Kansas

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.   

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.

At a stressful time for U.S. farmers, the government’s efforts at calming the agricultural waters took center stage Thursday, when the heads of the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee left Washington for the Midwest to solicit opinions on priorities for the next Farm Bill.

U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-KS, and Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, heard from Midwest farmers at their first field hearing on the 2018 Farm Bill at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Low crop prices have many Midwest wheat and corn farmers looking for ways to supplement their incomes. One possibility for conventional farmers: producing food for farmers markets.

Students at Liberal (Kansas) High School are allowed to take as much fruit and vegetables as they’d like from the school’s salad bar.
Bryan Thompson / for Harvest Public Media

School lunch has long been a target of jokes. Those jokes turned to complaints from students and parents alike in 2012 when new congressionally mandated nutrition standards took effect.

Like most farmers, Mark Nelson, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat near Louisburg, Kan., is getting squeezed. He's paying three times more for seed than he used to, while his corn sells for less than half what it brought four years ago.

"It's a – that's a challenge," Nelson says. "You're not going to be in the black, let's put it that way."

Low commodity prices are rippling up and down the farm-economy food chain — from the farm to the boardroom — and it has many of the huge companies that control farm inputs looking to a new future.

This year was a very good year for growing wheat, but that means it could be a very bad year for wheat farmers.

There’s a glut on the global wheat market and prices for winter wheat – which is grown all up and down the Great Plains, from Texas to North Dakota– wheat prices this year hit their lowest levels since 2003. Coupled with lower prices for corn, sorghum, and soybeans, many are concerned about the rural economy in the Wheat Belt.

Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

Like most farmers, Mark Nelson, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat near Louisburg, Kansas, is getting squeezed. He’s paying three times more for seed than he used to, while his corn sells for less than half what it brought four years ago.

“It’s a – that’s a challenge,” Nelson says. “You’re not going to be in the black, let’s put it that way.”

Low commodity prices are rippling up and down the farm economy food chain from the farm to the boardroom, and it has many of the huge companies that control farm inputs looking to a new future.

Sandy Songer of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, has a bit of advice for anyone who wants to watch chainsaw artists in action.

“If you’re going to stay around us very long, you need to put some earplugs in,” she says with a laugh, as chainsaws revved and roared behind her like race cars, drowning out everything else in the background.

From carnival barkers, to Ferris wheels humming, to snorts and moos of livestock shows, late-summer state and county fairs are noisy, chaotic affairs. Add to the din this season: chainsaws buzzing.

This year will be another tight one for farmers, at least if the federal government’s predictions are correct.

Farm income will sink to its lowest point since 2009, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast. The USDA expects net farm income will drop 11.5 percent to $71.5 billion this year, which would mark the third-straight year of falling income.

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