Agriculture News

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.

Amy Mayer / IPR

The State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, has sloped auditorium-style seating and plenty of outlets to keep laptops and cell phones charged. This is where officials gather during and immediately after tornadoes and massive flooding.

It’s the center for crisis control. 

Amy Mayer / IPR

The founder of a global vegetable seed company will receive the 2019 World Food Prize in a ceremony Thursday at the Iowa State Capitol.

In the fall, livestock veterinarian Dr. Bailey Lammers is often busy with vaccinating calves and helping wean them from their mothers.

A herd of auburn cattle greeted her at the barn gate during one of her house calls in northeastern Nebraska, peering from behind the dirt-caked bars. Lammers and her technician Sadie Kalin pulled equipment from tackleboxes in the back of Lammers’ truck.  

Clay Masters / IPR file

Iowa biofuels groups are calling on President Donald Trump to resolve a dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency that one farmer called “disgusting and disappointing.”

courtesy of Red Fern Farm

It may be harvest season, but Iowa’s chestnut trees don’t have much to offer after spending 10 consecutive months in soil with too much moisture.

Rains began saturating soils in September 2018, an abrupt hard freeze in November locked in the moisture, spring brought repeated freeze-thaw cycles and then more rain.  

Tom Wahl of Red Fern Farm in Louisa County has about a thousand chestnut trees and usually they produce a lucrative crop on his diverse farm.  

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The United States will not implement increases to tariffs on Chinese goods that were scheduled for Oct. 15. This slight easing of trade tensions follows productive meetings in Washington last week that President Donald Trump says led to a tentative trade deal.

courtesy Mark Gleason

By design, organic agriculture limits the products that can be applied to crops to kill pests and weeds, so farmers often look for other strategies to reduce risk.

Short, fabric-covered tunnels could be the solution for certain organic crops. Researchers at Iowa State University have developed mid-sized mesh-covered tunnels, dubbed “mesotunnels,” that let sunlight and rain in, but keep many bugs out.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Japan’s Parliament is convening this month and will likely take up a new trade deal with the United States. If enacted, the agreement might bring some good news to farmers, but no one really knows. 

Official language of the deal has not yet been made public, though the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said it would increase access to the Japanese market for U.S. wheat, pork, and beef.

Clay Masters / IPR file

The Trump administration will add onto future ethanol requirements to make up for its waivers that allowed small oil refineries to mix less of the biofuel with gasoline. But the extra gallons may not ultimately make up for all the industry has lost.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Small farmers and their allies are responding to comments the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture made this week that suggested only big farms are likely to survive.

“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Sonny Perdue told a gathering of dairy farmers in Wisconsin. He added that even 100 cows might not be enough to turn a profit. The comments come at a time when dairy farmers across the country, but especially in the upper Midwest, are struggling.

University of Illinois agriculture policy professor Jonathan Coppess found the comment “shocking.”

Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

On a hot September day, five Japanese men arrived at Rod Pierce’s central Iowa farm. They represented feed mills and livestock cooperatives, and were there to see the corn they may eventually buy. 

Pierce invited them to walk among his rows of corn, climb into the cab of an 8-head combine and poke their heads into one his empty grain storage bins. 

Pierce grows mostly corn on his 1,700 acres and he knows about one-fifth of the corn grown in the United States gets exported. Japan’s second only to Mexico as a customer of U.S. corn. 

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