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.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

The Chipotle Cultivate Festival had it all: an indie pop band on stage, long lines at the beer booths, folks hanging out on a hot summer day.

Sort of like a Grateful Dead concert, only with free burritos.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

 In the Midwest, agriculture can be such a strong lure that there are some farm kids without farms.

Ally Babcock lives with her family in a modern subdivision in Ames, Iowa. Tucked under the home’s back deck is a tiny barn space, enough room for her sheep and rabbits.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

Chert Hollow Farm sits nestled between rows of tall trees and a nearby stream in central Missouri. Eric and Joanna Reuter have been running the organic farm since 2006. That means they don’t plant genetically modified crops and can only use a few approved kinds of chemicals and fertilizers.

 


Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

 

Farm dog? Check.

Barn cats? Check.

Muddy work books lined up at the back door? Five checks.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Driving down a two-lane highway in rural Missouri, Matt Plenge squinted at a patch of gray clouds hanging low over his farm fields in the distance.

“Does it look hazy up there?” he asked. “We only had a 20 percent chance today. We shouldn't get any rain.”


Missouri Supreme Court
Americasroof / Wikimedia Commons

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that state’s so-called Right To Farm amendment remains constitutional.

The Right to Farm amendment is meant to protect Missouri farmers from new laws that would change current farm practices. It was added to the state Constitution in August 2014 by a slim margin of votes.

Critics, including many small farmers and animal rights groups, say the ballot language was misleading to voters and opens the door for foreign corporations to exploit Missouri farmland. 

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

In the U.S., one in six people struggles with hunger. Food pantries across the country pass out food to help these people put meals on the table. But what if they could help teach the pantry visitors how to grow their own food, too?

Grow Well Missouri, a program that travels to food pantries around central Missouri, is trying to do just that, passing out seeds and starter plants to low-income locals.

 

On a recent wet, spring morning, the group was set up in Columbia, Mo. Four volunteers for Grow Well Missouri worked under a blue popup tent outside of Central Pantry, repotting about 50 starter tomato plants into larger containers. They had a steady stream of visitors stopping by, curious about what’s going on.


Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Agriculture officials don’t know just how the massive outbreak of avian flu in the Midwest was spread, but believe the culprits include humans breaking biosecurity measures and the virus going airborne.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

 

National public health officials are urging their state counterparts to be alert for avian flu infections in humans.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory Tuesday “to notify public health workers and clinicians of the potential for human infection with these viruses” and to detail protocols for health professionals working in infected areas.

An outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu has spread throughout the Midwest in recent months. As of Monday, there have been 282 detections in 20 states, according to the USDA.

Heather Cescent / Flickr

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will soon allow pasteurized egg imports from the Netherlands because of dwindling supplies and higher prices caused by the huge bird flu outbreak in the Midwest.

The trade decision on Monday reflects the ongoing emergency measures taken in light of the largest-ever outbreak of avian flu in the U.S. So far, the virulent strain of H5N2 has been detected at 201 farms in 15 states, triggering the destruction of 44.7 million chickens and turkeys, according to the USDA.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA/Harvest Public Media

When it comes to hazardous work industries, farming is in the top three with transportation and warehousing, and mining. And many times after an accident, farmers end up as amputees. But when farmers and ranchers lose a limb on the job, they have a limited selection of prosthetics to help get them back to the fields.

Farmer Brian Fleischmann lost part of his right arm in 1996. He still farms today just outside Jefferson City, Mo.

“I continue to try to do everything I used to do before the accident,” he said. “I'll be honest with you. It takes me a lot longer and it's a lot harder on me.”


Kristofor Husted/KBIA/Harvest Public Media

On May 20th, KBIA held a community conversation event in Kennett, Mo. The goal was to bring local residents and leaders of rural southeast Missouri to the same table to discuss difficulties in access to health care, the struggling rural economy and how to fix it. It's an event we called Health Barriers: Symptoms of a Rural Economy.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing some changes to its federal ethanol policy.

The agency proposed a cut to the amount of corn ethanol oil companies are required to blend in to our gasoline, as well as ambitious targets for low-carbon cellulosic ethanol, which is produced from grasses and other inedible parts of plants.

Susanne Byerly can laugh now, four years later, talking about how she and her husband were trying to eat healthy food when they bought ground turkey for their spaghetti dinner.

Byerly, along with her husband, Jerry, and their two-year-old, Jack, were on vacation with extended family in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. While buying supplies at a local grocery store, they decided to swap ground beef for poultry because they were watching their weight.

Food companies face water risk

May 13, 2015
water faucet
Jenn Durfey / flickr

 

America’s biggest food production companies face a growing threat of water scarcity, according to a new report from Ceres, an environmental sustainability group.

The report cites pollution as one of the primary culprits.

Why do Farmers Burn Their Fields?

Apr 30, 2015
Jacob Grace / Harvest Public Media

Farmers burn their fields to remove plants that are already growing and to help the plants that are about to come up. These burns are often called “prescribed burns” because they are used to improve the health of the field.

To keep the fire contained, farmers need to clear away burnable matter around the edges of the field, which usually requires a lawn mower or larger machinery. The burn itself can be managed with some simple, specific tools.


chickens
Grace Hood / Harvest Public Media

 

Tyson Foods, the country’s largest poultry producer, says it will stop feeding its chickens antibiotics that are used to treat humans.

The company says it plans to eliminate the drugs in its broiler chicken flocks – chickens grown for meat – by September 2017.

On April 23 the Radio and Television Digital News Association awarded KBIA five prestigious Edward R. Murrow awards for our work as a small-market radio station in region 5.  These awards recognize "the best electronic journalism produced by radio, television and online news organizations around the world"   

Kristofor Husted / KBIA/Harvest Public Media

When President Obama announced in late 2014 that he would work toward ending the embargo on trade with Cuba, it wasn’t just tourists perking up their ears. Midwest farmers and ranchers see communist Cuba as an untapped market for goods from the American Heartland.

One of those farmers is Paul Combs, a rice farmer from southeast Missouri. Cuba can be an important market for farmers like Combs, who already depend on exporting their products.

“We’re excited about normalized relations with Cuba,” Combs said. “Until 1963, Cuba was the biggest market for U.S. rice.”


As you’ve probably heard, a well-respected group of World Health Organization scientists said glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s wildly popular Roundup herbicide and its generic cousins, is probably capable of causing cancer in humans.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA/Harvest Public Media

This story is part of our series "Shortage in Rich Land" on Missouri's Bootheel region. Click here to see all of the stories.

Chuck Earnest drives along a dirt road next to his rice fields near Steele, Mo. It’s not planting season yet, so the fields are flooded. Flocks of ducks and other waterfowl take turns floating on the rippling water and flying above it.

“This has turned out to be the duck hunting center of Middle America – right in this territory,” he says. “There might be 1,000 ducks out there.”

For such a small region, this sprawling landscape of the Bootheel has some of the most productive farmland in the U.S. A solid water supply and nutrient-rich flatland creates a fertile environment to grow some of the most diverse crops not readily found in the rest of the state. You can find watermelons, sweet potatoes, cotton and a small but strong sector in Missouri growing rice.


Kristofor Husted / KBIA/Harvest Public Media

This story is part of our series "Shortage in Rich Land" on Missouri's Bootheel region. Click here to see all of the stories.

For years, some small towns and farmers along the Mississippi River have been battling each other over a flood project set up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On the western shore, farmers in southeast Missouri need the project to protect their valuable farmland. But small river towns on the eastern side of the river say the project protects those influential farmers at the cost of their small communities. As a last-ditch effort, the opposition to the project is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to kill the project all together.


Paying Farmers Not to Farm? Not Exactly

Mar 13, 2015
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers face plenty of risk, including the unknowns of weather, global markets and the more predictable expenses of taxes and equipment costs.

Federal commodity support programs were created to help farmers during bad years. But under a relatively unknown provision of federal law, farmers don’t have to actually grow a particular crop to get farm bill payments.

That might sound like “paying farmers not to farm,” but it’s actually a complicated way of helping to reduce over-dependence on one crop.


Kristofor Husted / KBIA/Harvest Public Media

Critics of the so-called 'right to farm' amendment to Missouri’s state Constitution brought their case to the state Supreme Court Wednesday. 

The amendment is meant to protect Missouri farmers from new laws that would change current farm practices they currently use.

For years, some small towns and farmers along the Mississippi River have been battling each other over a flood project set up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On the western shore, farmers in southeast Missouri need the project to protect their valuable farmland. But small river towns on the eastern side of the river say the project protects those influential farmers at the cost of their small communities. As a last-ditch effort, the opposition to the project is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to kill the project all together.

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.


Ranchers rebel over beef checkoff

Feb 11, 2015
Jill Toyoshiba / The Kansas City Star

From their small farms set in the rolling hills of northeast Kansas, two ranchers are raising a few cattle, and a lot of Cain.

David Pfrang and Jim Dobbins turned themselves into activists, launched a shadow corporation, got hauled into federal court and had to hire a lawyer.

All over $1.

That buck, though, divides the beef industry. And may influence what you decide to have for dinner.


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.”


Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Since a highly contagious strain of bird flu was found in the U.S. in December, many countries have closed their doors to chickens and turkeys raised here.

The virus isn’t harmful to humans and, so far, only wild birds and backyard flocks have been infected. But commercial poultry farmers are worried because they have the most to lose.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA/Harvest Public Media

When it comes to organic certification, there are strict guidelines for food producers to follow. 

Think about an organic steak. The cow it came from has to be raised on organic feed. The feed mix can’t be produced with pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetic engineering. 

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in considering a set of rules for organic farmed fish. The problem is several consumer groups say the recommended rules don’t go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods.


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