Agriculture

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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.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

A doctor handed Melissa Morris her first opioid prescription when she was 20 years-old. She had a cesarean section to deliver her daughter, and to relieve post-surgical pain her doctor sent her home with Percocet. On an empty stomach, she took one pill and laid down on her bed.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my god. Is this legal? How can this feel so good?’” Morris recalls.

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?  

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.”

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.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Contaminated drinking water isn’t just a problem for Flint, Michigan. Many towns and cities across the Midwest and Great Plains face pollution seeping into their water supplies. A big part of the problem: farming and ranching.

USDA

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture closed offices in five states, including Colorado, on Tuesday after receiving anonymous threats.

USDA received “several anonymous messages that are concerning for the safety of USDA personnel and its facilities,” according to a statement by Matt Herrick, the department’s director of communications.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a hot, July day in Boone County, Iowa, farmer Brett Heineman shuttled a semi from one of his family’s fields to the local co-op. He and his uncle were harvesting the first crop of oats on this farm in decades.

Before corn and soybeans almost completely covered the landscape -- today, they account for 95 percent of crop acres in Iowa -- most Corn Belt farmers also grew oats or alfalfa. Now, the Heinemans are among the farmers taking a closer look at re-integrating the small grain into their operations.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

 

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to examine proposed mergers among agricultural chemical and seed companies in a September hearing.

With Chinese chemical giant ChemChina in talks to buy Syngenta, merger discussions ongoing between Dow and DuPont, anBayer and Monsantoapparently inching toward a deal, regulators and lawmakers are worrying about decreased competition and higher prices for farmers.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Few things are more valuable to a farmer in the arid West than irrigation water. Without it, the land turns back into its natural state: dry, dusty plains. If a fast-growing city is your neighbor, then your water holds even more value.

Farm families in Western states like California and Colorado are increasingly under pressure to sell their water. It’s been coined “buy and dry,” as water is diverted from farm fields and instead used to fill pipes in condos and subdivisions.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA

Democrat Chris Koster has tallied another significant endorsement from an agricultural group in his race for Missouri governor.

The Missouri Soybean Association announced Thursday it is throwing its support behind Koster’s bid over Republican Eric Greitens. The endorsement is a big win for Koster as it will likely help him with the traditionally conservative vote of rural Missouri.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media and KBIA

Larry Gerdes is having his barn taken down and disassembled in Malta Bend, Mo. It’s about the size of a three-car garage but stands much taller in a clearing surrounded by six-foot stalks of corn.

The barn’s exterior is graying, part of its roof is missing and there’s a gaping hole looking out from the hayloft. It’s about 100 years old and it’s not really useful.

“It’s deteriorated and it would cost a lot of money to repair it,” Gerdes says. “And it doesn’t fit into the modern farming. Unless you got two cows to let them loaf inside, nothing fits and it’s just obsolete.”

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