Agriculture News

Amy Mayer / IPR file

One of the country’s largest ethanol producers has idled three plants and postponed the opening of a fourth. 

POET posted a statement on its website saying bioprocessing at the locations in Chancellor, South Dakota and in Coon Rapids and Ashton, Iowa has stopped. Another plant in Shelbyville, Indiana was on track to open this spring but that is now on hold.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Long before the world became aware of the novel coronavirus that now has most people in the United States staying home, the pork industry was watching with fear as a different virus decimated the pig population in China.

African swine fever does not infect or harm humans, but it is deadly to pigs and since August 2018, estimates are that it has cut China’s swine herd in half. It has spread to other countries in Asia and is also infecting pigs in several European countries.

Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton / for Harvest Public Media

Southeastern Oklahoma averages at least 40 inches of rain per year, so its agricultural industry focuses primarily on livestock and timber. But an extended drought in 2011 and 2012 cost Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers more than $2 billion in losses statewide

A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Billy Smallwood is a fifth-generation rancher and hay baler who has a cow-calf operation in Pushmataha County. He says that year, he made almost no hay.

“You know, a hay baler doesn’t like to buy hay, but we had to buy hay,” he remembers.

Kyler Zeleny / for Harvest Public Media

On a still November day, Patrick O’Neal, the burn coordinator at Kansas State University’s Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, Kansas, convenes a meeting about a planned fire.

“The goal today is to burn about 52 acres,” he says, pointing out the specific sections on a map.

The clear blue sky and minimal wind provide inviting conditions. A short time later, the fire crew arrives at the first spot, and members pull on firefighter coats and helmets.

courtesy University of Nebraska Lincoln

Unprecedented flooding last year devastated many towns across the Midwest that are still struggling to come back. As Nebraska’s climate continues to shift, one riverside town wants to protect itself from another spring like 2019.

But the process has been plagued by bureaucratic setbacks and legal woes: uncertainty maintains a dominant presence across Winslow, Nebraska’s community.

Brad Van Osdel / South Dakota Public Broadcasting

While top scientists from around the world point to data that says the drier rangeland climate found west of the 100th Meridian has shifted east in the last three decades, those living and farming in eastern South Dakota feel they are seeing the opposite: A wetter weather pattern.

As precipitation has increased, farmers with their boots on the ground, like Paul Hetland near Mt. Vernon, South Dakota, say they’re struggling to adapt and stay in business.

In North Dakota, A Changing Climate Threatens Crop Diversity

Mar 23, 2020
Christopher Walljasper / for Harvest Public Media

As Doyle Lentz drives out over his farm, just 20 miles south of the Canadian border, he expects to see snow and ice for miles. This is January, after all, in Rolette County, North Dakota. But this year, the horizon is broken up by fields of windblown wheat, piles of snow-packed, cut canola and stands of corn and sunflowers.

“That whole field should have been waist high when we harvested. As the rains and snows came, it just continued to flatten it. And of course, the quality just became terrible,” says Lentz, who farms around 6,000 acres that also includes barley and soybeans. “Consequently, it wasn’t worth harvesting. We hope to burn it, but with all the rain and snow, we don’t know what we’re going to do with it.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

With grilling season coming, meat eaters in the United States may be treated to slightly lower prices.

Many factors contribute to the price consumers pay for a pound of ground beef at the grocery store, but swirling market forces typically don’t have a quick impact on them.

Still, Iowa State University livestock economist Lee Schulz says right now farmers and ranchers are producing a lot of beef and the global market has some good deals on things like hamburger.

Neslihan Gunaydin / Unsplash

The growing season hasn’t begun, but with beautiful weather ahead this weekend a lot of gardeners are itching to get their hands dirty.

Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with Richard Jauron, ISU Extension horticulture specialist, and Cindy Haynes, associate professor of horticulture, about early spring garden chores, and what you can do right now to prepare for the growing season.

Amy Mayer / IPR

After the day’s meals are done on a recent Tuesday, Gilbert Community Schools director of food service Deb Purcell shuffles through a stack of papers. Gilbert, a town north of Ames in central Iowa, serves about 1400-1600 meals a day. 

“This is what I do, planning for a week,” Purcell says pointing to columns on a page. “And there's actually seven pages minimum that go with each day.”

She’s counting cups of vegetables and documenting other details about every meal she’s served to comply with stringent federal rules. Her job could soon get easier.

Andrew Dunham

A few weeks ago, Andrew and Melissa Dunham of Grinnell Heritage Farms announced they will not offer their storied community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program in 2020. They're scaling back their operation, and selling off equipment. Grinnell Heritage Farms has been one of the highest-profile, most admired local food operations in the state, and this announcement has raised concerns for farmers and advocates of the  local food movement across the state. 

Katie Peikes / IPR file

A recent federal court decision may reduce the number of small refinery waivers the Environmental Protection Agency issues in the future. The ethanol industry is celebrating the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, but the impact may not be the full course-correction renewable fuels need to recover from some difficult years.

courtesy of Christopher Gannon/ISU

Farmers and landowners enrolling acres in the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program have a new practice available to them.

Areas of native grasses and flowers, called prairie strips, have proven helpful in keeping soil in place, preventing nutrients from washing away and increasing the presence of birds and bees.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The first phase of a new trade agreement between the United States and China is scheduled for a White House signing ceremony Wednesday, and many in the agriculture community are hoping the deal will bring some relief to the farm economy.

The Phase One agreement will begin to resolve the nearly two year exchange of tariffs the two countries have levied on each other’s goods—the United States in an attempt, the Trump administration says, to pressure China to reform some of its trade policies and China in retaliation.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

A much-anticipated update to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement is one step closer to implementation.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voted 25-3 to approve the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. Two Republicans and one Democrat cast the "no" votes.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

People are eating a lot of meat, both in the U.S. and around the world, and that could be good news for the cattle sector in 2020. Things are looking up for pork, too.

courtesy DMARC

Food pantry use is up in many Midwest communities, despite a reasonably strong economy and low unemployment rate. There can be several reasons for the increased need for free food.

“What we’re seeing statewide is that we have pretty low wages in Iowa,” says Natalie Veldhouse, a research associate with the Iowa Policy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit. “We have people who are working full-time who might not be able to make ends meet and people who are piecing together multiple part-time jobs, sometimes without benefits.”

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Congress has reached a deal to keep the federal government open, pending a final vote in the Senate that’s expected this week. The spending bill also addresses many additional provisions, including the extension of some tax credits that had lapsed.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, worked late into the night Monday to Tuesday finalizing a deal on the so-called tax extenders.

Amy Mayer / IPR

On a side street near the Des Moines Water Works, a tall fence surrounds three garden plots. Geese fly overhead while trucks drive past a sign between the road and the fence. It says: “Industrial Development Land For Sale, Contact City of Des Moines.”

Until recently, the city rented the land for growing vegetables, but now it’s been rezoned and put up for sale.

Harvest Public Media file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed three changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) this year. They affect the employment requirements for adults without dependents who are able to work, whether participation in certain other programs automatically qualifies a person for SNAP and, most recently, how the standard utility deduction is taken in calculating a household’s income.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out a record $4.24 billion in claims for acres farmers couldn’t plant this year.

The “prevented planting” provision allows farmers to file a crop insurance claim when weather conditions leave fields unfit for a crop. Heavy spring rains and flooding left some Midwest farm ground too wet for seeds and equipment during the planting window, meaning farmers couldn’t put in the corn or soybeans they’d intended for those acres. 

A 10-minute Delay Of Key USDA Reports Gave Some People An Advantage. Here’s Why.

Nov 24, 2019
Christopher Walljasper / Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Each month, the United States Department of Agriculture releases a series of reports that analysts, grain traders, investors and farmers use to make decisions or buy and sell commodities.

But on Friday, Nov. 8, two of those USDA reports - World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimate (WASDE) and the Crop Production report – were delayed by at least 10 minutes.

Fred Knapp / NET News

A possible solution for one form of water pollution is moving out of the lab and into the field in Nebraska, in a development that could revive some unused wells and save some towns a lot of money.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

As the closure of the comment period on an Environmental Protection Agency rule regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) approaches at the end of the month, farm state lawmakers and biofuels advocates continue their push for a deal they say the president promised them.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The last cellulosic ethanol plant making biofuel from corn plant residue is downsizing.

POET-DSM’s Project Liberty in Emmetsburg, Iowa, came online in 2014. On Tuesday the joint venture between POET and DSM North America announced it’s scaling back from commercial production of the advanced biofuel to a research and development mission focused on exporting its technology.

Amy Mayer / IPR

During 2019, the curveballs thrown at farmers began with the partial government shutdown in January, when some U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies were closed. Spring brought a storm system—called a bomb cyclone—that dumped rain on top of frozen fields unable to make use of it, kicking off weeks of flooding exacerbated by additional precipitation. Planting ran later than usual and some farmers never got a cash crop into certain saturated fields.

By high summer, parts of the Corn Belt experienced drought conditions and some farmers were still harvesting corn and soybeans after the first snow fell in autumn.

Katelyn Harrop/IPR

Timeless Prairie Orchard sits on a dusty road in Winthrop, and in each direction, it’s corn and soy as far as the eye can see. Apple farms are few and far between in these parts, but through this small, tree-lined property, owners Dave and Susie Differding have carved out an orchard.

Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is laying out its plan for hemp production, 10 months after the 2018 farm bill paved the way for farmers to grow it. 

The new federal program, which will be published Thursday in the Federal Register, is an “interim final rule” open to public comment. It would require farmers to secure a license from the USDA or their state if they want to grow hemp. 

Dean Borg/IPR

Prime harvesting weather is fading in Iowa, but three-fourths of the state’s corn acreage isn’t yet harvested.

The latest update from the U-S Department of Agriculture Monday said Iowa’s corn harvesting lags 11 days behind the five-year average at this stage of the season.

As of this past weekend, one-third of the state’s soybean crop was still in the field.  That’s about a week behind average.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The comment period is open on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed fix to the ethanol demand it has tinkered with in recent months.

For weeks, the ethanol industry has pressed the federal government to formally account for gallons it exempted small refineries from blending when the EPA approved 31 small refinery waivers.

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