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.

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their research, and after suffering a public relations backlash, the Department of Agriculture’s main research arm has rescinded its original order, saying it “values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public…”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.

Eric Durban / Harvest Public Media

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

Rick Leidig of Kansas City, Missouri asks: "An essential element of agriculture on any level is a sustainable supply of water. What policies would you propose to protect declining resources like the Ogallala Aquifer? It's huge, there's been little public discussion and it's not going away."

Rick is right that portions of the Ogallala have seen persistent depletion from farm irrigation, particularly in parts of western Kansas.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Five of the six biggest companies that produce and sell seeds and chemicals to the world’s farmers are pursuing deals that could leave a market dominated by just three giant, global companies. They say getting bigger means bringing more sophisticated and innovative solutions to farmers faster, but opponents say consolidation has irreversible downsides.

 


Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The massive industry that supplies farmers with the tools to raise crops is on the brink of a watershed moment. High-profile deals that would see some of the largest global agri-chemical companies combine are in the works and could have ripple effects from farm fields to dinner tables across the globe.

 

Ann Marie Awad / Harvest Public Media

A guy who covers agriculture in the West who’s never put a skinned, sliced, battered, deep-fried bull testicle into a cup of cocktail sauce and then into his mouth? I couldn’t let it stand.

They’re known by many names: lamb fries, bull fries, Montana tenders, huevos de toro, cowboy caviar. In my corner of Colorado, they’re Rocky Mountain oysters and I somehow coaxed myself into thinking I needed to try them to be more a part of the place I live, to be a true blue Coloradan.

Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

Like most farmers, Mark Nelson, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat near Louisburg, Kan., is getting squeezed. He's paying three times more for seed than he used to, while his corn sells for less than half what it brought four years ago.

 

"It's a – that's a challenge," Nelson says. "You're not going to be in the black, let's put it that way."

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media and KBIA

Chantelle DosRemedios was pregnant with her second child when she and her husband both lost their jobs in Rhode Island. Like millions of others, she depended on a federal program designed to aid in early childhood development to keep her children fed.

Moms and kids who qualify can participate in a federal program called Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. The program provides nutritious food packages and other benefits to some eight million moms and young kids nationwide.

While the third and final presidential debate set for Wednesday evening will surely be marked by the candidates’ disagreements, a forum debating their positions on food and farm issues Wednesday morning was notable for showcasing where the nominees agree.

At a Washington, D.C. forum produced by the agricultural policy group Farm Foundation, surrogates for the Trump and Clinton campaigns presented their candidates’ takes on farm and food issues from trade to taxes. Sam Clovis, a campaign co-chair and policy advisor, spoke on the positions of Republican nominee Donald Trump. Former U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy Kathleen Merrigan spoke on behalf of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

In an effort to turn away from chemical pesticides, which have the potential to damage the environment, some farmers are looking in a new direction in the age-old, quiet struggle on farm fields of farmers versus pests. They’re warding off intruding insects and noxious weeds with bugs and chickens.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media and KBIA

Farming in the fertile Midwest is tied to an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But scientists are studying new ways to lessen the Midwest’s environmental impact and improve water quality.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the so-called “dead zone,” an area of sea without enough oxygen to support most marine life, to grow larger than the size of Connecticut, or roughly 6,000 square miles.  

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Standing on a platform above the eastern bank of the Missouri River at the Kansas City, Missouri, Water Services’ intake plant is like being on the deck of a large ship.

Electric turbines create a vibration along the blue railing, where David Greene, laboratory manager for Kansas City Water Services, looks out across the river. Water the color of chocolate milk is sucked up and forced through screens below, picking up all the debris the river carries downstream.  

“The muddy Mo,” Greene says. “The Missouri River drains one-sixth of the United States, so there’s a lot of stuff that can affect the water quality in the river.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a gray day, just as the rain begins to fall, Roger Zylstra stops his red GMC Sierra pick-up truck on the side of the road and hops down into a ditch in Jasper County, Iowa. It takes two such stops before he unearths amid the tall weeds and grasses what he’s looking for.

“Here is one of the tiles,” he says, pointing to a pipe about six or eight inches in diameter. Water trickles from it into a culvert that runs under the road after flowing through a network of underground drainage lines below his farm field. “That’s where it outlets.”

Rich Egger / Harvest Public Media

Sandy Songer of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, has a bit of advice for anyone who wants to watch chainsaw artists in action.

“If you’re going to stay around us very long, you need to put some earplugs in,” she says with a laugh, as chainsaws revved and roared behind her like race cars, drowning out everything else in the background.

From carnival barkers, to Ferris wheels humming, to snorts and moos of livestock shows, late-summer state and county fairs are noisy, chaotic affairs. Add to the din this season: chainsaws buzzing.

 

Brian Seifferlein / Harvest Public Media

Living in the Platte River Valley in central Nebraska means understanding that the water in your well may contain high levels of nitrates and may not be safe to drink.

“When our first son was born in 1980, we actually put a distiller in for our drinking water here in the house,” says Ken Seim, who lives in the Platte Valley near the town of Chapman, Nebraska. “And at that time our water level was a 12 parts per million.”

Nitrates are formed when nitrogen, from the air or fertilizer, is converted by bacteria in the soil to a form that is more plant-friendly. Nitrates help plants grow, but can be dangerous in large amounts. The legal limit in public water systems is 10ppm. Some nearby wells, Seim says, contain nitrates at dangerous levels, two or three times the legal threshold.

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