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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.

Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio file

A new agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes Iowa the seventh state where some small meat lockers can sell products in other states.

 

Like many small business owners, Amy Manganelli has taken a financial hit since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. So, a few weeks ago, she decided to apply for a small business loan from the federal government.

At the start of 2020, the agricultural economy was poised for a good year. 

Then came COVID-19 and like almost every other sector, it tanked. But Chad Hart, an economist at Iowa State University, says that solid footing is still the foundation for an outlook that is not all doom and gloom.

Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio file

Pork processing fell nearly 40 percent following temporary closures at meatpacking plants across the Midwest last month. That's created a backlog of market-ready hogs, though the scope of the problem isn't as dramatic as some had feared.

Lisa Marlow is worried about her students. Marlow is a school nurse and educator with the Murphysboro Community Unit School District 186. 

The district serves primarily low-income students in a rural part of southern Illinois. 

When school is in session, Marlow says having eyes on students, especially those with chronic conditions like Type 1 diabetes or asthma, is crucial.

 

It’s planting season across much of the United States, and for some farmers who rely on foreign guest workers for help in the fields, the pandemic is getting in the way.  

AMY MAYER / IPR FILE

Farmers who grow many different types of crops and raise livestock will receive direct payments from the United States Department of Agriculture through $16 billion of CARES Act relief money.

COURTESY NICK TORKELSON

As meatpacking plants across the country have temporarily closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks, consumers might be seeing less meat on the shelves at the grocery, but farmers are dealing with animals they can't sell.

AMY MAYER / IPR FILE

Many of the public health labs determining whether people have COVID-19 have become at least overworked or, at worst, overwhelmed. Some of the country's animal disease labs have stepped in to help.

AMY MAYER / IPR FILE

Long before the world became aware of the novel coronavirus that now has most people in the United States staying home, the pork industry was watching with fear as a different virus decimated the pig population in China.

One of the country’s largest ethanol producers has idled three plants and postponed the opening of a fourth. 

POET posted a statement on its website saying bioprocessing at the locations in Chancellor, South Dakota and in Coon Rapids and Ashton, Iowa has stopped. Another plant in Shelbyville, Indiana was on track to open this spring but that is now on hold.

Families often count on their local school districts to provide two meals a day for their kids. But with school buildings closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, getting meals to students can be a challenge, especially in rural areas.

Rural families also often find it difficult to drive many miles to see if the grocery store has restocked needed items.

As the price of gasoline plummeted amid COVID-19 restrictions, so has the price of ethanol.

 

Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers of Iowa conducted a 10-year study on the conservation benefits of planting cereal rye as a cover crop on corn and soybean fields. Their results show the practice improves soil health. The cover crop may cause a slight dip in yields the first year or two, but that can be overcome and eventually small increases in soybean yields may occur.

After the day’s meals are done on a recent Tuesday, Gilbert Community Schools director of food service Deb Purcell shuffles through a stack of papers. Gilbert, a town north of Ames in central Iowa, serves about 1400-1600 meals a day. 

“This is what I do, planning for a week,” Purcell says pointing to columns on a page. “And there's actually seven pages minimum that go with each day.”

She’s counting cups of vegetables and documenting other details about every meal she’s served to comply with stringent federal rules. Her job could soon get easier.

For many farmers, 2019 was the first year of growing hemp, since it became legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. In addition to the normal challenges of farming, hemp growers have had to deal with a different kind of problem: theft.

 

Midwest grain will reach foreign markets faster thanks to a channel-deepening project in the Lower Mississippi River that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced will begin this year. 

While that’s one bit of good news for infrastructure, it doesn’t make it any more likely other projects will follow. 

A Senate committee passed an infrastructure bill last July with bipartisan support, but Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the finance committee, says funding it will be a heavy lift. 

Many farmers are wrapping up a frustrating first year of growing hemp, which was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

“It’s kind of a good way to start, in that that’s about as bad as it can get,” said Jeff Cox, Bureau Chief of Medicinal Plants at the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “There’s a lack of expertise, just a general lack of knowledge as to how to grow hemp the best way."

ANDREA TUDHOPE / AMERICA AMPLIFIED: ELECTION 2020

On a Monday night, a week before the Iowa caucuses, about 20 residents gathered at the Norelius library in Denison, Iowa, for a mock caucus. Latina activist Alma Puga, the organizer, called the caucuses the "Disneyland of politics."

A recent federal court decision may reduce the number of small refinery waivers the Environmental Protection Agency issues in the future. The ethanol industry is celebrating the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, but the impact may not be the full course-correction renewable fuels need to recover from some difficult years.

Brett Adams, who farms near the town of Peru in southeast Nebraska, takes the good news where he can get it these days. After nearly a year, the floodwater is mostly gone from his riverside farmland.

Adams is on the local levee board, which manages the town’s nearly 8 miles of Missouri riverbed. And the (unpaid) work keeps him very busy: he was on a call when I first climbed into his pickup, apologetically holding a finger up every so often.

After hanging up, he said he can’t afford to miss a call. Somebody might be on the other end bearing good news.

Farmers and landowners enrolling acres in the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program have a new practice available to them.

Buzzy phrases like “regenerative agriculture” and “precision farming” are gaining traction among younger farmers looking to produce more sustainably. But implementing newer practices can require education and training.

Some schools in Nebraska are embracing the interest in specialized agriculture degrees, and want to make them more accessible to students across the region.

On a side street near the Des Moines Water Works, a tall fence surrounds three garden plots. Geese fly overhead while trucks drive past a sign between the road and the fence. It says: “Industrial Development Land For Sale, Contact City of Des Moines.”

Until recently, the city rented the land for growing vegetables but now it’s been rezoned and put up for sale.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out a record $4.24 billion in claims for acres farmers couldn’t plant this year.

The “prevented planting” provision allows farmers to file a crop insurance claim when weather conditions leave fields unfit for a crop. Heavy spring rains and flooding left some Midwest farm ground too wet for seeds and equipment during the planting window, meaning farmers couldn’t put in the corn or soybeans they’d intended for those acres. 

The holiday season is officially upon us, and so are its classic dishes. For some home cooks who are vegan or vegetarian, Thanksgiving can be a time to flex their culinary creativity, and make the well-loved new.

The sky is dark and cloudy, but inside Rutabaga’s Comfort Food in downtown Lincoln, the light is warm, and it smells like Thanksgiving.

Sara Brown and her kitchen team are bracing for the lunch rush. Though the restaurant opened just two months ago, the dining room already tends to be busy by noon.

The comment period on an Environmental Protection Agency rule regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) ends this month, but farm state lawmakers and biofuels advocates continue to argue the rule isn’t adequate.

And they are pushing for a deal they say the president promised them.

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