Business Beat

Wednesdays at 4:45 p.m.

A weekly look at business issues important to mid-Missouri.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Before the American Revolution, before the Civil War, before Lewis and Clark came through here, a huge tree has been standing in central Missouri, growing to 90-feet tall. The beloved bur oak – which everybody calls "The Big Tree" -- has survived floods, lightning strikes and all kinds of punishments during her 350 years on the prairie. But, as Harvest Public Media’s Peggy Lowe reports, last year’s record drought was especially hard on the Big Tree.

Over the last year or so, at least 20 states have introduced bills that would require labeling of genetically modified food. The common point of contention is the pervasiveness of grains that have had their DNA altered. But some of these proposed laws – including one in Missouri – take aim specifically at genetically engineered meat or fish. And that got Harvest Public Media’s Abbie Fentress Swanson wondering: How close are we to actually eating genetically engineered animals? What she found out might surprise you.

Coming up we’ll delve into a small school district trying to get a bond passed for the third time.

But first, grain elevators across the country store billions of bushels of farm products like corn and wheat. They’re a staple of rural communities. But the dust that piles up in grain storage facilities is highly combustible – it can be six times more explosive than gun powder. Just one spark can send a blast that will shake the ground for miles.

Maria Altman / St. Louis Public Radio

Whole Foods Market recently announced that by 2018, all products in its U-S and Canadian stores containing genetically modified organisms will be clearly labeled as such. The decision by the grocery chain -- which has been labeling some products as non-GMO for years now -- has pushed this strongly debated food labeling issue into the shopping aisle.

The real action, though, is heating up in state legislatures across the country. Harvest Public Media’s Abbie Fentress Swanson explains.

Not many of us are chemists.

Money
Andrew Magill

Coming up we’ll tackle sequestration which is set to occur March 1. But first, when a large group of farmers in the Southeast banded together to sue a powerful dairy cooperative a few years ago, many hoped that the case would bring big changes to the industry. But as Peggy Lowe of Harvest Public Media reports, the recent settlement of the case involving Kansas City-based Dairy Farmers of America has resulted in some money for small farmers in the short term but little long-term reform.

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Barring a congressional miracle,  Medicare payments to health care providers throughout the country will see a 2 percent reduction come Friday. That amount might not sound like much, but rural hospitals and their surrounding communities are the ones that would feel most of the pinch.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Coming up we’ll kick off a three-part series from Harvest Public Media on the Science of the Seed. For the introductory report, Amy Mayer explores the origins of gene transformation.

But let’s first start in Columbia where as of February, landlords are required to maintain a list of all tenants. It’s part of a new occupancy limitation disclosure ordinance recently passed by the City Council. KBIA’s Andrew Yost reports that the ordinance deals with several overcrowding issues concerning neighbors.

Lukas Udstuen / KBIA

The most recent U.S. census shows the nation’s population is in flux. While some cities across the country are growing, many small towns are dwindling. KBIA’s Lukas Udstuen takes us to Goss, one of the smallest towns in Missouri. You might miss it if it weren’t for a few road signs marking its location along Route 24 in Monroe County. And you’re most likely out of luck if you stop in Goss for directions because the 2010 Census reported the town has zero residents.

Check out more details about how Goss came about and see an audio slide show here.

Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

Later, we check in with a revised Environmental Protection Agency standard that could help some wastewater treatment facilities struggling to comply with part of the Clean Water Act’s deadline.

Abbie Fentriss Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Farmers and ranchers across the country expected to start the New Year with a new farm bill, the all-important legislation setting agricultural policy for the next five years.

As House and Senate negotiators worked feverishly at the turn of the year to come to a fiscal cliff deal, word leaked that the Agriculture Committees had finally come to an agreement on a long-awaited new farm bill. But the final fiscal cliff deal ditched new legislation and merely extended parts of the bill that expired in October. Jeremy Bernfeld reports the extension left many farmers frustrated.

Jacob McCleland / KRCU

The lingering drought continues to keep the Mississippi River at historically low levels. But now the Army Corps of Engineers says the river will likely stay open for transportation at least through this month. But many grain and energy industries that send products up and down the river aren’t yet breathing a sigh of relief. Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters reports from the Corn Belt where a lot of grain begin its journey south down the Mississippi.

Money
File Photo / KBIA

Did you feel that pullback January 1st? That was Congress finally passing a compromise bill to prevent the country from careening off the fiscal cliff. In the early hours of 2013, the Senate passed the bill. And much later that day, the House passed it.

images_of_money / Flickr

Had a hamburger lately? The cow it came from likely passed through a feedlot – a huge farm that fattens cattle before they’re slaughtered. The thousands of cattle housed at a feedlot produce tons and tons of waste. That manure can be used as a valuable fertilizer. But if it’s not properly disposed, it could lead to an environmental disaster. In Day 4 of Harvest Public Media’s series, America’s Big Beef, Jeremy Bernfeld reports.

Adam Kuban/flickr / http://www.flickr.com/photos/slice/482963344/

Columbia City Council is considering an ordinance that would put a temporary abeyance on demolition permits in downtown Columbia. This comes on the heels of a petition to demolish the oldest building downtown. KBIA’s Ryan Famuliner has a report on the zoning classification the council is looking at.

Hilary Stohs-Krause / NET

Over the next four weeks, Business Beat will be airing the remaining pieces of the Harvest Public Media series called America’s Big Beef: An Industry In Transition.

To kick off the series, we have to go back 150 years when Abraham Lincoln established the land-grant colleges where research could be done to help the common man. But Peggy Lowe of Harvest Public Media reports that today public colleges in the top five beef-producing states are now often working for big business.

Corn
jungmoon / Flickr

In recent months, a fairly severe drought and a slowly recovering economy have thrown food businesses for a loop.

Coming up we’ll listen in on a conversation Abbie Fentress Swanson had with President Barack Obama’s top agriculture guy about the looming dip in corn exports. But first, some businesses have been able to weather the storm better than others. Jennifer Davidson has this report about one successful shop in West Plains.

Now, things aren’t so peachy for everyone in the food industry. Clearly.

Pat Blank / Iowa Public Radio

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, many people have begun to deck the halls, gorge on delectable dishes, and send out greeting cards. Well, that last one might become trickier for some rural residents soon. That’s because the United States Postal Service is moving ahead to reduce the hours of thousands of post offices across the country.  Jennifer Davidson has this report from a rural Ozarks community.

Now that it’s Thanksgiving, the eating season has begun. Coming up we’ll take a look at how the U.S. helps feed the world, but first, let’s take a look in our own back yard. The local food banks, pantries, shelters and soup kitchens have picked up in business. KBIA’s Ben Mahnken reports that volunteerism and donations are up this year.

Holiday season yields more volunteering in Columbia

Nov 16, 2012
Yiqian Zhang / KBIA

With the holidays quickly approaching, people are busier than ever trying to help feed others in need during the holiday season.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA

Countdown to Election Day is upon us.

And while business development continues to surge as a hot topic this campaign season, the expired farm bill seems to have disappeared off candidates' radars completely. Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer has this report on just how much candidates are talking farm policy...in farm country.

By most accounts, Missouri is a pink state.

Not red. Not blue. Pink.

Fighting for food

Oct 24, 2012
Produce aisle of grocery store
File Photo / KBIA

When it comes to the business of food, there’s a rivalry around every corner. You’ve got fights for prime farmland, wars over water use, even buying food at the grocery store has its competition with household bills encroaching on family budgets for the shopping list.

Amber Luckey / Flickr

Flip on the TV, boot up the computer or switch on the radio and you’re destined to hear about a recall of tainted food – often due to E. coli or salmonella.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA

Remember in the film Night of the Living Dead when the protagonist, Barbra, is running through the grassy hills to the forlorn farmhouse to escape her lumbering zombie of a brother?

Well, while recently reporting for Harvest Public Media, I spent time on farmland that looked eerily similar to the backdrop of George Romero's black and white magnum opus.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA

In the parched, rolling hills of western Missouri, you might expect to see a desolate scene after this summer’s drought. But in this field, hip-high native grass sways across the landscape like seaweed in the ocean.

Wayne Vassar is growing these native plants for biofuel.

“They’ve had corn or soy on (this land) in the past,” he said, “and what’s happened was when you have these kinds of slope it erodes pretty rapidly and you lose a lot of your fertility as the top soil goes down the hill.”

Farmland experts call this kind of land “marginal land.” The hills make it difficult for the soil to hold onto the topsoil nutrients. And along the rivers and other flood plains, frequent flooding can deprive plants the oxygen they need to survive. It all adds up to an estimated 116 million acres in the central U.S.

Land like this might only produce a profitable harvest with traditional crops, like corn or soybeans, once or twice every five years. That’s quite a financial risk for farmers. So how can farmers avoid that risk factor and make sure such soils provide a consistent economic return?

Samantha Sunne / KBIA

Water use has become a hot issue among Midwest farmers after this summer's drought. Nebraska irrigates more acres of farmland than any other state in the nation. Kansas is also near the top. And that Irrigation infrastructure helped some farmers keep the drought at bay this year. Their fields stayed green long after others withered away. But as Grant Gerlock reports for Harvest Public Media, using so much water now may force some farmers to use less water in the future.

Lukas Udstuen / KBIA

As a 5-piece band wound its way through an acoustic set of music, guests slowly shuffled into the “Inside the Walls” festival at the Missouri State Penitentiary. To the southwest, the main entrance to the prison towered over the festival.

Charles Vaughan used to live in a house across the street. He remembers the 1954 riots, which were the worst in the history of the penitentiary. Vaughan remembers his dad and brother were on top of a nearby building with guns.

“There was a big fire going on," he said. "My mom was keeping me in the house which upset me because I wanted to get on the roof and my mom was piling furniture right in front of the front door.”

But now the penitentiary looks much lonelier. Its paint peels. Some of its buildings have been torn down. In fact — of those that remain, some parts are even off limits to tours – this is due to a process Steve Picker calls “demolition by neglect.” He’s the former executive director of the Jefferson City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Water resources are stretched

Oct 3, 2012
Water drop
File Photo / KBIA

Nebraska irrigates more acres of farmland than any other state in the nation. Kansas is also near the top.

And that Irrigation infrastructure came in handy this summer. A University of Nebraska Lincoln studyfound the drought could shrink corn yields by 40 percent this year in dryland fields in Iowa. But yields for irrigated corn in Nebraska may end up only 8 percent lower than expected.

“We’ve been hearing reports over 200 (bushels/acre). Probably a lot of guys are hoping for 185-200. That’d be very good,” said Gib Kelly, who traveled from the north -central Nebraska town of Page to look at the newest irrigation equipment at the annual Husker Harvest Days farm show in Grand Island, Neb.

But irrigation has its limits. There were times over the hot summer months when Mark Scott’s groundwater wells couldn’t keep up.

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

To dock or not to dock? That is the question.

Well, that’s the question some Midwest dairy farmers are debating now that the National Milk Producers Federation has taken a stand against the widespread practice of cutting off cow tails -- or tail docking. It started decades ago as a method to stop the spread of disease because the tails often becomes slimed with manure. Recent studies suggest the practice isn't necessarily effective, but many dairy farmers still employ the technique to avoid a face full of slimy cow tail.

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Many people who haven’t stepped foot on a dairy might think milking a cow is a sort of Emersonian back-to-the land moment, where a milker bonds with his or her cow while communing with nature. Just milk her for a while and voilà: fresh, creamy milk. But the truth is, milking can be a very dirty job.

Pumping gas
File Photo / KBIA

There’s a new kind of gas on the market, with more ethanol in it than the gas we usually put in our cars. That’s beneficial for corn farmers who grow the corn that ethanol is made from and want more of it in your gas. But while the ethanol industry fought for years to bring this fuel to the market, now that they’ve won… good luck finding it. Even in Corn Country, pickings are slim.

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