Agriculture

Scott Goodwill / Unsplash

Parts of Missouri are so dry that corn crops are suffering and hay for cattle is in short supply, as water becomes increasingly scarce.

Missouri has had below-average rainfall since winter. The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows that nearly all of Missouri is experiencing drought, with several counties in northern and southwestern parts of the state especially hard-hit. 

Credit Kevin Bradley / University of Missouri

 

    

Pesticide drift during the 2017 growing was historic -- about 3.6 million acres of soybeans were damaged by the weed killer dicamba. The Environmental Protection Agency and several states have slapped on stricter guidelines for the 2018 growing season, but enough damage has been done that stakeholders across the industry are worried that we've forced farmers into a cycle of always needing a stronger chemical to combat weeds that have grown resistant to what's already on shelves.

Agriculture Director Says State Looks to Cut Regulation for Farmers

Apr 16, 2018

In an effort to empower more rural Missouri farmers, the Department of Agriculture is prepared to eliminate more than 1,200 rules and regulations restricting the agriculture industry in Missouri.

As part of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s “Lunch with a Leader” series on Thursday afternoon, Chris Chinn, the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, told members of the chamber the department was moving forward with a plan to reduce regulation of agriculture by 25 percent.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

No matter how far fruits or vegetables travel, whether they’re grown organically or conventionally, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients. The men and women in the fields try to grow foods with an eye to boosting the health factor, but researchers say it’s hard to measure the precise impact.

Consider the orange, a fruit high in vitamin C, which boosts the body’s immune system. One from a tree in Florida and another of the same variety grown in California won’t have identical values of the scurvy-fighting vitamin.

Farmers depend on productive, sustainable land, clean water and air and healthy animals to make a living. To help create those conditions and protect ecosystems, they get help from conservation programs that make up about 6 percent of the $500 billion federal farm bill.

Credit Kevin Bradley / University of Missouri


Amy Mayer

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts consumers will be paying less for beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey in early 2018 than at the start of 2017. Not so for eggs.

Egg prices during the first three months of 2018 are likely to be more than 35 percent higher than they were during the same period of 2017, USDA’s Economic Research Service says. The increase, from about 80 cents for a dozen grade A large eggs at the start of 2017 to predictions of $1.06 to $1.12 for a dozen, is due to several months of increased sales.

Many rural businesses and farms will benefit from the tax overhaul passed Wednesday by Congress. But there’s a catch: If the changes fail to spur economic growth as intended, programs that rural areas rely on could be on the chopping block.

One provision in the massive bill, which President Trump has yet to sign into law, allows small business owners to deduct 20 percent of their business income. It also expands the deduction for small business investment — a popular provision among farmers, who can write off the cost of things like a new tractor.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

 

Thirteen states filed a lawsuit Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a California law that requires farmers to give egg-laying hens more space.

The lawsuit, filed by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, claims the 2015 California egg law is a violation of two federal laws. One prohibits state laws from discriminating against citizens of other states and another bans one state from imposing its farming regulations on other states.


dicamba, cotton seeds,
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

The herbicide dicamba is thought to have been the culprit in more than 3 million acres of damaged soybeans across the country, destroying plants and leaving farmers out millions of dollars in crops.

 

The chemical has been in use for decades, so why is it today apparently causing farms so much damage?

 

The answer is two-pronged, according to Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri assistant professor and weed specialist who has studied the reported damage. Here’s what he says:

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

During the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, spectators will turn their eyes upward to see the moon pass in front of the sun.

But many Midwest scientists will turn their eyes and cameras to the plants and animals here on the ground. And they're not sure what will happen.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

 

During the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, spectators will turn their eyes upward to see the moon pass in front of the sun.

But many Midwest scientists will turn their eyes and cameras to the plants and animals here on the ground. And they're not sure what will happen.

“It's never really been studied systematically,” says Angela Speck, director of astronomy at the University of Missouri Columbia. “We have ideas about: Is this an illumination thing? The amount of light they’re receiving goes down. Is that what it is? Is it a temperature effect? Is it all of that?”

Erin McKinstry

About 65 cattle roam Dr. Thomas Cooper’s 100-acre farm. Walnut trees and cow patties dot the pasture, which dips into a small lake in the middle. Off in the distance Interstate 70 and signs for a Motel 6 and an Arby’s provide a gentle reminder of the nearby town. But on Cooper’s farm, it’s easy to forget the traffic. Things feel older and quieter. Cars are replaced with the hum of a tractor. Cows come running when Cooper calls.

Black farmers operate less than 1% of all of Missouri’s farms, and the number of Blacks in agriculture nationwide has generally been on the decline since the 1920s. Many left positions as sharecroppers in the South and Missouri’s Bootheel to escape discrimination and chase opportunity in Northern cities. Others faced discrimination by the USDA and were unable to secure loans available to whites to purchase equipment or seed. At 70 years old, Dr. Thomas Cooper is one of only 324 Black farmers in Missouri. 

 


Farms and ranches throughout the country won’t see their labor shortages solved by a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In a call with reporters while visiting Mexico ahead of the trade talks, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said labor issues likely wouldn’t be addressed during formal negotiations among the United States, Mexico and Canada, set to begin August 16th.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

 

The Missouri Department of Agriculture announced a temporary ban on the sale and use of agricultural products containing the pesticide dicamba on Friday, following a similar step by regulators in Arkansas.

Dicamba, a popular weedkiller, is suspected in the damage of tens of thousands of farm acres primarily in Arkansas, but also in southeast Missouri and in neighboring states. After farmers sprayed the chemical on their fields -- sometimes with illegal and outdated versions -- the pesticide allegedly drifted over to neighboring farmland, destroying crops.

More than 130 complaints about drift damage have been filed in Missouri this year, according to the state’s Agriculture Department.

Zoe Moffett, Colorado College

See a bee; hear a buzz.

That’s what researchers studying the declining bee population are banking on. A new technique based on recording buzzing bees hopes to show farmers just how much pollinating the native bee population is doing in their fields. 

Vegetable and fruit growers depend on pollinators to do a lot of work in their greenhouses and fields. Pollinators, like bees, flutter about the blossoms on plants and orchard trees, transferring pollen from plant to plant and ensuring that those organisms have a chance at reproducing.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

President Trump made campaign promises to pull the U.S. out of big international trade deals and focus instead on one-on-one agreements with other countries. But that has farmers worried they will lose some of the $135 billion in goods they sold overseas last year.

Two years ago, Missouri rancher Mike John expected the U.S. beef industry to grow by providing steaks and hamburgers from the Midwest to hungry eaters in Japan. He was planning on the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a massive trade deal among 12 countries, including the U.S. and Japan. It took eight years of negotiations to get each nation involved to agree to lower tariffs. Some economists expected the pact to add $3 billion dollars to the U.S. agriculture industry. Trump, however, called the TPP a disaster and pulled the U.S. out.

University of Missouri

The University of Missouri announced Thursday the appointment of a new dean and vice chancellor of its agriculture college.

Christopher Daubert is set to take the reigns of MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, or CAFNR, on August 1. Previously, Daubert served as a professor and the department head of Food, Bioprocessing and Sciences at North Carolina State University.

Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

Two of the top questions I get as an agriculture reporter for Harvest Public Media are:

  1. What are pesticides, actually?
  2. How are they used on my food?

From foodies to farmers, pesticides are a sensitive subject.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday said President Trump may be open to creating a way for some undocumented immigrant workers to stay in the U.S. and Perdue is already working on a “blueprint” of policy guidelines to offer the president.

Refusing to call it a pathway to citizenship, Perdue says he would like to find a solution that would allow workers in the ag industry to remain in the U.S. legally. That’s despite Trump’s campaign promises to step up deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the long delays in seating his replacement leaves rural America without a voice in the Trump administration.

Vilsack, a Democrat who served as USDA chief during both terms of the Obama Administration, cites President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal as an example of what happens without a Cabinet position dedicated to rural issues.

 

Imagine you’re a farmer and it’s time to decide what to plant. You need information on supply, demand, prices, outlook -- information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, university extension services, even economists at the Federal Reserve.

All of those agencies depend on data pulled from surveys sent out to farmers. The answers are often compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which makes data available free. Fewer farmers are responding to surveys, the Agriculture Department says, which could throw the accuracy of the data off, leaving farmers to fend for themselves when making choices for their businesses.

US Embassy Montevideo/Flickr

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, testified in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture committee today, but remains far from the head job at USDA.

The committee did not indicate when it would vote on whether to advance Perdue’s nomination.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

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.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

 

After court documents unsealed Tuesday raised questions about its research methods, chemical giant Monsanto says it did not ghostwrite a 2000 study on the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in its flagship pesticide Roundup.

As the New York Times reported, the unsealed records suggest that Monsanto had contributed to research attributed to academics and that a senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had worked to stall a review of Roundup’s main ingredient by U.S. regulators.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers in the U.S. like to point out that their products feed people all over the world. And while this is a diverse country, the people working on farms and elsewhere in agriculture often don’t reflect the nation’s demographics. Changing that is becoming a priority, in hopes new people will bring fresh ideas to meet some of our food system’s greatest challenges.

Take monoculture, the long-standing practice of planting only corn or soybeans on millions of Midwest acres. While it has resulted in massive crops and billions of dollars in revenue for decades, the strategy can also contribute to problems.

Bryan Thompson for Harvest Public Media

Low crop prices have many Midwest wheat and corn farmers looking for ways to supplement their incomes. One possibility for conventional farmers: producing food for farmers markets.

“Food is a multi-billion-dollar economy in Kansas,” says Missty Lechner of the American Heart Association, who works with local governments to encourage the development of local food systems. (PDF) “If we can change that to increase local food sales by just 1 percent in Kansas, we’re talking multi-million-dollar impact on our local food economy.”

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media/KBIA

 

 

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Tuesday directing the Environmental Protection Agency to revise a controversial environmental rule opposed by many Midwest farm groups.

Trump ordered new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to formally revise the Obama Administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was meant to explain which rivers, streams and creeks are subject to regulation by the EPA.

Ag Leaders Hope To Avoid Budget Cuts In New Farm Bill

Feb 24, 2017
Bryan Thompson for Harvest Public Media

 

At a stressful time for U.S. farmers, the government’s efforts at calming the agricultural waters took center stage Thursday, when the heads of the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee left Washington for the Midwest to solicit opinions on priorities for the next Farm Bill.

U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-KS, and Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, heard from Midwest farmers at their first field hearing on the 2018 Farm Bill at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Liz Graznak runs an organic farm near Jamestown, Missouri, which she calls Happy Hollow Farm. She sells her vegetables to local restaurants, in CSA boxes and at the farmer’s market.  But eight years ago, after falling in love with the idea of growing her own local produce, the farm she runs today looked like a near-impossible dream.

While on track to earn a PhD in plant breeding, Graznak bought her first box of produce from a nearby farmer. Soon after, she decided then that instead of studying plants, she wanted to grow them. Easier said than done, though.

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