Covering Our Food System

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

In Organic Labels Consumers Trust, But Fraud Threatens The Industry

Peyton Manning, the NFL quarterback-turned-pitchman, apparently has another side hustle: Certifying shipments of grain as organic for a Nebraska-based agency called OneCert. Problem is, OneCert president Sam Welsch doesn’t remember hiring Manning for his business, which is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect everything from small vegetable farms to processing plants and international grain operations.

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Illinois Pesticide Retailers Detail The Effects Of Likely Dicamba Drift

Oct 30, 2017
Dicamba-resistance soybeans sit in a field in rural McLean County, Illinois, in August.
Darrell Hoemann / Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

More than 100 Illinois pesticide retailers reported the weed killer dicamba drifted and damaged soybeans even when it was sprayed in good conditions, according to a recent industry survey.

New Ag Guestworker Program Legislation Headed To US House

Oct 25, 2017
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

A bill to overhaul the federal agricultural guestworker program cleared its first hurdle Wednesday and is headed to the full U.S. House.

The Republican-majority House Judiciary Committee passed the bill 17-16 after two days of debate and over the objections of many Democrats. It’s likely to clear the House, though its future in the Senate is unclear.

Protect Pollinators, Plant Trees? Nebraska Researchers Look To Land For Answers

Oct 25, 2017
Courtesy of Judy Wu-Smart

You don't need bees and butterflies to grow corn and soybeans, but a majority of farmers do rely on pesticides, which don't discriminate between helpful and harmful insects.

The widespread use of pesticides is considered a major factor in the large-scale decline in bee populations in recent years. But it's unlikely farmers will give up or limit pesticide use, so instead, a team of researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is looking at designing agricultural landscapes with pollinator health in mind.

In other Plains and Midwestern states, researchers are having farmers plant prairie strips between fields to help combat water contamination from pesticides and fertilizer. UNL's five-year project wants to find out whether windbreaks, planted pollinator habitat, cover crops or a combination of those techniques can help limit pesticide drift.

Eric Thalken works down a row of organic corn, pulling back the husks. "There's a mindset that organic is ugly and low yielding and it just doesn't have to be," Thalken says.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Burkey Farms in southeast Nebraska looked into the future a couple of years ago and didn’t like what it saw — a continuation of depressed prices for conventional corn and soybeans. So, the families who run the farm together started discussing how the operation would make money if they couldn’t earn more from their crops.  

Their conversation took a turn toward organics, a $40 billion industry and growing, especially in Iowa and Colorado.

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

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. 

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.

Residents of Pretty Prairie, Kansas, are under pressure from regulators to reduce nitrate levels in their water.
Alex Smith / For Harvest Public Media

A new report suggests the Environmental Protection Agency should consider lowering the legal limit in drinking water for nitrates, a chemical often connected to fertilizer use.

People who drink water with elevated, but not illegal, levels of nitrates could be at an increased risk of kidney, ovarian and bladder cancer, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group asserts. But a University of Iowa researcher who studies nitrate contamination says the connection to cancer is inconsistent and other chemicals may be involved.

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.

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