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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network.

Farm Land vs Prairie Land

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Rod Christen and his sister Kay farm corn, soybeans, and wheat on the family’s land near the small town of Steinauer in southeast Nebraska, but their main crop is grass.

200 to 300 cows and their calves graze year round on the family’s native prairie pastures. Rod Christen said grass is both a natural resource and their farm’s foundation.

“Grass under management has the ability to store water and prevent erosion and provide wildlife habitat, which is all a side benefit because what keeps us in business is the feed value,” said Christen.

But Christen said it has become common in recent years to see farmers take cattle off nearby pastures to plant more corn.

Mary Kay Thatcher of the National Farm Bureau Federation said it’s easy to tell why farmers are trading grass for corn or soybeans – look at grain prices.

“When you have corn and bean prices as high as they’ve been for the past year plus,  you expect some pasture land is probably going to go to crop land,” Thatcher said.

Grain prices, spurred by the ethanol boom, set off a nationwide plow-up. A study from the Environmental Working Group shows from 2008 to 2011 farmers reclaimed 23.7 million acres of grasslands, wetlands and woodlands for farming – an area roughly the size of Indiana.

Some of that land had been enrolled in a federal conservation program that pays farmers to keep land out of production. But some of it is marginal land – land that might have poor soil or be prone to erosion – and isn’t suitable for farming long-term.

Grass under management has the ability to store water, prevent erosion, and provide wildlife habitat.

If the crop thrives, farmers cash in on high prices. If it fails, they can lean on the insurance.
A bi-partisan “sodsaver” provision in the farm bill would change that. It would cut premium subsidies and lower the potential insurance payout on crops planted on busted sod.

Some environmental groups are campaigning for the Senate version of the sodsaver rules, which would apply nationwide. The House would limit sodsaver to the prairie pothole region, a group of wetlands in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa.

Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.