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Harvest Public Media

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.  Learn more here.

Updated 3:08 p.m., June 11: A federal judge paused the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s debt relief program for farmers of color. The payments are part of the $5 billion set aside in the most recent stimulus bill to support farmers of color. 

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, animal disease labs across the country stepped up to expand testing capacity, and they could play a role in preventing the next pandemic. 

Spillover events, animal diseases that jump to humans, happen often, according to Jonna Mazet, a professor of epidemiology and disease ecology at the University of California - Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. 

Most novel diseases and emerging infections that jump from one species to another don’t cause big problems, she says. In other cases, it can be bad. 

UNITED STATES DROUGHT MONITOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN

Even with recent rains across the region, scientists say expanses across the Midwest and High Plains remain in a long-haul drought.

Boys and men, wearing traditional Dutch outfits of black caps, long button-down shirts, black pants and wooden shoes, throw buckets of water onto the street in downtown Orange City, Iowa. Girls and women wear Dutch bonnets and long dresses or skirts while they push brooms on the water. 

How A Robot Could Keep Farmers Out of Grain Bins

May 28, 2021
Cecil Smalley Photography

A few times a year, farmers have to do a dangerous task; go inside large grain bins to take care of their harvest. Last year, more than 30 of them were trapped inside silos in the U.S., according to Purdue University.

COVID-19 vaccination rates are lower in rural counties than in urban counties, according to a new

SALINA, Kansas — Ebony Murell and a few interns meticulously sort 99 kinds of silphium. It’s a wild relative to a sunflower. And the biologists at The Land Institute — an outfit devoted to finding out how science can make farming more planet-friendly — want to unravel the plant’s secrets for tolerating bugs and diseases.

“We don’t know what all of these traits mean in terms of plant defenses,” Murell said. “Any or all of them could matter.”

High Farm Incomes Lead To Rising Land Values

May 7, 2021

Farmers and investors seeking to expand are paying more for agricultural land in the Midwest. 

The value of good cropland in Corn Belt states like Iowa and Indiana has increased about 10% since last fall, according to Randy Dickhut, the senior vice president of real estate operations for Farmers National Co. 

Levees protect people, towns, and agriculture from flooding. But two years ago, parts of the Missouri River and its tributaries reached record crests, and many levees failed. Now there’s a rare effort to build a levee higher to better defend one southwest Iowa town. 


Midwest Farmers Survey Damage From Cold Snap

Apr 28, 2021

As farmers across the Midwest surveyed the damage from last week’s cold snap, some Iowa farmers discovered they lucked out, while others are hoping to offset losses.

When it rains on Joe Rothermel’s central Illinois farm, most of the water drains into the nearby East Branch Embarras River. There, it begins a journey south through the Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The plant-based meat industry has grown rapidly over the past few years, but public perception is one of the biggest obstacles to more expansion.

Billion dollars companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are giving consumers other choices besides meat. Even Burger King is offering a vegan Whopper. Experts say the growth isn’t coming from vegetarians or vegans but from meat eaters occasionally choosing meat alternatives when shopping or eating out.

John Boyd Jr. believes Black farmers are going extinct. As the president of the National Black Farmers Association and a farmer in Virginia, he’s been advocating for nearly 30 years for government action to relieve Black farmers of debt.

“When animals are facing extinction, Congress puts laws in place until their numbers come back, such as the brown bear and the black bear and rockfish and the bald eagle, all of these things Congress can act swiftly on,” Boyd says. “But here we are saying the same thing for the past 30 some odd years, and Congress has been slow to act.”

Farmers might make less money this year due to less assistance from the government and increased production costs. 

Farm income is estimated to be $112 billion in 2021 — $9 billion less than last year. 

In 2020, farmers and ranchers made a total of $121 billion, the highest amount since 2013. Government subsidies account for $46 billion, according to a report from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. 

Some states are saying they won’t use Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine to immunize vulnerable, harder-to-reach populations, including agriculture workers, over concerns about equity and perceptions of how well it protects against COVID-19. 

Plenty of younger people are eager to build careers in farming, but more land up for grabs won’t necessarily make it easier to get started. Access to land and capital are two of the biggest hurdles facing first-generation farmers today, and some say they face an extra barrier to both — student loan debt.

A new business in Iowa wants to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol plants. It would pave the way for biorefineries in Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas to deliver carbon-neutral fuel to the market.

It’s a cold February afternoon, and Alvin Lee’s cows are hungry. He says he has to put three or four bales of hay out every other day, and he only has about 10 left. 

New hay is expensive -- about $40 per bale. He managed to get some for $20 each, but they are three years old. If this keeps up, he’ll have to scrape together money for more hay, he says. 

Lee used to work in construction, but because of injuries from his time in the Marine Corps, he had to stop working. He moved to Wewoka, Oklahoma 25 years ago and bought 160 acres of land, which he hopes is his legacy. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending the deadline for the largest private land conservation program in the country, following a shortfall in enrollment and change in the White House. 

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers and ranchers to preserve land for 10 to 15 years, but it saw a shortfall of 4 million acres under the Trump administration. As of December 2020, there are 20.8 million acres enrolled in the program. 

With President Biden’s focus on mitigating climate change, the USDA extended the deadline for enrollment. 

Steve Larimore was hoping to triple the size of his garden this year.

Once the seed catalog arrived at his home near Bend, Ore., Larimore excitedly got his order together. He then went online and began adding the different seed varieties to his cart, only to discover about a third of the items he wanted were unavailable. 

Tomatoes? Sold out. Kale? Gone. Sweet corn? Nope.

“I was pretty discouraged,” he says. “There were some things that I’ve grown before that I really like and I wanted to grow again and they didn’t have those.” 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of meatpacking plants across the country have struggled to contain outbreaks.

Why Even Corn Can Get A Bad Night Of Sleep

Feb 1, 2021

In 2020, a stubborn enemy emerged for corn farmers across the Great Plains: drought. Today, about half of the U.S.

For more than a decade, Saraí has been a farmworker, cultivating corn and soybeans in the fields of central Illinois. She moved to the U.S. from Mexico to find work that would allow her to better support her family.

ESTHER HONIG / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA FILE PHOTO

The number of migrant farmworkers in the U.S. dropped 42% in 2020, likely because of the risk of COVID-19 coupled with high unemployment rates.

SETH BODINE / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

Cheryl LeFevre doesn't drink the water in Hobart, Oklahoma without a filter. Without a filter, sometimes the water smells like chlorine or rust. Sometimes, it even comes out brown. She has to clean out her filter every two weeks, with what looks like sediment inside. 

In late July 2019, a group of migrant farmworkers from south Texas was working in a cornfield in DeWitt County, Ill., when suddenly a crop duster flew overhead, spraying them with pesticides. Panicked, the crew, which included teenagers and a pregnant woman, ran off the field with clothes doused in pesticides. Their eyes and throats burned and some had trouble breathing.

It happened again two weeks later, this time twice within 30 minutes.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, ethanol producers feared the worst: a world indefinitely stuck at home. As Americans hunkered down for lockdowns, gasoline demand across the country plummeted.

Ethanol industry leaders issued warnings that the financial repercussions of widespread lockdowns could be significant to plants across the country. They later reported half of the nation’s facilities were forced to shut down.

In October, Purdue University’s Ag Economy Barometer recorded its highest-ever index, meaning farmers were at an all-time high level of optimism.

However, that number dropped off significantly in November, due in large part to the presidential election.

When it comes to identifying cows, Jake Calvert, a rancher from Norman, OK, goes by the KISS Principle: keep it simple, stupid. 

“Green is for grade cattle. Pink is for our purebred cows, and that's because all of them exhibit just a little bit more femininity than our grade cattle. Yellow is the bull,” Calvert says.

Fifteen Asian-Pacific countries signed a massive trade deal that brings together China, Japan, and South Korea together as trading partners for the first time. The agreement, signed Nov. 15, is one of the largest regional free trade agreements ever penned.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership  excludes the United States and India in a move that some say strengthens China’s global trade standing. Analysts say the deal also expands the China’s ability to buy agricultural commodities from places besides the U.S.

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