In The Field

A western Illinois farmer harvests corn.
Credit Abby Wendle / File: Harvest Public Media

The people and places that make our food system go.

Ways to Connect

The persistent decline of honeybees has scientists scrambling to understand what’s causing the problem and how to correct it. Humans may be part of the problem.

U.S. beekeepers report losing about a third of their colonies each year and the figure increased from 2014 to 2015.

Restoring Prairie On The Great Plains

Feb 4, 2016

From the air, the Midwest looks like a patchwork of cropland and pastures. But before the land was turned over to plows and center pivots, most of it was a sea of grass. 

Native grasslands were first plowed by pioneers homesteading on the plains. More land was converted to crops as tractors and machinery arrived on the farm and conversion of land intensified. 

Cody-Kilgore Superintendant Todd Chessmore helps students check inventory at the store.
Mike Tobias / For Harvest Public Media

The tiny Nebraska town of Cody sits atop Cherry County, a sparsely populated chunk of Sandhills ranchland larger than the entire state of Connecticut. Cody’s population of just 156 people means it’s not a prime location for any retail business.

There is no grocery store in town, the previous grocery store closed more than a decade ago.

Enter: Students from the Cody-Kilgore school system.

As part of their education, local students run the Circle C grocery store. The store does about $250,000 of business a year and stocks about 1,500 items.

High on the Nebraska plains, there’s a citrus grove with trees holding up a canopy of lemons, grapefruit-sized oranges, green figs, and bunches of grapes.

Yes, it’s indoors. And it’s only possible because it taps in to the core of the earth’s own energy, geothermal heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

Russ Finch, a former mail carrier and farmer, designed the greenhouse, which he calls the Greenhouse in the Snow. The original, which he built more than 20 years ago, is connected to his home.

The time is ripe for the sharing economy in farm country.

Much like other Web-based companies like Airbnb or Uber, a site dedicated to leasing and using farm equipment is making available expensive machinery during the times producers need it most. And the idea is taking root as crop and livestock prices trend lower and costs climb higher.

“You get innovative when things get tighter,” said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University. “We're looking for ways to enhance income right now especially in a low margin environment.”

Midwest Wheat Farmers Are Waiting For A Breakthrough

Jan 4, 2016

Wheat is one of the world’s staple foods and a big crop on the Great Plains, but it has been left in the dust. A corn farmer can grow 44 percent more bushels per acre than 30 years ago, but only 16 percent more wheat. That’s led many farmers to make a switch.

“Wheat acres have been going down since 1981 or 1982 when they were up around 86 million acres,” said Steve Joehl, director of research with the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). “I think last year we had a little over 56 million. It’s just a straight trend line down.”

Jeff Siegfried knows just about anything you’d ever want to find out about a 50-acre corn field in northern Colorado.

The 24-year-old easily rattles off the various gadgets he uses to measure soil moisture, plant health, air temperature.

Kendra Lawson doesn’t have the typical schedule of a nine–year-old.  With just a week of summer left, she spent her days working with her dad and mom on the farm and preparing her pigs to show at the state fair.

Here in central Missouri, the Lawson family raises cattle and pigs with a lot of help from Kendra. I met her at her house near Centralia, Mo., where she had just come back from helping her dad in the hay fields.

In the Midwest, agriculture can be such a strong lure that there are some farm kids without farms.

Ally Babcock lives with her family in a modern subdivision in Ames, Iowa. Tucked under the home’s back deck is a tiny barn space, enough room for her sheep and rabbits.

The Matthew family farm, M&M&m Farms, outside of La Harpe, Illinois, looks different from the farms surrounding it. It’s not filled with neat rows of soybeans or lines of corn that’s over-my-head high in late July. The Matthew’s place is a bit more disorganized and far more diverse.

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