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 population of Northern Colorado is booming. People are flocking to the area and population numbers are on the rise.

The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Weld and Larimer counties already sport high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region’s feeding operations. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows to churn out the milk needed to produce bricks of mozzarella cheese and whey protein powder.

Missouri’s beef producers roundly rejected a proposal that would have forced them to pay an extra dollar for every head of cattle they sell.

Some in the beef industry wanted to add the fee to create what’s called a state beef checkoff – a fund meant to promote Missouri beef and beef research.

Nearly 75 percent of the beef producers that voted in a state referendum by mail rejected the proposal, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. In all, 6,568 valid ballots were returned, the department said.

Near Alexander, Iowa, on a cloudy spring Tuesday, Josh Nelson watches a bright red Case IH Magnum tractor pull a 24-row planter and crest a small hill, dropping corn seed at careful intervals. Nelson says his family farm dodged a weather bullet this week, but it’s just one of many hurdles this season promises.

Turn on the TV and you can barely escape it: presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle deriding free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a bum deal that will hurt the U.S. economy and especially low-wage workers, according to pols from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton.

But if you venture into the Midwest and ask a farmer about the TPP, you’re likely to get a different answer.

On a cold windy morning, Kelly Nissen feeds the cows at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm north of Ames. Far from just tossing hay, he weighs out specific rations and carefully delivers them to numbered feed bunks.

“When you’re feeding, you’re always double-checking yourself to make sure it’s going in the right lot,” Nissen says.

Charles Bassett wants you to buy hamburgers made from his Missouri cows. That’s why the Missouri rancher wants to pay an extra dollar into an industry-created fund every time he sells one of his cattle.

Take a road trip through the Midwest during the growing season, and it feels like you’re moving through a sea of corn and soybeans grown largely for livestock feed or ethanol. But now, low grain prices and increasing pressure to clean up waterways may push some farmers to consider other options.

Aubrey Fletcher knew she wanted to work on a dairy farm ever since she was a little girl.

“I do remember my mom asking, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’” Fletcher recalls.

Fletcher knew the work was tough, she grew up milking cows every day. After college she and her husband wanted to return to his family farm, but it wasn’t making financial sense.

“The farm couldn’t necessarily provide both of us with salaries,” says Fletcher. “So we thought, ‘Why not take our premium milk and take that a little further?’”

Cotton fabric has been a staple in our closets for decades, but times are tough for farmers in the U.S. cotton belt who are caught in the middle of a storm of changing global demand.

Cotton acreage in the U.S. has been declining for years, with 2015 hitting the lowest mark in decades.  It has dropped from nearly 15 million acres to less than 9 million acres in just the past five years.


The Western Farm Show in Kansas City, Missouri, is a long way from Silicon Valley.

But here in a huge arena, set in what used to be the Kansas City Stockyards, the high-tech future of agriculture is for sale.

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