Agriculture News

For every crop in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency carries out a rigorous set of tests to determine which pesticides are safest. How and when a pesticide is used can depend on how that crop is consumed by the average person — is it ingested, inhaled or applied topically?

It’s a precise science that aims to keep consumers safe from potentially toxic residues. But, like most federal regulations, none of it applies to the marijuana industry.      

courtesy of EPA

More than 2 million people work in or near agriculture fields in the U.S. that are treated with pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has strict policies about what those workers need to know about pesticide risks, when they can be in those fields and what they should do if they come into contact with the chemicals.

“EPA sets particular criteria of what needs to be included in a training,” said Betsy Buffington, a program specialist in the Pesticide Safety Education Program at Iowa State University.

“So if an instance occurs, they can look back and know that they're doing it correctly.”

Yet even with recent updates to the decades-old Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the EPA has little ability to monitor how well the regulation is working, and no way to determine how frequently agricultural pesticides drift onto, or otherwise make contact with, workers.

courtesy of Meyer Agri-Air

On July 28, 2017, a central Iowa emergency dispatcher received a 911 call from a man in a corn field.

“I had workers that were detasseling,” said the caller, referring to the job of manually pulling the tops off standing corn stalks. “Some may have gotten sprayed by a plane.”

The caller said 10 or 12 people reported sore throats or vomiting. They’d seen a plane applying pesticides to the adjacent soybean field and it seemed some of the chemicals had drifted toward the corn and onto the workers.

All Tom Geisler can see as he trudges through the mud is a big mess. High water from the March floods wrecked pretty much everything on his 1,000-acre farm in Hooper, Nebraska.

The ongoing effects of the trade war, severe weather and low crop prices have farmers reluctant to make big purchases like tractors, combines and planters. It was apparent in the U.S. Commerce Department’s new report, which shows farm equipment sales were down $900 million dollars over the first three months of 2019.

That’s the biggest decline in sales since 2016.

AMY MAYER/IPR FILE PHOTO

Now that Congress has returned to Capitol Hill, Iowa’s senior senator is resuming two ongoing policy efforts.

Renewable fuels

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says he’s submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency in support of the plan to make the sale of E-15 legal throughout the year. E-15 contains more ethanol than the widely-available E-10 blend, but federal rules have restricted the sale of E-15 at certain times of the year.

Esther Honig/Harvest Public Media

Among the bills passed by the legislature this session and now awaiting the governor’s signature is one allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp.

It would open up that crop to cultivation for the first time in almost 50 years. Industrial hemp once was used for clothing, rope and a wide variety of other products, but in 1970 it was lumped in with its cousin marijuana and classified as a controlled substance. That made it illegal to grow nationwide.

Under the 2018 farm bill, it’s now legal for individual states to choose to allow.

As grassland and prairies gave way to farmland in the Midwest, habitats for some native birds disappeared. There’s a relatively new program in central Illinois looking to restore wetlands for migrating birds and help farmers at the same time.

The program to help them is limited but is secure for now. However, the future for both the bird and the program could be on shakier ground in just a few years.

In a recent national survey, farmers said the biggest threat to their livelihoods wasn’t low commodity prices or global trade policies. It was the rising cost of health insurance.

It’s one of the reasons why state farm bureaus have jumped into the insurance game in Iowa, Tennessee and Nebraska, and are trying to in Kansas.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Iowa’s senior senator met with the U.S. secretary of energy this week to better understand details around how small oil refineries secure waivers exempting them from the national biofuels law.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said Rick Perry clarified for him that the Department of Energy can offer input, but it’s the Environmental Protection Agency that grants the waivers. Grassley said E.P.A. Administrator Andrew Wheeler is not obligated to do what the energy department recommends.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released 2017 Census of Agriculture data show the amount of land in the largest federal conservation programs has decreased nationwide and in many Midwest and Plains states.

But that doesn’t mean farmers are ignoring soil health, nutrient runoff or erosion problems.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Fears of a highly contagious and deadly pig disease have prompted officials to cancel the World Pork Expo in Iowa this June.

African swine fever has been spreading through China since August, and also is present in Europe and its namesake continent.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

It’s too early for planting, but some farm fields in Iowa are already greening up thanks to cover crops. 

On this episode of Talk of Iowa, a look at cover crop use from row cropping to small scale vegetable farming with two Iowa farmers. 

Guests: 

  • Doug Adams, Humboldt-based soybean and corn farmer 
  • Carmen Black, owner of Sundog Farm and Local Harvest CSA in Solon

A company that makes dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton wants to expand use of the controversial weed killer to corn. But critics and experts questioning the logic of the petition.

Iowa produces about 50 million hogs per year, and at any one time, there are approximately 20 million pigs being raised in Iowa. Yet, driving across the state, it’s rare to see any pigs outside, as most of the state’s pigs are raised in hoop houses or concentrated animal feeding operations.

In this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe chats with two Iowa farmers who raise their pigs in the pasture.

In the wake of Sept. 11, federal officials said the United States needed a new, state-of-the-art facility to defend against bioterrorism and stop diseases that could devastate the country’s farm economy and threaten human lives. They chose Manhattan, Kansas, as the site of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. 

Like many of the refugees who have resettled in Greeley, Colorado, 35-year-old Abul Basar is employed by JBS.

It’s a massive meatpacking plant that processes thousands of cattle per day and employs over 3,000 people. After a year of working on the plant’s processing line, where he disembowel cow carcasses with a large electric knife, Basar injured his right hand.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

Farmers along the Missouri River and its tributaries are still assessing damage from recent flooding.

But beyond the farms in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, there’s visible evidence that the impacts are far-reaching and long-lasting — closed interstates and rerouted trains — key cogs in  a global agriculture economy.

Andrew Joyce won’t be growing any tomatoes this summer. His three-acre produce farm in Malden, Missouri, will lie fallow. The cause: damage from the weed killer dicamba.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Farm income has taken a long, hard fall, dropping 50 percent since hitting a high point in 2013. Add to that near-record levels of farm debt, and you have a recipe for financial stress.

But while economists say they can see storm clouds building, it’s not a full-blown crisis. That’s because relatively few farms have been pushed past the breaking point into Chapter 12 bankruptcy — or, worse, into losing the farm entirely.

One out of five seafood samples taken from across the country, including Kansas, Missouri and Colorado, are mislabeled. That’s according to a study by Oceana, a nonprofit organization that promotes marine conservation.

The water we drink is protected by federal rules, which are at the crux of a long-running fight over how far upstream that protection extends.

“Agriculture is land and water. When you’ve got control of the water, you’ve got control of the land,” said Blake Roderick with the National Waterways Conference.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said this week that that a long-anticipated program for dairy farmers will be available June 17, with payments possibly coming as soon as early July.

Compared to the 89 millions acres of soybean in the U.S., the hemp industry is still meager at 25,000 acres, but experts expect that will quickly change now that President Donald Trump has signed the 2018 farm bill.

That’s because after nearly a century of heavy state and federal restrictions, hemp has been removed from the list of controlled substance and reclassified as an agricultural commodity — one that a burgeoning market has its eyes on.

Amy Mayer / IPR

At Hummel’s Nissan in Des Moines, Kevin Caldwell sells the all-electric Leaf. Driving one is basically the same as driving a typical gasoline or gas-electric hybrid car, he said, except for a few new features like the semi-autonomous hands-free option. And the fact that you plug it in rather than pumping gas into it.

About a quarter to a third of Caldwell’s Leaf customers are farmers, some of whom grow corn for ethanol.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

After more than 20 years, an early tool of genetic engineering in crops is doing more than just killing pests. It’s providing environmental benefits, too, according to a new study in the journal Biological Control.

Swiss Meat and Sausage has been butchering animals and selling meats in a small, unincorporated east-central Missouri town for 50 years. Co-owner Janice Thomas wants to expand, and to do that, she’ll need more business from out-of-town customers.

“If there is one place that has some room, it’s with our online ordering,” she said.

The community of Swiss has minimal internet access: It’s not high speed, and it’s unreliable.

In theory, closing off China’s soybean market due to the trade dispute with the U.S. on top of generally low prices for the commodity should affect all industry players, big to small. Agriculture economist Pat Westhoff begged to differ.

Rural hospitals aren’t just providers of medicine and health care, but also are often major employers and a massive part of a town’s tax base. However, mounting challenges are forcing these hospitals to merge and close in droves.

The U.S. trade war with China has created a financial burden for farmers and companies that import Chinese goods. Consumers, on the other hand, have mostly been spared from the conflict.

That could all change if this month’s negotiations between the U.S. and China don’t go well.

Pages