Iowa

Farmer Wendy Johnson markets hogs, chickens, eggs and seasonal turkeys. She also grwos organic row crops at Joia Food Farm near Charles City, Iowa.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor, a lightweight plastic frame covered in wire mesh that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days, and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets in eastern Iowa.

The demand for beef, pork and chicken raised on smaller farms closer to home is growing. Now, some Midwest farmers, like Johnson, are exploring how to graze livestock to meet those demands while still earning a profit.

The South Sudanese Community Lutheran Church meets at Zion Lutheran Church in Denison, Iowa, on Sunday afternoons.
Amy Mayer / 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.

As Highway 30 enters Denison, Iowa, a city of 8,000, the national fast food chains stand next to Mexican groceries and restaurants. In this small city near the Nebraska border, waves of immigrants have been arriving since at least the 1980s.

The merger of Dow and DuPont is one of a number of proposed mergers and acquisitions of massive agriculture and chemical companies.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Two giants of American agriculture and industry are closer to becoming one.

 

Dow and DuPont, both leaders in agricultural chemicals and seeds, among other products, received approval from the U.S. Department of Justice to move ahead with a merger, provided they divest several products.

 

Chives bloom at the Student Organic Farm at Iowa State University. Sales of organic produce continue to rise, according to the Organic Trade Association.
file: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Sales of organic food reportedly climbed to record highs in 2016, an indication organics are edging toward the mainstream.

 

In a new industry report, the Organic Trade Association says American consumers spent $43 billion on organic products in 2016, which accounts for more than 5 percent of total U.S. food sales, a high water mark for the organic industry.

 

A study that received funding from the Leopold Center demonstrated that including small grains, such as the oats pictured here in 2016, in field rotations can reduce the need for chemical inputs.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

A leading research center focused on local farmers and environmental conservation is hanging on by a thread, even as the movement to diversify agriculture, which it helped launch, continues to thrive.

An Iowa State University lab uses thousands of digital cameras to study how seeds perform.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

This summer, in cornfields in Iowa and Nebraska, about a thousand small point-and-shoot digital cameras will be enclosed in waterproof cases, mounted on poles and attached to solar-powered battery chargers. They will take pictures every ten minutes as plants grow; all part of a plan to create better seeds.

“We watch plants go through their normal growth and development and also we watch them respond to environmental stressors, like drought and so forth,” says Pat Schnable, director of the Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State University.

As governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue visited the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay in 2010.
USEMBASSY_MONTEVIDEO / FLICKR

The nation has a new agriculture secretary.

The U.S. Senate on Monday voted to confirm former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead the Department of Agriculture. He takes over a department that was without a top boss for three months after former secretary Tom Vilsack resigned. Vilsack served the entire eight years of the Obama administration (one of the longest-serving agriculture secretaries in recent decades).

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.

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.

As governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue visited the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay in 2010.
USEMBASSY_MONTEVIDEO / FLICKR

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, testified in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture committee today, but remains far from the head job at USDA.

 

The committee did not indicate when it would vote on whether to advance Perdue’s nomination.

 

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