Our most popular stories of 2011

Clay Masters, Harvest Public Media's reporter in Nebraska, shoots a photo on assignment at an organic beef ranch. (Hilary Stohs-Krause/NET)

Genetically modified food, new fuels, U.S. agriculture policy and the fresh faces of farming dominated Harvest Public Media’s news report this year.

In this, our first full calendar year of cultivating stories from the ground up, as our masthead says, our readers voted with their mouses, giving the most clicks to stories about Monsanto moving into the consumer food market, the 2012 Farm Bill debate, mineral rights and that new F-word: fracking.

As the world population hit 7 billion this year, one of our readers, John Staples of Kansas City, said he’s interested in agriculture because it is inherently a human concern.

“I think the biggest story is population,” Staples told Harvest reporter Jessica Naudziunas for her story about the top issues of 2011. “The question is: how do we feed people?”

Good question. Our bosses who created Harvest Public Media added a few more concerns when they wrote our mission statement:

“Today’s emerging agenda for agriculture is headlined by energy and climate change, food safety, biofuels, animal production and welfare, human health, water quality, and local food systems.”

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of our most popular stories of the year:

No. 10 – The explosion of locally-grown foods – and the small or urban farmers who grow them – was reported in a series we called “Home Fields: Digging into the local food ‘advantage.’”

No. 9 – Jessica Naudziunas reported on a pilot program aimed at engaging beginning and minority farmers with “hoop houses” – easy-to-make greenhouses – that made hopefuls of new farmers and their advocates.

No. 8 – Farm country took a controversial proposal on child labor as heresy when the government suggested keeping kids from what it deemed dangerous jobs – like driving a tractor, working around breeding cattle or handling pesticides.

No. 7 – The debate on the 2012 Farm Bill made a stop in Wichita, Kan., when the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee met with farmers there in September. They were warned: don’t touch crop insurance.

No. 6 – Our series “Her land, her farm” chronicled the continued contribution of women in agriculture, which is growing thanks to many widows outliving their farm spouses.

No. 5 -- Eric Durban, our man in Garden City, Kan., came in with No. 5 on the list, writing about the lack of fresh food in the middle of farm country.

No. 4 – A side industry that came out of the booming fracking industry, the controversial new extraction process for natural gas,  has benefitted an Iowa family, changing the family business from the Pattison Bros. grain company to the Pattison Sand Co.

No. 3 -- Kathleen Masterson gave the latest update on an old story: how the Farm Bill was shaped from concerns about poverty into our current policies.

No. 2 – Going sideways – instead of down – for oil was the subject of a story from our Nebraska reporter, Clay Masters, who reported about the new technology known as horizontal drilling.

No. 1 – If cutting onions without shedding tears is a fantasy, think again. Our top story of the year was about the multi-billion dollar quest by Monsanto – the biotech giant – to create genetically modified vegetables for the consumer market, like tearless onions and super-boosted nutrients in broccoli.

What do you think is the most important story in farm country? What issue will dominate the headlines in 2012? Click here to tell us what you think.