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

Bob, Robbie and Leah Maass ready equipment for planting season on their farm near Ellsworth, Iowa.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Three months after his nomination, Sonny Perdue faces a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate Monday for the post of secretary of agriculture.

If confirmed, Perdue will find a desk at USDA piled high with priorities and will be one of the last members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to be seated.

Residents of Pretty Prairie, Kansas, are under pressure from regulators to reduce nitrates levels in their water.
Alex Smith / For Harvest Public Media

Pretty Prairie, Kansas, population 680, had a moment in the spotlight during the confirmation hearings for new Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran mentioned Pretty Prairie as an example of a community that’s struggling because of EPA regulations that Pruitt could ease.

But residents of the tiny south central Kansas town are also concerned about how federal budget cuts might affect their ability to pay for a new water treatment system.   

File: Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the long delays in seating his replacement leaves rural America without a voice in the Trump administration.

Vilsack, a Democrat who served as USDA chief during both terms of the Obama Administration, cites President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal as an example of what happens without a Cabinet position dedicated to rural issues.

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.

A fast-moving late winter wildfire burned acres of grassland and destroyed miles of fencing at the Kirk Ranch in Clark County, Kansas.
Bryan Thompson / for Harvest Public Media

Gena Kirk did not realize the largest wildfire in Kansas history was closing in on the Kirk Ranch on March 6 until she got a call from her brother-in-law. After realizing that her herd was in danger, she jumped into her pickup and sped up the hill where several of her cattle were grazing.

As she herded her cattle onto a green wheat field that would not burn as easily as nearby dry grassland, winds gusting to 60 miles an hour fanned the flames quickly in her direction.

Many farmers are used to fixing their own machinery, but without the right software from tractor manufacturers they are effectively locked out.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

A new tractor often costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but not included in that price: the right to repair it. That has put farmers on the front lines of a battle pitting consumers against the makers of all kinds of consumer goods, from tractors to refrigerators to smart phones.  

Free trade agreements like NAFTA have generally eased restrictions on Corn Belt farmers selling their corn and soybeans to markets all over the world.
File: NET Nebraska

The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, has been very good to many Midwest agriculture producers. That’s why many farmers and ranchers are nervous about President Donald Trump’s promise to either completely dismantle, or at least renegotiate, the free-trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Rob Fleming, a grand-nephew of Henry A. Wallace, uses this 1947 Ford 2n as he works to restore the prairie around his childhood home in Carlisle, Iowa.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hybrid seed corn and nitrogen fertilizer transformed farming in the 20th century, but they are also closely tied to some of today’s major agricultural challenges. That has prompted some members of two families that played pivotal roles in developing farm innovations to work on putting a lighter, 21st century stamp on the landscape.

Then-Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, right, greets u.S. Rep. Jack Kingston at a 2008 political event.
Courtesy Bruce Tuten / Flickr

Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor nominated by President Donald Trump, is one step closer to becoming U.S. Secretary of Agriculture after the Senate Agriculture Committee approved his nomination Thursday.

Yet Perdue remains one step shy of the post; the full Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on his nomination. Perdue, however, is widely expected to be approved.

U.S. farmers compete to sell their goods, like these soybeans in Nebraska, on a world market.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Imagine you’re a farmer and it’s time to decide what to plant. You need information on supply, demand, prices, outlook -- information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, university extension services, even economists at the Federal Reserve.

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