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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.

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.

 

Dusty Spurgeon is proud to be a female farmer. 

The surge in online shopping is helping the U.S. Postal Service stay afloat financially, but the influx of packages is straining rural letter carriers across the country. 

An increase in online orders is projected to help the postal service run until September 2021. Ronnie Stutts, the president of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, says while the increase in mail is good, they are facing a worker shortage because a large percentage rural carriers are still on leave. 

Zack Smith pats the snout of a pig that stretches up to greet him from inside the back pen of a mobile barn. On this field, Smith planted alternating sections of corn and pasture, to test an experiment he calls “stock cropping.” 

“This is our answer for putting diversification and multiple species back on the land,” he says. “And we’re going to have a four-ring circus, was my idea, of animals parading through, grazing and laying their manure down.”

A propane tank painted to look like a watermelon sits in front of a produce stand on Highway 150 in Fayette County, Iowa. Its long-time owner, Atrus (Attie) Stepp, who was Black, launched Fayette’s annual Watermelon Days festival in 1976.

“Everybody’s got good things to say about Attie,” said Charles Downs, who runs the stand now. 

Downs, who is white, bought the stand from Stepp’s daughter, ending the family’s long legacy. 

“Conservatively, I’d say it’s been here 80 years, at least, and it’s probably... maybe a hundred,” Downs said.

Much of the Great Plains is experiencing drought: So far, at least half of Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa, and Oklahoma are abnormally dry, with large areas experiencing severe drought.

Farmers are wrapping up the harvest in much of the Corn Belt and finally seeing how much they can get out of derecho-damaged fields. The August windstorm slammed 3.6 million acres of corn in Iowa alone, leaving some stalks almost flat on the ground and many others standing with a pronounced tilt.

At the time, agronomists said the angle of damage would influence whether the grain could be harvested and they couldn’t predict how much the injured plants would yield. 

 

On the outskirts of Rantoul, in east-central Illinois, about 100 migrant farmworkers are living at an old hotel in a sleepy part of town.

As workplaces and schools go online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many people are relying on a strong internet connection. But in some states, less than 50% of rural households have access to broadband, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission. 

First restaurants and school cafeterias closed, then COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-packing plants slowed processing. In the spring, shoppers started seeing signs declaring limits on the amount of fresh meat they could buy in one trip. Prices for some products crept up. 

As the new school year gets underway, some students are in classrooms and others are at home but one thing is now clear: all kids can get free school meals. That’s because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program, has extended the pandemic provisions it introduced last spring, which include eliminating the requirement that families apply for reduced-fees or free meals. 

While COVID-19 has hampered farmers this year by forcing many farmers markets and restaurants to close, usually it’s the weather that threatens crops. A practice called “gleaning” helps save crops from going to waste while feeding those in need. 

Heavy rain was causing flooding all along the Arkansas River. Before Joe Tierney knew it, water from the nearby creek was creeping forward onto his farm in Bixby, Oklahoma. He had to evacuate, leaving behind fields full of vegetables. All Tierney could do was watch the water get closer and closer, he says.

Lexington, Nebraska, is just one of the many rural communities that has long dealt with food insecurity, but the global pandemic both intensified need in the town of 11,000 residents and presented new challenges in getting people food. 

 

Ja Nelle Pleasure never used to think twice about putting food on the table for her family.

Farmers were expected to produce a record corn and soybean harvest this year, but after weeks of poor weather across the region, the USDA has officially walked back those predictions.

 

There’s no shortage of peanuts on Loyd Lasley’s farm. Come September, he hopes to harvest about 160,000 pounds of them. Many of the peanuts are roasted and put on shelves at the Made In Oklahoma booth at the state fair. 

With many state fairs across the country being canceled due to COVID-19, many small business owners like the Lasleys will miss out on sales. The family typically makes about $5,000 from sales at the fair every year. It’s not a lot, but it helps, Loyd says. 

ELI CHEN / ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of the National Black Farmers Association in the Eastern District of Missouri is calling for the removal of Monsanto's popular weedkiller Roundup from the market.

 

The number of families experiencing food insecurity has hit a record due to the pandemic, and Black and Hispanic families are disproportionately affected.

 

AMY MAYER / Iowa Public Radio News

Reliable Street, on the northwest edge of Ames, runs parallel to the train tracks for two blocks. From the late 1800s to the mid-20th century, it was the main drag for the township of Ontario and in 1898, the Lockwood Grain and Coal Company began operating a flour mill and grain elevator on the north side of the street.

 

When you walk into Cyndy Ash’s barn, one of the first things you notice is a huge burlap sack, bursting at the seams with wool.

“We’re sitting on about 600 lbs of wool from when they were sheared last. And it’s been sitting there since they were sheared in March,” Ash says.

 

Philip Kelly says there’s always something that needs to be fixed in Yale, Oklahoma. 

COURTESY OF JAMES UNZICKER, CHP OF IL

Maricel Mendoza is familiar with the work migrant and seasonal farmworkers do. Growing up, her family traveled from Texas to central Illinois every year for her parents' jobs as contractors with a large seed company. 

AMY MAYER / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA FILE PHOTO

The United States Department of Agriculture is seeking public comment on changes that it says will make getting loans for major projects easier for rural communities.

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