Nebraska

Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

Colorado farmer Steve Kelly brushes aside a small mound of dry yellow dirt to reveal a sugar beet seed that’s no larger than a peppercorn. It seems insignificant, but the seed is different from what he planted more than 20 years ago.

“The quality of the beet wasn’t as good and yield and everything that way wasn’t as good either,” he said.  

Now all but 5 percent of sugar beet seeds in the U.S. are genetically modified, or GMO.

With the help of a rented plane, Jerry Eisterhold found the perfect place to start a vineyard with grapes native to the Midwest, grapes that no one had cultivated for more than 150 years.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

It was an appropriate week for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s trade expert to address a gaggle of Nebraska farmers — even if their responses tended toward frustration.

Ted McKinney arrived in Omaha on Wednesday, the day China threatened to impose tariffs on 106 U.S. products including major exports like soybeans, beef and corn. China’s move came after the Trump administration’s attempt to reign in China’s abuse of intellectual property rules by proposing tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports.

If the proposals become reality they could undermine a stagnant farm economy, and not just in Nebraska. “We have bills to pay and debts we must settle and cannot afford to lose any market,” Kansas Farm Bureau President Richard Felts said in a statement.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for extensive property damage caused as a result of recurring floods along the Missouri River. 

A group of 372 farmers, landowners and business owners in several Midwestern states filed suit against the Corps of Engineers in March 2014, alleging that the federal agency's actions contributed to five floods along the Missouri River since 2007. Senior Judge Nancy Firestone ruled on Tuesday that the Corps of Engineers was liable for damages caused by recurring floods.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media file photo

In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

Harvest's Top 10 Stories of 2017 (And A Short Note)

Dec 26, 2017
The Nebraska Sandhills are sand dunes covered by prairie grassland. The area is used primarily for cattle grazing and some farming.
Grant Gerlock / File/Harvest Public Media

We can’t get enough of year-end lists, so here are the stories that Harvest Public Media’s reporters and editors thought were interesting, thought-provoking, unique or just plain fun:

New apartments are being built in Holdrege, Nebraska, where an elementary school used to be.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In places where the unemployment rate is well below the national average — states like Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — one would think it’d be easier for communities to recruit new residents to fill open jobs.

But the housing market works against rural towns and cities where jobs often stay open because there are too few affordable homes and apartments to buy or rent, or the ones that are affordable need lots of TLC. It’s a situation that threatens to turn low unemployment from an advantage into a liability.

The tax reform proposal could benefit small-town businesses, but it could also undermine programs that support rural hospitals if the national debt grows.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Many rural businesses and farms will benefit from the tax overhaul passed Wednesday by Congress. But there’s a catch: If the changes fail to spur economic growth as intended, programs that rural areas rely on could be on the chopping block.

One provision in the massive bill, which President Trump has yet to sign into law, allows small business owners to deduct 20 percent of their business income. It also expands the deduction for small business investment — a popular provision among farmers, who can write off the cost of things like a new tractor.

Cattle gather for a drink on a ranch in Nebraska. Some cattle producer say meatpacking companies have too much control over the market and the USDA needs stronger rules to ensure fair access.
Grant Gerlock / File/Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a lawsuit that argues the federal agency must bring back a proposed rule that defined abusive practices by meatpacking companies.

Farmers from Alabama and Nebraska and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a nonprofit that works on competition issues in agriculture, filed the suit Thursday in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

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