

 

 

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Tuesday directing the Environmental Protection Agency to revise a controversial environmental rule opposed by many Midwest farm groups.

Trump ordered new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to formally revise the Obama Administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was meant to explain which rivers, streams and creeks are subject to regulation by the EPA.

Ag Leaders Hope To Avoid Budget Cuts In New Farm Bill

Feb 24, 2017
Bryan Thompson for Harvest Public Media

 

At a stressful time for U.S. farmers, the government’s efforts at calming the agricultural waters took center stage Thursday, when the heads of the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee left Washington for the Midwest to solicit opinions on priorities for the next Farm Bill.

U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-KS, and Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, heard from Midwest farmers at their first field hearing on the 2018 Farm Bill at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Liz Graznak runs an organic farm near Jamestown, Missouri, which she calls Happy Hollow Farm. She sells her vegetables to local restaurants, in CSA boxes and at the farmer’s market.  But eight years ago, after falling in love with the idea of growing her own local produce, the farm she runs today looked like a near-impossible dream.

While on track to earn a PhD in plant breeding, Graznak bought her first box of produce from a nearby farmer. Soon after, she decided then that instead of studying plants, she wanted to grow them. Easier said than done, though.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

A war is brewing over what you pour on your breakfast cereal.

Dairy farmers say the makers of plant-based milks – like almond milk, soy milk and a long list of other varieties – are stealing away their customers and deceiving consumers. And they’d like the federal government to back them up.

At its heart, the fight boils down to the definition and use of one simple word: milk.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

 

Is organic meat more humane than conventionally raised meat?

Rules that would create animal welfare standards for livestock certified as organic have been delayed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday, giving opponents new hope that they will be quashed.

Courtesy Okanagan Specialty Fruits

Genetically engineered crops are nothing new. But new technology that allows scientists to alter plants more precisely and more cheaply is taking genetically engineered plants from the field to the kitchen.

The first version of the Arctic Apple, a genetically modified Golden Delicious, is headed for test markets in the Midwest in February, according to the company that produced it. It is the first genetically engineered apple, altered so that when it is cut, it doesn’t turn brown from oxidation.

USDA

 

Just one day after directing its researchers not to publicly share their research, and after suffering a public relations backlash, the Department of Agriculture’s main research arm has rescinded its original order, saying it “values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public…”

USDA

 

Employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s main research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), received an email from the division’s chief of staff ordering them to stop publicizing their work.

“Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents,” the email from Sharon Drumm reads, in part. “This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

Sweet potatoes are undergoing a modern renaissance in this country.

While they have always made special appearances on many American tables around the holidays, year-round demand for the root vegetables has grown. In 2015, farmers produced more sweet potatoes than in any year since World War II.

Courtesy Elliot Chapman

Farmers across the Midwest are trying to figure out how to get by at a time when expected prices for commodities from corn, to wheat, to cattle, to hogs mean they’ll be struggling just to break even.

“Prices are low, bins are full, and the dollar is strengthening as we speak and that’s just making the export thing a little more challenging,” says Paul Burgener of Platte Valley Bank in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

usembassy_montevideo/Flickr

President-elect Donald Trump plans to pick former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead the Agriculture Department, a transition official and a source close to the process confirmed to NPR.

Trump is expected to make a formal announcement on Thursday, ending a months-long process that left Agriculture Secretary as the final Cabinet post to be filled.

Rich Egger / For Harvest Public Media

Let’s say you’re a high school student in an agronomy or agriculture class and you’re looking for some real-world experience. You can’t just buy a few hundred acres on which to experiment. Enter: “fantasy farming.”

“Fantasy farming” is essentially a game played out on a real field, at a real agriculture research facility. It gives high school students a chance to learn firsthand about the guesswork and gambles that farmers make every year.

chickens
Grace Hood / Harvest Public Media

A proposal that would jumpstart the chicken business in Nebraska has some residents concerned about the potential impact on the environment and are trying to block or delay its construction.

Costco, the warehouse retailer and grocery chain, plans to build a giant $300 million chicken slaughterhouse on the south side of the town of Fremont in eastern Nebraska.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Americans waste a staggering amount of food. Instead of letting it rot and wreck the environment, some entrepreneurs want to put it to work feeding insects, and see the potential to revolutionize how we feed some of the livestock that provide us our meat.

Phil Taylor’s enthusiasm for insects is infectious. The University of Colorado Boulder research ecologist beams as he weaves through a small greenhouse in rural Boulder County, Colorado. A room about the size of a shipping container sits inside.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

  Shareholders of agricultural seed and chemical giant Monsanto agreed to a merger Tuesday, moving the controversial deal one-step closer to fruition.

German drug and chemical maker Bayer plans to pay shareholders $66 billion to take over Missouri-based Monsanto. That breaks down to $128 per share if the merger closes.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media and KBIA

There is a battle going on in the organic industry over hydroponics, the technique of growing plants without soil. The debate gets at the very heart of what it means to be “organic” and may change the organic food available to grocery store shoppers.

To be labeled as organic, fruits and vegetables are required to be grown without genetic modification or synthetic chemicals, and to meet other rules set out by the Agriculture Department. But what about produce that isn’t grown in the dirt?  

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media and KBIA

 


A bipartisan U.S. Senate bill that would have made changes to the $22 billion federal program that distributes free and reduced-priced meals in schools is officially dead, according to bill sponsor Pat Roberts, Republican U.S. senator from Kansas.

 

The school lunch, breakfast, and summer meal programs will continue to operate under the policies set in 2010 under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

  As another harvest season wraps up, Midwest farmers are once again facing low commodity prices amid enormous supplies. And when they recover from the long days bringing in the grain, they will eventually sit down with their books and try to figure out how best to farm again next year.

 


Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Can food be organic even if it’s not grown in soil?

Many hydroponic growers in the U.S. want access to the $40 billion organic market, but a board that advises the U.S. Agriculture Department on organic industry policy signaled Friday it would recommend excluding produce not in grown in soil from the federal organic program.

Clay Masters / IPR

With the legal battle raging over the implementation of controversial Obama Administration clean water rules, the next president is likely to face the daunting task of formulating a comprehensive plan to cut-down on water pollution from Midwest farms.

Harvest Public Media reporters attempted to answer your questions about how the presidential candidates’ positions on food and farm issues would change our food system. 

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

In this series, Harvest Public Media reporters attempt answer your questions about the 2016 presidential election.

We received a few questions about the candidates’ views on GMOs, and the use of biotechnology in agriculture. While neither the Clinton nor the Trump campaign responded to requests for comment, here's what we know about the candidates’ views on some of the biggest issues related to biotech in farming.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

In this series, Harvest Public Media reporters attempt answer your questions about the 2016 presidential election.

We received many questions about the role of farmers in crafting the policies that affect our food system.

William Powers of Ceresco, Nebraska asked: How can farmers, both young/beginning & established, have a seat at the table so to speak, in regards to policy decisions and other issues relating to food and farming.

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