Colorado

Harvest's Top 10 Stories of 2017 (And A Short Note)

Dec 26, 2017
The Nebraska Sandhills are sand dunes covered by prairie grassland. The area is used primarily for cattle grazing and some farming.
Grant Gerlock / File/Harvest Public Media

We can’t get enough of year-end lists, so here are the stories that Harvest Public Media’s reporters and editors thought were interesting, thought-provoking, unique or just plain fun:

Three meat companies process most of the beef that lands in U.S. supermarkets. Some farmers say that gives the companies too much power over the price of cattle.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Between the time a cut of steak or pound of hamburger goes from cattle farm to grocery shelf, it more than likely passes through one of three companies: Tyson Foods, Cargill or JBS.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top four beef processors hold 85 percent of the market share, controlling the beef market to the point that some farmers believe the companies’ clout unfairly influences livestock prices.

Last month, the USDA withdrew a rule proposed in the final weeks of the Obama administration that would have made it easier for cattle producers to raise objections if they thought meatpackers weren’t giving them a fair price.

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.

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.”

Marco Verch / Creative Commons

Update 8/25/17: The Amazon-Whole Foods merger passed a key hurdle after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission decided the grocery deal would not hamper competition or provide an unfair advantage.

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In June, the online retail giant Amazon announced a deal that showed its latest ambition: to completely change how America gets its food.

The latest step toward that goal is a proposed merger with Whole Foods Market, worth nearly $14 billion. For years Amazon has been making moves and launching programs to make food a bigger part of its business.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

The federal commission in charge of enforcing workplace anti-discrimination laws found a Colorado meatpacking plant violated the rights of its Muslim workers during a dispute over prayer breaks.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found reasonable cause that Cargill Meat Solutions and labor union Teamsters Local No. 455 violated the rights of Somali workers when it fired nearly 150 of them for failing to show up to work after a walk-out at its Fort Morgan, Colo. beef plant in late 2015.

File: Stephanie Paige Ogburn for Harvest Public Media

It has been a rough few months for the world’s largest meat company.

Known for its rapid expansion across the globe, Brazil-based meatpacking giant JBS has been embroiled in scandal for much of 2017. The company is so large it is difficult to avoid for those who eat meat. As of 2014, JBS’s U.S. subsidiary held a 22 percent market-share in U.S. beef processing and an 18 percent market-share in poultry processing.

Luke Runyon

Brandon Biesemeier climbs up a small ladder into a John Deere sprayer, takes a seat in the enclosed cab, closes the door, and blocks out most of the machine’s loud engine hum. It is a familiar perch to the fourth-generation farmer on Colorado’s eastern plains.

The Agriculture Department established research centers in 2014 to translate climate science into real-world ideas for farmers and ranchers adapting to a hotter climate.
File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Farmers and ranchers, with their livelihoods intimately tied to weather and the environment, may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump Administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

At the public library in the rural Morgan County town of Brush, Colorado, Marissa Velazquez welcomes her students to class. It’s a sunny Saturday morning, and today marks the halfway point in Velazquez’s class, a ten-week crash course on American history, civics and English.

Everyone in it has the same goal: become an American citizen. In two hours, Velazquez runs through voting rights, the legislative process and some grammar tips.

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