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Montana farmer David Oien launched a movement when he started growing lentils and recruited others to join him. (courtesy photo)
Montana farmer David Oien launched a movement when he started growing lentils and recruited others to join him. (courtesy photo)

As a country music singer, Liz Carlisle, who grew up in Montana, says she was interested in the poetry and philosophy of farming and rural life.

“I hadn't been involved in sustainable agriculture at all,” she says, “I was a country singer. I think I shared a lot of values, but I didn't really know the language of sustainable agriculture and I wasn't, quite frankly, paying enough attention to economics or to science.”

Then Jon Tester, a Montana organic farmer, was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 2006 and Carlisle went to work for him. She started learning about a network of organic and conventional farmers using fewer industrial practices and other more sustainable strategies to keep their farms ecologically healthy and also profitable.

After working in Washington and then meeting some of the farmers Tester introduced her to, Carlisle decided to explore the origins of Montana’s organic movement in graduate school. Her dissertation took her across Montana’s plains, where she met the farmers who created Timeless Food, a company that now sells lentils, chickpeas, and other products nationwide.

Carlisle’s research became the engaging book, Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America. It pays homage to the combination of conditions and ideology that drew different farmers into what were seen in the 1980s variously as improbable, ridiculous or, in a few cases, last-ditch efforts to farm differently. It’s a story of farmers bucking convention and moving away from monoculture.

Egg prices spike during an outbreak of avian flu during the summer of 2015. (Austin Kirk/Flickr)
Egg prices spike during an outbreak of avian flu during the summer of 2015. (Austin Kirk/Flickr)

You’re about to start paying less for eggs at the grocery store because egg farms are recovering from last year’s bird flu outbreak a bit faster than expected.

The major disease outbreak took the lives of nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys last spring and summer, causing a hiccup in egg production that sent prices upward. But the number of hens nationally is now approaching pre-flu levels, and costs on the farm such as diesel fuel are holding low.

“We’re expecting a recovery more quickly than we initially anticipated,” said economist Annemarie Kuhns with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

DuPont Pioneer is the second-largest seed company in the world. (File: Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)
DuPont Pioneer is the second-largest seed company in the world. (File: Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)

Science’s hottest new tool looks like it will be coming soon to the Corn Belt.

Iowa’s DuPont Pioneer, the second-largest seed company in the world, announced this week that it plans to sell a new form of corn created with CRISPR-Cas plant breeding technology, the much-ballyhooed gene-editing tool. While the product  still has to undergo field tests and further regulatory review, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says unlike other plants whose genomes have been altered with older technology, DuPont Pioneer’s new variety is not required to undergo review under plant protection protocols.

The company says its new hybrid variety of waxy corn, a corn that contains high levels of starch and is used in both processed food and industrial products, is expected to be available to farmers within five years. Waxy corn is grown on hundreds of thousands of acres, but as FERN’s Chuck Abbott notes, it makes up just a fraction of U.S. corn plantings, which typically exceed 90 million acres.

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