Agriculture News

The U.S. trade war with China, now approaching a year, is often framed as hurting manufacturing and agriculture the most. But that’s mainly collateral damage in an international struggle over power and technology that has its roots in the Cold War, when China was still considered a largely undeveloped country.

Amy Mayer / IPR

In January 2018, a handful of farmers at a major Iowa pork industry gathering attended a session on the threat of foreign animal diseases. A year later, several dozen people showed up, spurred by the march of African swine fever across China.

“This risk of African swine fever is real,” veterinarian Craig Rowles told the crowd at the Iowa Pork Congress. “And as producers, we need to be very cognizant of that.”

Kathy Werner

For most animals, spring is baby season, but there are a number of mama goats in Iowa expecting right now.

In this Talk of Iowa segment, host Charity Nebbe talks with goat breeders around the state to find out why the coldest month of the year is also a popular kidding season for goat farmers.

The high-desert town of Palisade, Colorado, is synonymous with fresh, locally grown peaches. Years ago, thousands of migrant workers would flock here each year in August to harvest the fuzzy fruit. But today, on its narrow dirt roads, Bruce Talbott drives a truck loaded down with 9 tons of wine grapes.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Recently, Federal Judge James Gritzner ruled that it is no longer a crime to go undercover at agricultural operations to investigate working conditions and animal welfare. His ruling found that the 2012 law was a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The long tentacles of the partial federal government shutdown are reaching especially deep into food and agriculture. Here’s an update on some of the impacts in the fourth week of the longest shutdown in history.

Farm Service Agency offices

For crop farmers, winter is the offseason. But that doesn’t mean they take the winter off. It’s meeting season — going to endless seminars or having discussions about better ways to farm — and planning season.

Planning may seem like it would be a challenge given the trade uncertainties, including the tariff war with China. 

USDA.gov

The ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government, now into its third week, is reaching ever deeper into the lives of people far from the Washington, D.C. epicenter.

Beyond the hundreds of thousands of employees who are either working without pay or furloughed indefinitely, the people those employees would have been working with and for are now feeling the sting of closed offices, delayed payments and missing services.

As harvest wrapped up this year and the leaves turned brilliant shades of red and yellow, two of the world’s biggest agribusinesses, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Smithfield Foods, announced they were pairing up on projects with environmental nonprofits.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

After a year that saw persistently low prices for many agricultural products — exacerbated by the retaliatory tariffs imposed on U.S. goods — farmers are eager for a recovery in 2019.

Pork producers have been working within the trade-war parameters since China imposed a hefty tariff in April. Northeast Iowa pig farmer Al Wulfkuhle said the sudden drop in Chinese demand for U.S. pork turned what had started as a promising year into a challenging one.

A stand of trees in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri looks a little more sparse than what is often depicted in a forest.

The trees are eight to ten feet apart, and that’s on purpose, fire management officer Greg Painter said.

Fields, crops and farm animals are part of the agriculture-industry landscape, but an increasingly small one.

The number of farm and ranch managers shrunk by about 20 percent between 1996 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. At the same time, there are more students graduating from ag colleges, and, in many parts of the country, 80 percent to 90 percent of them find a job (or go for an advanced degree) within a few months of graduating.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

The value of farmland in Iowa has dropped slightly this year, according to the Iowa State University Land Values Survey.

Wendong Zhang, an economics professor at ISU, collects information from realtors, lenders, appraisers and other people who monitor farm sales and transitions. He says the 0.8 percent decrease in farmland value compared to last year is partly still a correction from the record-high values of 2013. This is the fourth time in the past five years that land values have decreased.

Amy Mayer / IPR

In a lab at George Washington University, painted lady butterflies flutter in mesh houses. This is where assistant professor Arnault Martin and his research group use the new gene-editing technique CRISPR to unlock secrets about the colors and spots on the butterflies’ wings.

CRISPR has allowed them to isolate a precise gene that controls wing appearance, and they can shut it off at will.

Updated at 3 p.m. Dec. 20 with Trump signing legislation — The long-awaited final version of the farm bill was unveiled Monday night, and it hews somewhat closely to the previous piece of massive legislation — aside from legalizing hemp on a national level. 

A changing climate has major implications for farmers and ranchers across the U.S., according to a federal report.

Here’s a select breakdown of the agriculture section of the fourth National Climate Assessment, which was released last week.

A handful of companies — think Tyson and Perdue — all but control poultry production in the U.S. They’ll soon be joined by a retailer known more for selling rotisserie chickens: Costco, which is building a farm-to-table system based in Nebraska to supply itself.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Farmers know every year they’re going to encounter surprises from things out of their control, like drought or pests.

This year, great growing conditions led to a bin-busting soybean harvest, but a tit-for-tat exchange of tariffs with China meant that country went from being a major buyer to virtually ignoring U.S. soybeans.

That’s caused prices to drop, leaving U.S. farmers and grain elevators struggling to store soybeans until prices or demand improves. Those factors threaten to undermine the soybean futures contract, and federal regulators have until Dec. 10 to review a proposed solution to the problem.

After 10 years of consistent gains, the number of immigrant families enrolled in SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, fell by 10 percent in 2018.

New, preliminary research presented this month at the American Public Health Association conference showed the drop was highest for for families who had been in the U.S for fewer than five years. It’s a reflection of what Harvest Public Media and other outlets reported earlier this year: that some families are choosing not to participate in federal benefit programs out of fear it could impact their immigration status.

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.

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