Covering Our Food System

These sunflowers grow on research fields in Ames, Iowa, which is a state with almost no commodity sunflower production. But places like Kansas, North Dakota, Colorado, Minnesota, Wyoming and Texas, sunflowers are a commonly rotated row crop.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Genetic Advances Hold New Promise For Sunflowers’ Profitable Future

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that'll be increasingly important to farmers are wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel.

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Special Series: Dangerous Jobs, Cheap Meat

The human toll of our meat habit

Special Series: Watching Our Water

The challenge to keep it clean

USDA Won't Implement Tougher Meatpacker Rules

Oct 18, 2017
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t go forward with rules meant to make it easier for small livestock producers to report possible unfair treatment.

The agency’s decision on the proposal, which came at the tail end of the Obama administration, was announced Tuesday and met with mixed response.

Genetically engineered cotton seeds delivered to Missouri farmers in 2015 featured a warning not to spray them with dicamba. The corresponding dicamba herbicide was not approved by regulators until 2017.
File: Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

There will be new restrictions on the weed killer dicamba for the 2018 growing season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

The broadly defined restrictions, similar to what the state of Missouri imposed over the summer, were announced Friday in a news release. The EPA says it reached an agreement with agriculture giants Monsanto, BASF and DuPont on ways to tamp down on dicamba drift, which has been blamed for destroying or damaging millions of acres of crops in the United States.

Weed Killer Dicamba Eyed In Oak Tree Damage Across Iowa, Illinois And Tennessee

Oct 11, 2017
Lou Nelms, a retired biologist, stands next to an oak tree in Atlanta, Illinois, that may have been damaged by herbicide drift.
Darrell Hoemann / The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

As soybean and cotton farmers across the Midwest and South continue to see their crops ravaged from the weed killer dicamba, new complaints have pointed to the herbicide as a factor in widespread damage to oak trees.

Monsanto and BASF, two of agriculture’s largest seed and pesticide providers, released versions of the dicamba this growing season. The new versions came several months after Monsanto released its latest cotton and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist dicamba in 2016. Since then, farmers across the Midwest and South have blamed drift from dicamba for ruining millions of acres of soybeans and cotton produced by older versions of seeds.

Now, complaints have emerged that the misuse of dicamba may be responsible for damage to oak trees in Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee.

Using CRISPR technology, researchers at the University of Missouri and Kansas State University developed pigs that are resistant to a deadly virus.
Courtesy of the University of Missouri

There’s a genetic technology that scientists are eager to apply to food, touting its possibilities for things like mushrooms that don’t brown and pigs that are resistant to deadly diseases.

And food industry groups, still reeling from widespread protests against genetically engineered corn and soybeans (aka GMOs) that have made it difficult to get genetically engineered food to grocery store shelves, are looking to influence public opinion.

Emerging prairie strips on Iowa farms.
Christopher Gannon / Courtesy Iowa State University

A new study says small patches of native prairie plants provide a range of conservation benefits to Iowa’s landscape and could reduce water pollution from farm fields.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Galen Fick milks 50 Brown Swiss cows every day on his farm in Boyden, Iowa, where his family has been in the dairy business for generations. Life as a dairy farmer has gotten harder and harder, he says, especially in the past two years.

 

“Our inputs have gone up so much, not the feed part of it but everything else,” he says, pointing to veterinary care and, especially, labor. “For us to make that profit, [it] makes it very tough.”

Sarah Scantling gave birth to her daugher Abilene in Dryersburg, Tennessee, 30 miles from their home in Pemiscot County, Missouri.
Bram Sable-Smith / Side Effects Public Media

When Sarah Scantling went into labor this summer, she had to drive 30 miles and across state lines.

Three years earlier, the only maternity ward where she lives in Pemiscot County, Missouri closed down. Scantling had to choose between a handful of other hospitals in the region between 20 and 70 miles away. She chose to give birth in the hospital in Dyersburg, Tennessee.

file: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Lawsuits brought by farmers against one of the world’s leading seed companies will end in settlements.

 

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

In the summer of 2002, water pumps in Colorado’s San Luis Valley stopped working.

The center pivot sprinklers that coax shoots from the dry soil and turn the valley into one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions strained so hard to pull water from an underground aquifer that they created sunken pits around them.

“This one right over here,” says potato farmer Doug Messick as he walks toward a sprinkler, near the town of Center. He's the farm manager for the valley's Spud Grower Farms. “I came up to it one day and I could’ve driven my pickup in that hole.”

A soybean field in Jasper County, Iowa, in 2016
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Regulators in Arkansas have proposed to effectively ban farmers from using a controversial weedkiller produced by Monsanto that is thought to be destroying crops after drifting in the wind.

The Arkansas State Plant Board proposed a ban on using the herbicide dicamba on cotton and soybeans from April 16 to October 31, essentially the entire growing season. (PDF)

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