Farming

Courtesy of Sustainable Iowa Land Trust

An Iowa non-profit organization is permanently setting aside 63 acres in Johnson County for sustainable farming. Due to the work of the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, or SILT, the farmland 10 miles north of Iowa City will never be developed or used for row cropping. The group hopes the land will make getting into the business of growing food affordable for young farmers.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Michael McEnany always knew he wanted to be a farmer. Both of his grandfathers were, and he “always loved tagging along with my Grandpa Ed.”

Both of his parents chose ag-related careers, but neither of them went back to the farms they’d grown up on. Still, McEnany’s done nothing but farm for more than a decade. Starting part-time in college, he worked his way up to a full-time, year-round job on Steve Henry’s corn and soybean operation in Nevada, Iowa.

E. coli and salmonella often ride on leafy greens or vegetables, accounting for about 10 percent of the United States’ foodborne illnesses. The pathogens can be found in contaminated manure, water and on the hands of those harvesting the crop — especially if they don’t have access to proper bathrooms or a way to wash their hands.

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An increasing number of farmers is using cover crops to keep water, soil and nutrients from running off fields. But while many studies have shown the agronomic and environmental benefits of the plants that come up after cash crops such as corn or soybeans get harvested, it’s been harder to determine whether a farm business will recover the initial planting cost.

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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.

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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.”

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A major farm trade show is underway in Iowa, but the first day came to a soggy halt Tuesday.

The Farm Progress Show is billed as the largest outdoor farm show in the country. It’s held at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone County in even-numbered years, alternating with a site in Decatur, Illinois. It kicked off with a strong morning crowd.

John Peterson, a corn and soybean farmer from Jackson, Minnesota, came to check out the latest equipment.

Harvest season isn’t far away for corn and soybean farmers, whose crops are worth less now than when they planted in the spring due to the United States’ trade war.

“We don't know what to think from one day to the next. It's hard to plan,” said Duane Hund, a farmer in Kansas’ Flint Hills.

Forty percent of farmers polled this summer by Farm Futures said President Donald Trump’s trade policy is permanently damaging U.S. agriculture. The scrambling of global markets is just beginning, Hund said, and pointed to the 1980 Russian grain embargo as an example.

Consumers are buying more certified organic fruits and vegetables every year, and in the Midwest and Plains states, much of it is grown on small farms.

To comply with organic rules, some use livestock to provide natural fertilizer. Two separate studies in Iowa are trying to quantify the soil health, yield and, eventually, economic impact of grazing animals on the fields after vegetables are harvested.

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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.

 

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. 

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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.

Courtesy of Sustainable Iowa Land Trust

Sustainable Iowa Land Trust is selling a permanently protected farm in Southwest Iowa in a move to pay off debt and honor the farm’s previous owners.

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.

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

During this Talk of Iowa interview, host Charity Nebbe visits the Herbert Hooover Presidential Museum and gets a tour of a new exhibit,"Tallgrass to Knee High: A Century of Iowa Farming," on display through October 2018. Melanie Weir, assistant curator at the museum, is her guide. 

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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.

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.

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As China and the United States continue to lob threats over new import tariffs, farmers in the Midwest are already adjusting to the first shots in what could become a trade war.

China imposed new tariffs on pork this week, pressuring producers who already are barely making ends meet, and now the two countries have released lists for the next group of products each would hit if disputes over intellectual property and other issues aren't resolved.

In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

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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.

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As agriculture intensified in the 20th century, summers in the Midwest became wetter and cooler.

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No matter how far fruits or vegetables travel, whether they’re grown organically or conventionally, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients. The men and women in the fields try to grow foods with an eye to boosting the health factor, but researchers say it’s hard to measure the precise impact.

2018 Forecast: US Farm Income To Sink To 12-Year Low

Feb 9, 2018

Farm income will likely drop nearly 7 percent from last year to $59.5 billion, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Wednesday. The drop is due to continued low prices for crops like corn and soybeans, as well as higher fuel and labor costs.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A new partnership between the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, which manages the federal crop insurance program, aims to keep more of Iowa’s farmland green in the off-season.

The cover crop premium discount will give farmers five dollars per acre off on their crop insurance premium for acres they plant with cover crops.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Sarah Carlson says in a national survey farmers indicated they wanted this type of program.

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.

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