agriculture

Amy Mayer/IPR

In the coming months, Congress will map out how it’ll spend upwards of $500 billion on food and farm programs over the next five years.

The massive piece of legislation known as the farm bill affects all taxpayers — whether they know it or not — and runs the gamut from farm safety net and conservation programs to food stamps and loan guarantees for rural hospitals. Since the bill hasn’t been introduced yet, now is the time when interest groups, farmers and others with a stake clamor to ensure their desires will be heard.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A coalition of more than two dozen state, local, and national organizations rallied at the statehouse today against the proliferation of large hog confinement operations known as CAFOs, which they say have diminished the quality of life in the Iowa countryside.   

The Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture is calling for a moratorium on new large hog operations until fewer than 100 Iowa waterways remain impaired.   

It’s one of a package of 15 bills offered by Senator David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan) to strengthen regulation of hog farms.

Outer Space, Plants, and Computer Vision

Jan 12, 2018
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode

Plants growing in space have no gravity to assist them, there is minimum light, and there is more radiation exposurethan the plants would receive on Earth. However, plant production is expected to be an important part of future deep space missions.

In this River to River conversation, host Ben Kieffer is joined by Iowa State University graduate student Therin Young, who is just starting a year-long fellowship with the Iowa Space Grant Consortium focusing on using "computer vision" to have computers measure, or phenotype, plants remotely. 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A nine-year study of cereal rye as a cover crop shows it can lead to higher soybean and corn yields, and that’s in addition to the environmental benefits it offers.

Two non-profits, Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers of Iowa, compared strips of fields planted with cereal rye in the fall and those without it. The rye helps keep nutrients and soil in place, and also keeps down some weeds. Plus, in areas with multiple years of the cover crop, some farmers reported harvesting slightly more soybeans and corn.

Image courtesy of the Wapsipinicon Almanac

Since 1988, Timothy Fay of Anamosa has published the Wapsipinicon Almanac. The 2018 edition is now for sale. The old-fashioned publication features contributions from 20 people, mostly Iowans, and has become a staple of Iowa literature.

Over the 40 years since its initial release, Fay reflects on those he has loved and lost during his time publishing the almanac.

As President Donald Trump and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue made the rounds this week to reiterate their commitment to rural communities and farmers and ranchers, the federal agency that President Abraham Lincoln established still lacks top appointments.

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.

Pat Blank/IPR

The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts its Census of Agriculture every five years, and farmers have just a few weeks remaining to return their 2017 forms.

Iowa’s deputy secretary of agriculture, Mike Naig, says business, universities, and local and national farm groups use Census of Agriculture data to inform funding and program decisions because the survey gets robust and unbiased results. But only when everyone eligible takes it seriously.

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.

inkknife_2000/flickr

A north Iowa business consultant is painting a picture of deteriorating finances for Iowa farmers, as the agricultural economy continues to languish.    

David Underwood of Mason City  is one of three members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, which this week predicted essentially flat state tax collections this year due in part to weakness in the farm sector.      

Underwood said up to now, farmers had enough reserves to get them through the recent lean times.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The value of Iowa’s farmland has increased 2 percent over the past year, but the uptick may not indicate improvements to the overall farm economy.

The annual Iowa Land Values Survey found the small increase this year after three consecutive years of farmland values slipping.

Mighty Earth

Environmental activists were at the Tyson meatpacking plant in Perry Thursday delivering a petition bearing more than 1,000 names. It was part of a nationwide drive calling for the company to purchase sustainable grains as a way to reduce water pollution.

A group calling itself Mighty Earth is delivering petitions at seven Tyson locations across the country, A field organizer for the Iowa chapter of Mighty Earth, Elise Peterson-Trujillo, says the environmentalists are asking the nation’s largest meat producer to live by its pledge to pursue sustainable practices.

Puerto Rico’s hot winter days and warm nights have played a key role in the global seed business for more than 30 years. So, the devastation wrought on the U.S. territory by Hurricane Maria in September stretches to the croplands of the Midwest and Great Plains.

Fields in Puerto Rico are used for research, development and/or testing of up to 85 percent of the commercial corn, soybean and other hybrid seeds grown in the U.S., according to the Puerto Rico Agricultural Biotechnology Industry Association.

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.

File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Large livestock farms likely will have to report high levels of two types of emissions as of Wednesday, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s last-minute effort to further delay a federal rule it’s been trying to modify for years.

The EPA tried to exempt most farms, including concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs, from having to report emissions of two air pollutants — hydrogen sulfide or ammonia — that are considered hazardous.

The World Health Organization released recommendations this week to curb the use of antibiotics in livestock, saying it could help reduce the risk of drug-resistant infections in humans.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says some of the guidelines from the United Nations’ public health agency would place “unnecessary and unrealistic constraints” on farmers and veterinarians. It's a disagreement that could have an impact on farm exports.

On a feedlot in far southwest Kansas, two cowboys on horseback move cattle on the high dusty plains, spread out like dozens of football fields stitched together with miles of fences. Their “Buenos dias! Buenos dias!” greetings mix with moos on a hot summer morning.

They’re two of the 400 employees who work on the feedlot, which is one of the largest in the U.S. in a state that ranks third in meat production. 

An event Monday planned to mark two Midwestern political appointees joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture was partly spoiled by a political dispute over biofuels.  

Burkey Farms in southeast Nebraska looked into the future a couple of years ago and didn’t like what it saw — a continuation of depressed prices for conventional corn and soybeans. So, the families who run the farm together started discussing how the operation would make money if they couldn’t earn more from their crops.  

Their conversation took a turn toward organics, a $40 billion industry and growing, especially in Iowa and Colorado.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Republican and Democratic senators from top corn- and ethanol-producing states say their pressure helped prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from changing rules governing renewable fuel production.

But at least one senator, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, says President Trump was their ace in the hole against an EPA chief who has deep ties to the oil and gas industry.

New Ag Guestworker Program Legislation Headed To US House

Oct 26, 2017

A bill to overhaul the federal agricultural guestworker program cleared its first hurdle Wednesday and is headed to the full U.S. House.

The Republican-majority House Judiciary Committee passed the bill 17-16 after two days of debate and over the objections of many Democrats. It’s likely to clear the House, though its future in the Senate is unclear.

Madeleine King/Iowa Public Radio

What's the solution to Iowa water quality issues? One approach is to get cities, suburbs, and farms together to find solutions.  In this special edition of River to River, hear highlights from a recent panel discussion held at the Iowa Tap Room in Des Moines.  IPR's Clay Masters moderated the conversation.  

Dean Borg/IPR

Iowa’s corn and soybean crops are now racing the fall weather. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly update says all of the state’s corn acreage is mature, but most of it is still in the field.

Only 23 percent of the corn crop is harvested. That’s two weeks behind average, and the smallest percentage at this stage of the season since 2009.

It’s the same for soybeans, the latest in the last eight years, with more than a one third of the Iowa’s soybean crop still in the field.

The USDA’s report says yields are running better than expected.

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Farm lenders in northern Iowa are taking proactive steps to prevent farm foreclosures, and a business consultant says that has kept many struggling farmers in business while commodity prices remain low.    

David Underwood in Mason City, director of CFO On Demand, follows economic trends in that part of the state.   

He says lenders have formed so-called crisis committees to work with farmers before they get into too much trouble.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that’ll be increasingly important to farmers as wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel.

In a field outside of Ames, Iowa, she swipes the paper towel across the head of a bright yellow-and-red sunflower—bred to feed Iowa State University fans’ frenzy for all things in the school’s colors—and transfers the pollen on the paper towel to a different flower. Researchers recently unlocked the genetic code of the entire plant, which means Barb will more quickly be able to identify the specific genes that play a role in self-pollination.

Sunflowers are a global commodity crop with a growing demand, though they’re currently a minor player on the United States’ agricultural scene. The genome-mapping is likely to create better hybrid seeds, but there’s no reason to expect the picturesque crop, despite its profit potential, will quickly overtake the Corn Belt.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t go forward with rules meant to make it easier for small livestock producers to report possible unfair treatment.

The agency’s decision on the proposal, which came at the tail end of the Obama administration, was announced Tuesday and met with mixed response.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds had phone conversations today with both President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about a controversial proposal to scale back the Renewable Fuel Standard, reducing the mandate for Iowa-grown biofuels.    

Iowa politicians are putting a full-court press on the Trump administration, after the EPA proposed  reducing the volume of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol blended into gasoline.   

Reynolds called her conversation with the president “constructive and productive.”  

A new report suggests the Environmental Protection Agency should consider lowering the legal limit in drinking water for nitrates, a chemical often connected to fertilizer use.

People who drink water with elevated, but not illegal, levels of nitrates could be at an increased risk of kidney, ovarian and bladder cancer, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group asserts. But a University of Iowa researcher who studies nitrate contamination says the connection to cancer is inconsistent and other chemicals may be involved.

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