Agriculture News

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s message to Midwestern farmers this week is a mixed bag, telling them that the agency will be changing an Obama-era rule regarding water regulations but is pausing a plan to expand summer sales of ethanol.

Thirty-eight calves, between two and four months old, moo and kick at the dirt floor in a steel barn in Brush, Colorado. One by one, a handler leads them from the pen to a narrow chute, where their legs are restrained and they’re lifted onto a hydraulic table.  

There’s a new strategy when it comes to combating the smells and air quality concerns that arise from large-scale animal feeding operations: Blame the company, not the farmer.

And if a recent federal case against the largest pork producer in the U.S. is any indication, it’s a model that could benefit contract growers — people who don’t own the livestock they raise but own the property and the barns.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Corn growers, ethanol producers, and oil companies are anticipating an announcement from the Trump administration on possible changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which one Iowa senator says could undercut the president’s stated commitment to the law.

Ahead of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, candidate Donald Trump pledged his support for the RFS, a promise Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expects the President to keep.

Dean Borg/IPR

Today – June 1 -- is the date the U.S. Department of Agriculture begins computing federal prevented planting insurance payments to farmers who still have unplanted corn fields.

Most of those unplanted fields, intended for corn, are in North Iowa, in the Mason City-Forest City region.

“Every day, we’ve been rained out,” said Wayne Johnson, who farms in the area. 

He’s completed corn planting, and is still planting soybeans, steering through muddy fields and planting where he can.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Bruce Carney raises cattle, poultry and a few sheep on his 300-acre farm in Maxwell. He no longer grows any grain, but is preparing for new crops of a different kind.

Orange flags dot what was previously a cattle lot, with a ridge (or swale) built around it to manage water flow. The fruit trees Carney will be planting at each of the flags later this year will also help.

Ashley Leal parks in front of the Plains, Kansas, Community Library. It’s about to close, but she doesn’t care. She pulls out her blue laptop.

“I’m ... using the Wi-Fi,” Leal says with a laugh.

Her home internet was so slow, she came to the library parking lot. Cars often idle there in the evening while their drivers tap into a plodding, but treasured, link to the internet.

“I’m just thankful that we have somewhere to go,” Leal says.

It’s the only free internet in this small western Kansas town. For many people, it’s the only internet, period. Surprisingly, part of the problem and the solution, for rural areas may lie in Netflix traffic.

Employers can force workers to settle disputes outside of court, the U.S. Supreme Court said this week, which could negatively affect agricultural workers and employees who earn low wages.

Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

 At The Law Shop in Van Meter, attorney Amy Skogerson untied a piece of blue yarn from around a bunch of craft sticks.

Each stick had a word or short phrase stamped on it, and she read from them as she placed them on her desk: “negotiate, court representation, research law, draft documents.”

Dean Borg/IPR

North Iowa farm fields, intended for growing corn this summer, aren’t yet planted. Hundreds of acres—mostly in the northern tier of counties adjacent to the Minnesota border—have ponds from April snows and several inches of early May rain.

Earlier this week, USDA’s crop update said three-quarters of North Iowa’s intended corn acreage is unplanted.  That contrasts with the southern two-thirds of the state where 79 percent is planted.  Corn plants are emerging in 26 percent of the state’s acreage.

Statewide, one-third of the soybean acreage is planted.

The farm bill traditionally is a bipartisan effort, but House Republicans’ proposed changes to the main federal food-aid program in this year’s version have struck a nerve. To move it through efficiently, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says he’ll appeal to President Donald Trump.

John Pemble / IPR file photo

The prospect of selling gasoline with more ethanol throughout the year remains alive, but likely won’t be approved in time for the upcoming summer driving season.

Most gasoline containing ethanol has no more than 10 percent. A blend with up to 15 percent, called E-15, is available in some places, but in certain markets sales are prohibited from June first through September 15.

In an ongoing push-pull between oil refiners and ethanol producers, President Donald Trump has indicated nationwide, year-round sales of E-15 could be in the works.

Two women wheel a grocery cart across the parking lot to a white van, open the door and shove kids’ toys out of the way.

In the small city of Fort Morgan, Colorado, 33-year-old Verónica delicately stacks cans of food into her mini shopping cart, strolling the narrow aisles of the Rising Up food pantry to gather eggs, milk, apples and an extra-large box of cereal.

It’s a challenge for people with severe mental illnesses to hold down a job or get the medical help they need. And that extends to when they try to alleviate hunger by getting on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Amy Mayer / IPR

The first version of the 2018 farm bill has only minor changes to one of the programs most farmers hold dear and what’s widely seen as their primary safety net: crop insurance.

The program covers all sorts of crops, “from corn to clams,” Iowa State University agriculture economist Chad Hart said. But it’s not like the types of insurance most people are familiar with.

There’s a Republican-authored proposal in the next farm bill that would require millions more people to work or volunteer in order to receive federal food assistance.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the biggest federal program aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty that millions of Americans find themselves in — sometimes for a few months, sometimes for several years.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Animal feed mixed from ingredients sourced around the world could be carrying more than the vitamins and nutrients livestock need. Seven different viruses that could cause widespread illness and big economic losses for meat producers in the United States can survive in certain imported feed products.

study published in March in the journal PLOS One looked at 11 viruses that are not yet in the U.S. but infect herds in other places, such as African swine fever and foot and mouth disease.

courtesy / U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall's Office

Held up over disagreements over federal food stamps, the first draft of the 2018 farm bill arrived Thursday, bearing 35 changes to that program, including starting a national database of participants.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30; in the past, Congress has had to extend their work beyond deadlines. The bill released Thursday came from the House Agriculture Committee, which is headed by Texas Republican Rep. Mike Conaway.

Wearing a heavy smock and rubber boots, Amadedin Eganwa stands over a large conveyor belt that’s carrying unconscious lambs. He faces east, towards Mecca, gently lifts the animal’s head in the same direction and under his breath he quickly says a prayer — bismillahi allahu akbar, or “in God’s name” — before swiftly cutting the lamb’s throat.

Kate Payne

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator is downplaying some of the concerns over proposed tariffs on Chinese imports. . Farmers are bracing for a potential trade war which could threaten corn, soybean and hog sales. While Sen. Chuck Grassley acknowledges the impacts could hurt farmers, he says it’s too early to be too worried.

Seeking what he called “clean” food for lunch, Alexander Minnelli chose ProteinHouse, one of the newer restaurants in downtown Kansas City.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

As China and the United States continue to lob threats over new import tariffs, farmers in the Midwest are already adjusting to the first shots in what could become a trade war.

China imposed new tariffs on pork this week, pressuring producers who already are barely making ends meet, and now the two countries have released lists for the next group of products each would hit if disputes over intellectual property and other issues aren't resolved.

Public Domain

China has proposed tariffs on U.S. pork and soybeans, two of Iowa's major agricultural exports. In this politics day edition of River to River we talk about the potential political fallout of the brewing trade war between the U.S. and China. Dennis Goldford, professor and chair of political science at Drake University and Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa share their thoughts about this issue and the week's other political developments. IPR's Ben Stanton hosts the conversation.

In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

Meant to fund the federal government through early September, the $1.3 trillion bill signed by President Donald Trump last week also includes money and changes for ag-related programs beyond the “grain-glitch” fix.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Big cities in the Midwest are gaining ground on the rural communities that, for many decades, have thrived on the edges of urban development.

Since 1980, the amount of land being farmed or grazed in the U.S. has dropped 13 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Much of it now flaunts housing subdivisions, big-box stores and computer-server farms.

Outward growth from metropolitan areas can strain courts, schools and traffic. It also can change the cultural and regional identity of once-rural communities — something visible on the outskirts of two metro areas connected by Interstate 35 and an agricultural heritage: Des Moines, Iowa, and Kansas City, Missouri.

For Staying Power, CSAs Could Use A Niche Product

Mar 23, 2018

U.S. consumers’ hunger for fresh, local and organic foods has fed a marketplace that’s so big, little guys are — once again — having to evolve and specialize.

It’s especially true with community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs), which had been growing for years, but are starting to wane in the face of the rise of meal-kit companies and an oversaturated market.

The Trump administration wants to show rural communities, which voted for him by wide margins in the 2016 election, they are still on the president’s mind. It suggested a list of broad ideas in January to spark growth and carved out rural interests in an infrastructure plan.

Pages