Agriculture News

Amy Mayer / IPR

Farmers started forming co-ops nearly a century ago, primarily to get better prices for their crops. They pooled their resources, put up storage bins and gained leverage with buyers.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

When the new Congress convenes in January, the Democratic-controlled House could make big changes to the next farm bill. But farmers may have to wait a while for it.

The coalition behind a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s new meat-labeling law asked a federal judge this week to stop the state from enforcing it.

As life expectancy increases, farmers are staying in the business, but there’s still a need to plan for what happens when they die. At the same time, young farmers who come from non-farming backgrounds are looking for the space to grow their own careers.

A land transfer may seem simple, but challenges abound: How do retiring farmers connect with beginning farmers? When does a farmer confront death? How can smaller farm organizations fit into the ever-growing 1,000-acre farm scene?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to send hundreds of its employees out of Washington, D.C., to areas closer to stakeholders like farmers and with lower costs of living. As it turns out, there are a lot of people who think their town fits the bill.

Michael Leland/IPR

With billions of dollars’ worth of corn and soybeans still in the fields, Iowa farmers are using sunny, dry days to catch up.

Nights too.

But Monday’s U.S. Department of Agriculture weekly update says the soybean harvest, which is now just over a third complete, is the smallest percentage harvested at this stage of the season since 1985.   Although farmers are reporting deteriorating quality, the USDA rates 65 percent of Iowa’s soybean crop in good to excellent condition.

Michael Leland/IPR

Monday’s weekly crop update from the USDA reports very little progress in harvesting Iowa’s corn and soybean crops as a result of the heavy and seemingly incessant rain. It says Iowa farmers had only one day suitable for work in the field this past week.  

Only 17 percent of the state’s corn acreage is harvested, and harvest is now four days behind average for mid-October. Sixty-nine percent of the Iowa’s corn crop is rated good to excellent. That’s down a bit from last week.

Rain Stymies Fall Harvest

Oct 11, 2018
Dean Borg/IPR

Eighty-five percent of Iowa’s corn harvest remains in the field. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly update says, despite recent heavy rains, the corn harvest is ten days ahead of last year’s pace at this stage of the season.

However, soybean harvest, only 18 percent complete, lags five days behind last year.

Persistent heavy rain is keeping harvest equipment out of the fields.

In eastern Iowa, Randy Toenjes, farming near Monticello, estimates it’ll be a week before muddy fields are sufficiently dried to support heavy combines and grain trucks.

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.

DAIRY: AMY MAYER; WHEAT: VALDEMAR FISHMEN / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA; CREATIVE COMMONS

Farmers and agriculture groups are digging through the details of the new North American trade deal, called the United States Canada Mexico Agreement, and some are raising concerns that clash with the celebratory mood of the three countries’ leaders.

One year ago, Hurricane Maria swept over Puerto Rico, bringing 150 mph winds. Nearly 3,000 people died, homes and buildings were ruined and farms were destroyed all over the U.S. territory.

According to Luis Pinto, a farmer near Yabucoa, southeast of the capital San Juan, the sound of the wind screaming through the trees “felt like the hurricane was crying.” Plantain trees were flattened on Pinto’s farm. In all, the storms caused $300,000 in damage to his crops, cattle, fences and roads.

Congress has spent weeks trying to meld the House and Senate versions of the next farm bill into one agreeable piece of legislation.

Left in the balance is the current farm bill, which will expire Sept. 30 without an extension.

A new poll suggests 72 percent of voters, regardless of party affiliation, believe Congress and federal regulators “need to do more” to bring high-speed internet to rural Americans.

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.

Gary Smith has worked at the grain elevator at Okaw Farmer’s Co-op in Lovington, Illinois, for 40 years. On his desk sit two computer screens, where he tracks corn and soybean prices online at the Chicago Board of Trade.

As he explained, trade moves fast: “Just bam bam bam, and within a few seconds it could change a nickel or a dime against your favor.”

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised to revitalize rural America, specifically through increased investment in infrastructure. And his ag secretary, Sonny Perdue, wants to modernize the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One rural bank representative said there’s a key piece to doing that: Fixing an outdated and burdensome loan application process to make it easier to access capital.

Prices for crops like corn and soybeans have declined as the U.S. has sparred with top trading partners, but exports of those crops have not plummeted the way many observers had feared.

Back in 2012, one of the major employers in Montrose, Colorado, a sawmill, was in receivership and on the brink of collapse. At the time, local media reported that the cost of logging timber had become prohibitively expensive, and the log yard was nearly empty.  

These days, logs are stacked high next to a humming mill. Production is up 20 percent from even just 2016.

Amy Mayer / IPR

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.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

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.

Amy Mayer / IPR

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.”

Amy Mayer/IPR

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.

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. 

Amy / IPR file photo

Veterinarians and officials are hoping to keep a deadly foreign virus from infecting the American hog industry. African swine fever has been making its way off its namesake continent and into Europe, including Russia. Now, it’s reached China, leading to the culling of about 8,000 hogs.

In response, Japan closed its market to all pork imports from China.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Grain, livestock and dairy farmers from around the state expressed support for President Trump’s trade policies at a roundtable discussion in Des Moines sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa.   

The president’s tariffs against China and other countries have pushed prices down for some Iowa commodities.   But the farmers say they’re optimistic the tariffs will result in fairer trade practices in the future.   

Hog farmer Doug Reimer from Guttenberg says his operation has been “hit somewhat.”

Esperanza Yanez can spot a sick cow just by looking at it.

“The head hangs down and they don’t eat,” said Yanez, who immigrated from Mexico two decades ago and has been caring for cattle ever since.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

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.

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