Covering Our Food System

An Illinois farmer harvests his corn crop in this file photo. Average net farm income has tumbled in recent years.
Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Farm Economy Downturn Prompts Fears Of A ‘Crisis’

Of all the expensive machinery Tom Giessel worked during the 2017 wheat harvest, his favorite sits in the office of his home. It’s a microfilm machine, the kind found in a high school library. Giessel uses it for his work as the historian of the National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest farm group.

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Crop Insurance Programs Subject Of Intense Farm Bill Lobbying

Jul 17, 2014
Mike Crawford stands at his farm near Danville, Ill. He says crop insurance is an important risk-management tool for farmers.
Darell Hoemann / Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

After two years of debate, the U.S. Congress passed a Farm Bill this year that replaced direct subsidies to farmers with an ever increasing multi-billion dollar federal crop insurance program.

During that time, at least 80 groups spent more than $50 million in lobbying efforts that included ensuring their interests in the often criticized program were well-represented.

Hundreds of companies and outside groups lobbied the 2014 Farm Bill and related issues during the drafting process.
Bigstock

Setting the course for almost a trillion dollars of government spending, the 2014 Farm Bill attracted hundreds of companies eager to find their slice of the pie.

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.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., (in green) watches as President Barack Obama signs the Farm Bill at Michigan State University on Feb. 7, 2014.
Courtesy David Kosling / U.S. Department of Agriculture

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.

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.”

Once a staple of the American diet, we're now eating a lot less lamb. The U.S. sheep herd today is just one-tenth of its size in the 1940s.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in this country has been cut in half. In fact, the number has been declining since the late 1940s, when the American sheep industry hit its peak. Today, the domestic sheep herd is one-tenth the size it was during World War II.

The decline is the result of economic and cultural factors coming together. And it has left ranchers to wonder, “When are we going to hit the bottom?”

When I dig into a burger, I might think about how the cow the beef came from was raised -- whether it was grass or grain fed, locally raised or imported -- but rarely do I consider what breed of cow the meat came from.

If I did, I'd guess that it was beef from a Black Angus, Hereford or Charolais cow, which are the three most popular breeds used for meat production in the U.S. But that notion got turned on its head at this year’s Missouri Cattlemen’s Association’s convention in Columbia, Mo.

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