Harvest Public Media

Harvest Public Media provides rich multimedia reports on all aspects of agriculture. Check below to read, view and listen online to the latest stories. Tune in to Morning Edition and All Things Considered to hear broadcasts of select stories.  

Harvest Public Media is a collaboration of public media stations across the Midwest. Partners are: High Plains Public RadioKansas Public RadioKCUR in Kansas City; Iowa Public Radio; Nebraska Educational Telecommunications; KBIA in Columbia, Mo.; WUIS in Springfield, Ill.; KUNC in Greeley, Colo.; and Tri-States Public Radio in Macomb, Ill.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

In a dimly-lit lab on the Des Moines, Iowa, public schools’ agricultural science campus, students in aprons, safety goggles and plastic gloves poke and probe chicken wings. About 15 girls and just one boy in this vet careers class are looking for ligaments, tendons, cartilage and other features of this animal part that teenagers more often experience cooked and covered in barbecue sauce.

A 17-year old senior, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail for the dissection, high-fives her lab partner when they identify the ligament and show it to their teacher. This young woman is a chapter officer in the Des Moines FFA group and recently got elected to a district-wide leadership position. She’s already earned a full scholarship to Iowa State University and aspires to be a large animal veterinarian with her own small cattle herd.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Bear Creek Dairy in Brooklyn, Iowa, is home to more than 1,100 cows, who provide about 100,000 pounds of milk each day. The 15-year-old farmer who works closely with the farm’s calves comes from a long line of dairymen – in Europe.

Five years ago, Teun Boelen’s parents sold their farm in the Netherlands and bought a dairy in southeast Iowa because, as his mother explains it, there was no room for their old farm to grow.  

At harvest, corn huskers still pick by hand

Oct 16, 2014
Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

Dick Humes squinted and sweat as he moved down a row of corn. He sliced through the husk with a metal hook in his right hand, snapped the ear from its stalk with his left, and threw it over his shoulder into a wagon rolling alongside him.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Proposed changes to the Clean Water Act have some Midwest farmers worried that, if enacted, they could be subject to additional regulation. 

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency are trying to assuage those fears.

Grant Gerlock, NET News/Harvest Public Media

Nebraska Farmers are bringing in what’s expected to be a record-breaking harvest for both corn and soybeans. But all that productivity has a big financial downside. Only two years after peaking, grain prices are at their lowest level since 2009.

Jacob McCleland for Harvest Public Media

Fair-goers pack the stands at the East Perry Community Fair in Altenburg, Mo., on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon. They aren’t here for the blue ribbon pigs, the truck pull or the beauty contest. These people are here for the fair’s biggest attraction -- the jumping mules.

Will Curran/Flickr

A federal district court has upheld a California law requiring eggs sold in the state to come from hens housed in more spacious cages.

Attorneys general of six states – Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Alabama – sued to challenge the constitutionality of a California law requiring that all eggs sold in California be raised under standards laid out for California egg producers in a 2008 state ballot measure.

With curbside composting, food waste not a total loss

Sep 30, 2014
Cassandra Profita for Harvest Public Media

Wasting around 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. certainly has its drawbacks: It's not feeding people in need, it's expensive and it does a lot of environmental damage.

But across the country, cities, towns and companies are finding food waste doesn't have to be a total loss. In fact, it can be quite valuable – in making fertilizer, electricity or even fuel for cars, trucks and buses.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Lunch time at Harris Bilingual Elementary School in Fort Collins, Colo., displays all the usual trappings of a public school cafeteria: Star Wars lunch boxes, light up tennis shoes, hard plastic trays and chocolate milk cartons with little cartoon cows. It’s pizza day, the most popular of the week, and kids line up at a salad bar before receiving their slice.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Grocery stores and restaurants serve up more than 400 million pounds of food each year, but nearly a third of it never makes it to a stomach.

With consumers demanding large displays of un-blemished, fresh produce or massive portion sizes, many grocery stores and restaurants end up tossing a mountain of perfectly edible food. Despite efforts to cut down on waste, the consumer end of the food chain still accounts for the largest share of food waste in the U.S. food system.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

The long line of semi-trucks waiting to get in the gates of the Farmland Foods plant could simply wait around for a few hours to head back, fresh products on board.

The trucks are loaded with hogs from several confinement operations near this factory in Milan, a small town in northeast Missouri. Within just 19 hours, those pigs will be slaughtered, butchered and boxed into cuts that consumers see in the grocery store and in restaurants.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

On a wet, grey day in Grinnell, Iowa, the rain beats a rhythm on the metal roof of a packing shed at Grinnell Heritage Farm. Crew member Whitney Brewer picks big bunches of kale out of a washing tank, lets them drip on a drying table and then packs them into cardboard boxes.

Pat Aylward/NET News

It’s a hot summer day outside of Lincoln, Neb., and Jack Chappelle is knee-deep in trash. He’s wading in to rotting vegetables, half-eaten burgers and tater tots. Lots of tater tots.

“You can get a lot of tater tots out of schools,” Chappelle says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s elementary, middle school or high school. Tater tots. Bar none.”

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Local food is no longer just a novelty. Farmers markets are growing nationwide and farms that sell directly to consumers brought in $1.3 billion in 2012, up eight percent from just five years earlier. Despite the demand, making local food work in some places is decidedly more difficult than others. Steamboat Springs, Colo., is one of those places.

Problem number one is infrastructure.

United Soybean Board/Flickr

Farmers’ can anticipate a sharp drop in income this year, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In fact, the USDA predicts the $113 billion earned in 2014 will be the lowest amount of net farm income in five years. That’s equal to about a 14 percent fall from last year’s record amount, thanks mostly to a massive drop in crop prices.

When headlines surfaced last week that Russia would block U.S. agricultural imports, the news seemed dire, or at the very least, unpredictable.

The day it was announced, markets reacted, with Agrimoney.com calling a surge in wheat prices the “Putin premium.”

ali eminov/Flickr

Corn and soybean farmers expect a record harvest this year. And that’s after bringing in a record corn crop last year along with one of the largest soybean crops in history.

For once, farmers can thank the weather. It’s been an ideal growing season in much of the Corn Belt with just enough sun and rain to push yields to the limit.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Late summer in the Midwest is tomato season. For tomato growers around that country, it’s time to pick their bounty and calculate their earnings.

While sun and rain might be free, tomato farmers have to carefully weigh everything else they put in to growing their crop. Research and the development of new tools – from novel seed varieties resistant to diseases to additional fertilizers – has changed the input costs for growers.

Courtesy Marji Guyler-Alaniz/FarmHer

In a living room converted to a theater for the evening, Ethan Peterson and Madeleine Russell portray the characters from Mary Swander’s play, “VANG.” In it, the actors share the emotional stories of four immigrant couples who farm in Iowa. Swander used transcriptions of conversations with Hmong, Mexican, Sudanese and Dutch farmers to create the play.

Lima Pix/Flickr

An independent journalist says he’s found a way around the so-called “ag-gag” laws – flying drones over large livestock operations to document animal welfare problems and pollution.

Will Potter, a Washington D.C.-based environmental blogger, raised $75,000 on Kickstarter to buy drones and other equipment to do investigative work tracking animal abuse and pollution problems on large livestock operations.

Courtesy Emily Robbins

Emily Robbins is a city girl now.

Well, I’m using that term as a cliché. Robbins, 27, lives in Kansas City and works as an engineer at a large firm. She is part of a profession that is made up of just 14 percent women.

Her choice of professions makes sense, though, when you know that she started out as her father’s “boy.”

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

When the wind picked up from the south on John Schweiser’s farm outside Rocky Ford, Colo., the sky would go black. A charging wall of dust would force the 80-year-old farmer and his wife to hunker down in their ranch-style farmhouse.

Jacob McCleland for Harvest Public Media

As a young man, Elisha Pullen never imagined he would spend his days on the farm.

Growing up near rural Bell City in southeastern Missouri’s “Bootheel” region, Pullen longed to leave the farm and get an education.

“I grew up in the day and time when we had to do a lot of chopping and stuff like that. Hard labor,” Pullen said. “I’m going to college, I’m getting my degree and I’m going to work in the air conditioning.”

Creative Commons

The “who” part of the Farm Bill is pretty clear.

With trillions dollars of government spending up for grabs, lobbyists from all ends of the spectrum – representing environmental interests, biotech companies, food companies, farmers – flocked to Capitol Hill to find their piece of the Farm Bill pie.

David Kosling/USDA

When U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced passage of the Farm Bill in February, she echoed a refrain from a car commercial.

“This is not your father’s Farm Bill,” she said.

While Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who leads the Senate Agriculture Committee, was referring to what proponents heralded as “reform” of some programs, her remarks were accurate on another score. The massive Farm Bill, which will spend $956 billion and set U.S. food policy for the next decade, is no longer the purview solely of agricultural interests.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Colorado already draws thousands of visitors each year for skiing, hiking, beer drinking and, most recently, marijuana sampling. In 2012, those visitors spent more than $16 billion in the state. Tourism officials want more and they’re looking to do it by bringing well-educated “traveling foodies” to the state.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

A furry beast, a brave rider and a roaring crowd make up the list of ingredients for the Western rodeo tradition known as “mutton busting.” Think of it as bull-riding, but for 6-year-olds, and the furry beast is actually a wooly sheep.

Kris Husted/Harvest Public Media

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is touring farm country, trying to assure farmers that the agency isn’t asking for more authority over farmers and ranchers’ lands.

100 years on, Panama Canal still vital to farm economy

Jul 7, 2014
Jean-Pierre Martineau/Flickr

When it opened in 1914, the Panama Canal introduced the harvest from Midwest farms to the world and helped link U.S. farmers to the global economy. Nearly a century-old, the canal today remains an important connector of global trade, from the U.S. heartland to Asia.

“Obviously it’s one of our major achievements,” said Bill Angrick, a former state Ombudsman of Iowa who was born in the Canal Zone and has studied the engineering marvel. “It’s like going to the moon. It’s something we did well and did right.”

AMA seeks ban on antibiotics for weight gain

Jul 7, 2014
Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

The largest association of U.S. physicians is calling for tighter rules on antibiotic use in livestock. 

The American Medical Association (AMA) says there should be an outright federal ban on using antibiotics to plump up farm animals. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration asked pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily phase out the use of antimicrobial drugs that promote growth in livestock.

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