Agribusiness

Gary Smith has worked at the grain elevator at Okaw Farmer’s Co-op in Lovington, Illinois, for 40 years. On his desk sit two computer screens, where he tracks corn and soybean prices online at the Chicago Board of Trade.

As he explained, trade moves fast: “Just bam bam bam, and within a few seconds it could change a nickel or a dime against your favor.”

Back in 2012, one of the major employers in Montrose, Colorado, a sawmill, was in receivership and on the brink of collapse. At the time, local media reported that the cost of logging timber had become prohibitively expensive, and the log yard was nearly empty.  

These days, logs are stacked high next to a humming mill. Production is up 20 percent from even just 2016.

USDA Photo by Lance Cheung

Companies and farmers weathering the Trump administration’s trade policy, which has brought painful tariffs to many industries, could be running out of patience. That’s according to former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who served as USDA secretary for both of President Obama’s terms. 

Vilsack says that farmers and companies were willing to be patient as the Trump administration took a hard stand with China, but after feeling the impact of tariffs, that patience is now running out.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Independent farmers who question the consolidation of farming are finding support from an unexpected ally.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has introduced a bill calling for an 18-month moratorium on mergers and acquisitions in the food and agribusiness sector.

Amy Mayer / IPR

John Peterson farms corn and soybeans in Jackson, Minnesota, and came to the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, in late August to see what’s new and to learn about the most current technologies.

“It’s all about return on investment,” Peterson said. “Whatever it is that I am focused on, it needs to bring value back to the farm. Otherwise it’s a toy and I really don’t have any use for it.”

Wikimedia Commons

 

While negotiations for the 2018 Farm Bill get underway in the Conference Committee, the trade war with China wages on.

 

On this episode of River to River, Neil Hamilton, Director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center, and Amy Meyer, Reporter for Iowa Public Radio and Harvest Public Media discuss the inner-workings and implications of the Farm Bill, which is set to expire in its current state at the end of September.

 

Updated Aug. 2, 2018 — The Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission did not have enough votes Aug. 1 to approve the poultry barns at issue. Another vote is expected Aug. 15, though any decision is expected to be appealed.

Kate Payne / IPR

President Donald Trump touted a recent trade deal with European Union leaders at a stop in Iowa Thursday. He visited Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta with an official mission to hold a discussion on workforce development. But the status of the president’s international trade disputes and political flashpoints from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to prescription drug prices steered much of the conversation away from economic development policy.

Clay Masters / IPR

President Donald Trump is slated to visit Dubuque Thursday to host a roundtable discussion on workforce development. But the trip comes as the state is grappling with the backlash from the president's own trade policies, and news of a federal plan to bail out farmers feeling the impact.

IPR/Pat Blank

Although much of the talk in the state’s agriculture sector centers on trade tariffs between the U.S and China, stalled negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA are also causing concern.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig says dairy farmers are continuing to struggle. 

Pat Blank/IPR

A Midwest summertime tradition is in full swing -- corn detasseling.  Seed corn companies hire thousands of mostly teenagers for about 20 days to remove by hand the very top of the corn plant to produce hybrid varieties. DuPont Pioneer is one of Iowa’s largest companies. Production Manager Colby Entriken oversees facilities in Dysart, Toledo and Reinbeck in northeast Iowa. He said the company has added more safety experts in 2018. 

"We also bring in a field nurse as a resource,” Entriken said. “Each of the three sites also has an EMT on staff.” 

Barbetorte / Wikimedia Commons

Don't call it weed. It's industrial hemp, and it may be making a comeback in Iowa.

The 2014 Farm Bill provided provisions for states to legalize the growth of industrial hemp for research purposes. During the 2018 legislative session, the issue was up for debate at the Iowa Statehouse, and a bill to create a pilot program passed in the Iowa Senate. 

Matthew McGuire/ Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers

Discovering a large swarm of bees in a hollow tree or in an abandoned building can be unnerving. For many people the first instinct is to destroy them, but there are alternatives.

Jeff Becvar of Indianola is a bee removal specialist. He says it’s not an easy task, but the honey comb and its residents can be relocated.

There’s a new strategy when it comes to combating the smells and air quality concerns that arise from large-scale animal feeding operations: Blame the company, not the farmer.

And if a recent federal case against the largest pork producer in the U.S. is any indication, it’s a model that could benefit contract growers — people who don’t own the livestock they raise but own the property and the barns.

Michael Leland/IPR

Despite this past winter’s extended stretch of extreme cold, Iowa’s honey bee population is in good shape.

State Apiarist Andrew Joseph says he’s impressed with the numbers.

"Well I’m happy to say that things are going pretty well right now in this blink in time," he said. "There’s a lot of bees out there that are building up quite nicely through this spring and there are a lot of plants that are coming into bloom for them."

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Animal feed mixed from ingredients sourced around the world could be carrying more than the vitamins and nutrients livestock need. Seven different viruses that could cause widespread illness and big economic losses for meat producers in the United States can survive in certain imported feed products.

study published in March in the journal PLOS One looked at 11 viruses that are not yet in the U.S. but infect herds in other places, such as African swine fever and foot and mouth disease.

Wearing a heavy smock and rubber boots, Amadedin Eganwa stands over a large conveyor belt that’s carrying unconscious lambs. He faces east, towards Mecca, gently lifts the animal’s head in the same direction and under his breath he quickly says a prayer — bismillahi allahu akbar, or “in God’s name” — before swiftly cutting the lamb’s throat.

Amy Mayer / IPR

When a man places 40 dozen eggs on the conveyor in the check-out line at the grocery store, it begs the question: What’s he going to do with all of them?

This happened to Kim Becker in Ames, Iowa. The man’s answer left her so gobsmacked, she posted it on Facebook:

Swine Genetics International (SGI) is about 20 minutes from that store.

“That could have been me or it could have been a number of people here,” SGI Chief of Operations Michael Doran says about the supermarket run.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Congress is close to righting an inadvertent wrong, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). At issue is a provision in the tax reform bill passed late last year that favors cooperatively-owned businesses, including many grain elevators.

A new, widely debated federal mandate requires truckers to electronically track the number of hours they’re on the road — a rule that’s meant to make highways safer. But there’s a big difference between hauling a load of TVs and a load of cattle destined for meatpacking plants.

Kristofor Husted / file: Harvest Public Media

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union Address Tuesday and the nation’s roads, bridges, rails and rivers will be on many people’s minds in the Midwest.

Trump has said he’s committed to improving the country’s infrastructure and now Mike Steenhoek, director of the Soy Transportation Coalition in Ankeny, wants to hear some specifics. Steenhoek says it’s an issue that cuts across many industries and speaks to people in all corners of the country.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

China is the largest importer of U.S. soybeans and, as of this week, the country wants more information on incoming containers.

Soybeans are tested for quality and the ones headed for China under most contracts can have up to two percent so-called foreign material—dirt, stems, grass and weed seeds, according to Iowa State University agricultural engineering professor Charles Hurburgh.

“The Chinese have observed certain weeds, the concentration—the levels—of certain weed seeds to be going up,” Hurburgh says.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts consumers will be paying less for beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey in early 2018 than at the start of 2017. Not so for eggs.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a lawsuit that argues the federal agency must bring back a proposed rule that defined abusive practices by meatpacking companies.

Farmers from Alabama and Nebraska and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a nonprofit that works on competition issues in agriculture, filed the suit Thursday in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Artizone/Flickr

Iowa and 12 other states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a California law that requires eggs sold in the Golden State to come from hens that have room to extend their limbs.

Missouri’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of the 13 states, including Iowa, which is the largest egg-producing state in the country. It’s the latest challenge to the California regulations.

On this new buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks about the lawsuit with Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University.

A congressional watchdog agency called on the federal government Thursday to better protect meatpacking workers, who are often exposed to dangerous chemicals, not allowed bathroom breaks and refused medical treatment.

The General Accountability Office’s report said the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration faces a challenge when it comes to addressing safety concerns in meat and poultry plants because workers may not report problems out of fear of retaliation.

In the hopes of not repeating a problematic year for soybean crops, farmers across the U.S. are deciding how best to protect their crops and their livelihood next year from drift damage caused by the weed killer dicamba.

Between the time a cut of steak or pound of hamburger goes from cattle farm to grocery shelf, it more than likely passes through one of three companies: Tyson Foods, Cargill or JBS.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top four beef processors hold 85 percent of the market share, controlling the beef market to the point that some farmers believe the companies’ clout unfairly influences livestock prices.

Last month, the USDA withdrew a rule proposed in the final weeks of the Obama administration that would have made it easier for cattle producers to raise objections if they thought meatpackers weren’t giving them a fair price.

There’s a genetic technology that scientists are eager to apply to food, touting its possibilities for things like mushrooms that don’t brown and pigs that are resistant to deadly diseases.

And food industry groups, still reeling from widespread protests against genetically engineered corn and soybeans (aka GMOs) that have made it difficult to get genetically engineered food to grocery store shelves, are looking to influence public opinion.

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