Nebraska

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. 

Members of the Single Action Shooting Society load their rifles and pistols at the Iron Hero match, including Dannette Ray of Boulder, Colorado (left), aka Marie Laveau.
Grant Gerlock / File/Harvest Public Media

Danette Ray is standing inside a re-created train depot, wearing cowboy boots, leather chaps and two six-shooters in holsters at her waist. Before she draws her pistols to fire at a row of targets, Ray calls out: “You get back inside, I’ll cover for ya!” — a line spoken by Jimmy Stewart in the 1957 western Night Passage.

Ray, who goes by the nickname Marie Laveau, competes in cowboy action shooting, a brand of target shooting with historically accurate guns and costumes. There’s yet another dose of theater: In each round, the shooters play out a movie scene.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) waits to welcome a new appointee to the agency. The event was also supposed to include the appointment of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey (left), but his nomination is blocked in the Senate.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

An event Monday planned to mark two Midwestern political appointees joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture was partly spoiled by a political dispute over biofuels.  

Protect Pollinators, Plant Trees? Nebraska Researchers Look To Land For Answers

Oct 25, 2017
Courtesy of Judy Wu-Smart

You don't need bees and butterflies to grow corn and soybeans, but a majority of farmers do rely on pesticides, which don't discriminate between helpful and harmful insects.

The widespread use of pesticides is considered a major factor in the large-scale decline in bee populations in recent years. But it's unlikely farmers will give up or limit pesticide use, so instead, a team of researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is looking at designing agricultural landscapes with pollinator health in mind.

In other Plains and Midwestern states, researchers are having farmers plant prairie strips between fields to help combat water contamination from pesticides and fertilizer. UNL's five-year project wants to find out whether windbreaks, planted pollinator habitat, cover crops or a combination of those techniques can help limit pesticide drift.

Eric Thalken works down a row of organic corn, pulling back the husks. "There's a mindset that organic is ugly and low yielding and it just doesn't have to be," Thalken says.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Burkey Farms in southeast Nebraska looked into the future a couple of years ago and didn’t like what it saw — a continuation of depressed prices for conventional corn and soybeans. So, the families who run the farm together started discussing how the operation would make money if they couldn’t earn more from their crops.  

Their conversation took a turn toward organics, a $40 billion industry and growing, especially in Iowa and Colorado.

A grain cart collects corn harvested from one of the Hammond family's fields.
Courtesy Mary Anne Andrei

Every year on the farm has its challenges. There are weeds, insects and random hailstorms. Unpredictable global markets can make or break a profitable crop. Recent years, though, have been especially troubling for the Hammond farm in York County in eastern Nebraska.

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