Luke Runyon

I'm a reporter with Harvest Public Media based at KUNC, covering the wide range of agricultural stories in Colorado.

I came to KUNC in March 2013, after spending about two years as a reporter with Aspen Public Radio in Aspen, Colorado.

During my time in Aspen, I was recognized by the Colorado Broadcasters Association and Public Radio News Directors, Inc. for my reporting and production work. My reports have been featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

I'm the product of two farm families in central Illinois, which is where I spent most of my formative years. Before moving to Colorado I spent a year covering local and state government for Illinois Public Radio and WUIS in the state's capital. I have a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield, the same place where I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

Streams and rivers in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska and other parts of the central Great Plains are vanishing as farmers continue to pump groundwater to irrigate their crops.

Groundwater is the lifeblood of Great Plains agriculture. But as farmers pump more, it’s turning nearby creeks into dry riverbeds.

Kurt Fausch, a Colorado State University professor, says in a 60-year span about 350 miles of stream disappeared in eastern Colorado, southwest Nebraska and northwest Kansas. And if farmers keep pumping, another 180 miles could vanish by 2060.

The federal government is proposing refiners use slightly less ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply next year. However, the cut would not be a blow to corn farmers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the annual mandate for renewable fuel and is suggesting a 2 percent decrease for 2018, down to just over 19 billion gallons.

Brandon Biesemeier climbs up a small ladder into a John Deere sprayer, takes a seat in the enclosed cab, closes the door, and blocks out most of the machine’s loud engine hum. It is a familiar perch to the fourth-generation farmer on Colorado’s eastern plains.

He turns onto a country road, heading south to spray an herbicide on his cornfields, an early growing season task his genetically engineered crops demand if he is to unlock their value. In the cab, a computer screen shows a little pixelated tractor moving across digital fields, logging his work.

People that live in rural areas are more connected to the internet than they’ve ever been, but they still lag well-behind their urban and suburban counterparts in access to high-speed Internet, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Roughly two-thirds of rural Americans have a broadband internet connection at home, Pew suggests. That’s a much higher rate than just ten years ago, when only one-third of rural Americans had broadband at home. Rural residents, however, are still 10 percentage points less likely to have broadband access at home than people in cities and suburbs.

ABBIE FENTRESS SWANSON / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

As the Trump administration takes the initial steps toward renegotiating one of the country’s most influential and controversial trade deals, groups that represent farmers and ranchers are already waving a caution sign.

Farmers and ranchers, with their livelihoods intimately tied to weather and the environment, may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump Administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

Farm and rural advocacy groups say cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would harm rural communities, at a time when many of them need an infusion of cash.

In what’s being called a “skinny budget” because it sets an outline and contains scant details, Trump’s proposal calls for a 21 percent reduction in the USDA’s annual discretionary spending, and lays out rationales for why some programs are either eliminated or scaled back, calling some “duplicative,” or “underperforming.”

Blink while driving on Highway 34 east of Greeley, Colorado, and you might miss the former Great Plains town of Dearfield.

Abandoned towns from the early 20th century are far from unique on this stretch of plains. Withered storefronts and collapsed false-front homes are common. Boom and bust economics and harsh weather made it tough for turn of the century settlers to succeed long-term.

Brian Seifferlein / Harvest Public Media

It’s a classic conundrum that comes up every time you’re cleaning out the fridge: the package label says the food is past its prime, but it’s not moldy or smelly.

Do you give it a chance or toss it in the trash?

For a great number of consumers it’s the latter, but now some of the largest food retail trade groups are hoping to settle the score and clear up the confusion in hopes of keeping more food in bellies, rather than sending heaps of food to landfills.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

After hundreds of arrests of undocumented immigrants by immigration police, the Trump administration’s increased focus on immigration enforcement has some of the country’s largest farm groups worried.

Americans waste a staggering amount of food. Instead of letting it rot and wreck the environment, some entrepreneurs want to put it to work feeding insects, and see the potential to revolutionize how we feed some of the livestock that provide us our meat.

Phil Taylor's enthusiasm for insects is infectious. The University of Colorado Boulder research ecologist beams as he weaves through a small greenhouse in rural Boulder County, Colorado. A room about the size of a shipping container sits inside.

On the worst day of Greta Horner's life, she was dressed in a burlap robe, waiting by the window for her husband to come home from work.

Ralph Horner, or Ed as his family calls him, should've been pulling in the driveway any minute that morning in June 2014, home from his overnight shift as a maintenance employee at the beef plant in Greeley, Colorado. It's owned by JBS, the world's largest meatpacker, with its North American headquarters a short drive from the Horners' home.

Chickens aren't traditional pets. But with chicken coops springing up in more and more urban and suburban backyards, some owners take just as much pride in their poultry as they do in their dogs or cats — so much so that they're primping and preening them for beauty contests.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

Chickens aren't a traditional pet. But with chicken coops springing up in more and more urban and suburban backyards, some owners take just as much pride in their poultry as their dog or cat. So much so that they're primping and preening them for beauty contests.

Dan Boyce / PBS/Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

On the worst day of Greta Horner’s life, she was dressed in a burlap robe, waiting by the window for her husband to come home from work.

The couple was down to one car. The other one was in the shop. She donned the costume for a play, set in Old Jerusalem, later that morning, part of Vacation Bible School at the church. She just needed the car to get there. 

Massive bison herds used to be a staple of the Great Plains. That is until we almost hunted them out of existence.

Now, with a new designation as the United States’ national mammal, bison ranchers argue that to conserve the species we have to eat them.

It’s an idea called “market-based conservation,” and it contends that humans are no good at saving species out of the goodness of our hearts, or motivated by some driving force of environmental justice.

Monarch butterflies are disappearing.

Populations of these distinctive black and orange migratory insects have been in precipitous decline for the past 20 years, but scientists aren't exactly sure what's causing them to vanish.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

The country’s top agriculture official, Tom Vilsack, is declining to comment on some of the largest  mergers the farm economy has ever seen.

The population of northern Colorado is booming, and we're not just talking about people here.

The number of dairy cows is now higher than ever.

At the northern edge of the state, Weld and Larimer counties are already home to high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region's numerous feedlots, which send the animals to several nearby slaughterhouses. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

The population of Northern Colorado is booming. People are flocking to the area and population numbers are on the rise.

The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

Food waste is an expensive problem. The average U.S. family puts upwards of $2,000 worth of food in the garbage every year.

What some see as a problem, however, others see as a business opportunity. A new facility, known as the Heartland Biogas Project, promises to take wasted food from Colorado’s Front Range and turn it into electricity.

Americans throw away about a third of our available food.

But what some see as trash, others are seeing as a business opportunity. A new facility known as the Heartland Biogas Project is taking wasted food from Colorado's most populous areas and turning it into electricity. Through a technology known as anaerobic digestion, spoiled milk, old pet food and vats of grease combine with helpful bacteria in massive tanks to generate gas.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

Cannabis is beginning to look a lot like a commodity crop.

After spending decades in darkened basements and secreted away on small parcels of land, marijuana growers are commercializing once-illegal plant varieties: industrial hemp, recreational marijuana and medical cannabis.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media

The number of farms and ranches in the U.S. is on the decline and the farms that remain are getting bigger, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. has lost nearly 120,000 farms since 2008, and 18,000 last year alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average farm size in the U.S. increased 5 percent over those 7 years, to an average size of 441 acres in 2015.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

America's dairy farms are doing more with less. There are fewer dairy cows today than just a few decades ago, but today’s cows are churning out more milk than ever.

Part of the increase is due to genetics. Dairy cows have been bred to be larger, hungrier, and more productive. But that focus on genetics to produce more milk has some prominent livestock advocates ringing alarm bells.

The Top 1 Percent

National Christmas Tree Association

It's the time of the year when Katie Abrams sees her Fort Collins, Colo., neighbors pulling up with real trees tied to car roofs. She feels small pangs of jealousy when friends post woodsy pictures in flannel shirts, cutting down the perfect spruce.

“It all sounds really nice,” Abrams says. “And then once you go out and do it I can just imagine all the steps involved.”

That’s about when she pulls out the fake tree from the garage. An act that terrifies U.S. Christmas tree growers.

Colorado State University Photography

From Harvest Public Media:

Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture, food and natural resource sectors each year for the next five years, according to a report from Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Christopher Paquette / Creative Commons

From Harvest Public Media's Field Notes blog:

Have you noticed your grocery store’s organic section starting to spill over? It’s not your imagination. The organic sector is raking in the dough.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

Nilvio Aquino weaves through a tangled jungle of marijuana plants at an indoor grow facility in Denver.

“Throw your nose in there. It’s nice and pungent,” he said, pulling a seven-foot tall plant down to nose height at one of the company’s grow facilities.

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