Agriculture and Harvest Public Media

Pesticides are all over, from backyard gardens to cornfields. While their use doesn’t appear to be slowing, concern over drift and the resulting effects on health is driving research — and more worries.

Those concerns are bringing pesticides to a different venue: courtrooms. 

Amy / IPR file photo

Veterinarians and officials are hoping to keep a deadly foreign virus from infecting the American hog industry. African swine fever has been making its way off its namesake continent and into Europe, including Russia. Now, it’s reached China, leading to the culling of about 8,000 hogs.

In response, Japan closed its market to all pork imports from China.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Grain, livestock and dairy farmers from around the state expressed support for President Trump’s trade policies at a roundtable discussion in Des Moines sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa.   

The president’s tariffs against China and other countries have pushed prices down for some Iowa commodities.   But the farmers say they’re optimistic the tariffs will result in fairer trade practices in the future.   

Hog farmer Doug Reimer from Guttenberg says his operation has been “hit somewhat.”

Esperanza Yanez can spot a sick cow just by looking at it.

“The head hangs down and they don’t eat,” said Yanez, who immigrated from Mexico two decades ago and has been caring for cattle ever since.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

The next hurdle for the 2018 farm bill is a conference committee, where the House and Senate work out a compromise between their two very different bills.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says he doesn’t expect to serve as one of the nine senators on the committee because he doesn’t have the seniority, but he’s hoping his limit on federal payments will survive.

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.

There could soon be a different kind of fuel going into trucks and planes, one that could help farmers and create rural jobs.

It’d come from sorghum: a grass grown around the world, but increasingly so in states like Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. 

Dean Borg / IPR

Glenn Van Wyk is clearing debris spit out by the July 19th tornado after ripping through the nearby Vermeer factory and leveling three of his farmstead’s buildings. But he hasn’t yet decided what to do about flattened corn fields littered with steel sheets and other parts of the Vermeer buildings.

Van Wyk estimates about 40-acres is damaged. Maybe a total loss. He and his wife, Denise, farm 160 acres outside Pella, less than a quarter mile from the Vermeer plant’s Global Pavilion.

inkknife_2000/flickr

Iowa’s secretary of agriculture says he’s continuing to monitor the impacts of heavy rains that battered Northern Iowa last month. Heavier than normal summer rains flooded fields, especially in the north central and northwestern part of the state. But Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig said it’s not clear if the federal government will offer disaster aid.

Amy Mayer / IPR

When communities watch young people grow up, go off and never return, remaining residents and politicians often bemoan there’s been a “brain drain” — especially when such population loss means schools and businesses close.

But plenty of residents are full of love and pride for those communities, and some are working to identify their towns’ best attributes so they can attract new residents and achieve “brain gain.” This effort is happening across New England and in the Mountain West, and is also evident in two Iowa towns.

Bellevue

There’s a long-forbidden crop on the verge of legalization, one that’s versatile and could open up new markets for farmers: hemp.

Amy Mayer / IPR

After months of verbally sparring with trade partners, the United States is poised to implement wide-reaching tariffs Friday on imported goods, and one in particular has the agriculture economy on edge: soybeans.

Amy Mayer / IPR

In an annual survey, Iowa State University economists found the age of farmland owners continues to climb, and with that the number of acres owned debt-free also has increased.

About a third of the land is owned by people who are at least 75 years old and 82 percent of land is owned debt-free.  Typically, the older the landowner, the lower the debt load.

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. 

Beef cattle ranchers are getting wise to the science of genetics.

Dean Borg/IPR

Iowa’s corn and soybean crops are in mostly good shape this week, despite recent weather extremes.

Monday’s U.S. Department of Agriculture update rates 84 percent of Iowa’s corn acreage in good to excellent condition.

It’s about the same for soybeans.

Heavy rains and some hail battered some central Iowa fields during the past week.

But the section of the state most needing rain -- south-central and south-east counties -- slipped further into drought.

The USDA calls nearly two-thirds of southeast Iowa’s fields short to very short of moisture. 

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s message to Midwestern farmers this week is a mixed bag, telling them that the agency will be changing an Obama-era rule regarding water regulations but is pausing a plan to expand summer sales of ethanol.

Thirty-eight calves, between two and four months old, moo and kick at the dirt floor in a steel barn in Brush, Colorado. One by one, a handler leads them from the pen to a narrow chute, where their legs are restrained and they’re lifted onto a hydraulic table.  

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.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Corn growers, ethanol producers, and oil companies are anticipating an announcement from the Trump administration on possible changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which one Iowa senator says could undercut the president’s stated commitment to the law.

Ahead of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, candidate Donald Trump pledged his support for the RFS, a promise Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expects the President to keep.

Dean Borg/IPR

Today – June 1 -- is the date the U.S. Department of Agriculture begins computing federal prevented planting insurance payments to farmers who still have unplanted corn fields.

Most of those unplanted fields, intended for corn, are in North Iowa, in the Mason City-Forest City region.

“Every day, we’ve been rained out,” said Wayne Johnson, who farms in the area. 

He’s completed corn planting, and is still planting soybeans, steering through muddy fields and planting where he can.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Bruce Carney raises cattle, poultry and a few sheep on his 300-acre farm in Maxwell. He no longer grows any grain, but is preparing for new crops of a different kind.

Orange flags dot what was previously a cattle lot, with a ridge (or swale) built around it to manage water flow. The fruit trees Carney will be planting at each of the flags later this year will also help.

Ashley Leal parks in front of the Plains, Kansas, Community Library. It’s about to close, but she doesn’t care. She pulls out her blue laptop.

“I’m ... using the Wi-Fi,” Leal says with a laugh.

Her home internet was so slow, she came to the library parking lot. Cars often idle there in the evening while their drivers tap into a plodding, but treasured, link to the internet.

“I’m just thankful that we have somewhere to go,” Leal says.

It’s the only free internet in this small western Kansas town. For many people, it’s the only internet, period. Surprisingly, part of the problem and the solution, for rural areas may lie in Netflix traffic.

Employers can force workers to settle disputes outside of court, the U.S. Supreme Court said this week, which could negatively affect agricultural workers and employees who earn low wages.

Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

 At The Law Shop in Van Meter, attorney Amy Skogerson untied a piece of blue yarn from around a bunch of craft sticks.

Each stick had a word or short phrase stamped on it, and she read from them as she placed them on her desk: “negotiate, court representation, research law, draft documents.”

Dean Borg/IPR

North Iowa farm fields, intended for growing corn this summer, aren’t yet planted. Hundreds of acres—mostly in the northern tier of counties adjacent to the Minnesota border—have ponds from April snows and several inches of early May rain.

Earlier this week, USDA’s crop update said three-quarters of North Iowa’s intended corn acreage is unplanted.  That contrasts with the southern two-thirds of the state where 79 percent is planted.  Corn plants are emerging in 26 percent of the state’s acreage.

Statewide, one-third of the soybean acreage is planted.

The farm bill traditionally is a bipartisan effort, but House Republicans’ proposed changes to the main federal food-aid program in this year’s version have struck a nerve. To move it through efficiently, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says he’ll appeal to President Donald Trump.

John Pemble / IPR file photo

The prospect of selling gasoline with more ethanol throughout the year remains alive, but likely won’t be approved in time for the upcoming summer driving season.

Most gasoline containing ethanol has no more than 10 percent. A blend with up to 15 percent, called E-15, is available in some places, but in certain markets sales are prohibited from June first through September 15.

In an ongoing push-pull between oil refiners and ethanol producers, President Donald Trump has indicated nationwide, year-round sales of E-15 could be in the works.

Two women wheel a grocery cart across the parking lot to a white van, open the door and shove kids’ toys out of the way.

In the small city of Fort Morgan, Colorado, 33-year-old Verónica delicately stacks cans of food into her mini shopping cart, strolling the narrow aisles of the Rising Up food pantry to gather eggs, milk, apples and an extra-large box of cereal.

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