Agriculture

Reporting from Harvest Public Media’s Bill Wheelhouse.

Farmers across the country received more than $17 billion in federal crop insurance payouts after last year’s drought. A report released Tuesday by an environmental group blames farmers for not doing enough to shield the soil against the heat.

(Veronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio)

Comprehensive immigration reform is critical to sustaining the Midwest’s role as a global leader in agriculture.

That’s the message from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack told St. Louis Public Radio today that moving forward with the immigration reform plan recently passed by the U.S. Senate is key to retaining international talent that comes to this country to study in the plant sciences.

The Senate voted Monday to approve its version of the farm bill, a massive spending measure that covers everything from food stamps to crop insurance and sets the nation's farm policy for the next five years.

The centerpiece of that policy is an expanded crop insurance program, designed to protect farmers from losses, that some say amounts to a highly subsidized gift to agribusiness. That debate is set to continue as the House plans to take up its version of the bill this month.

Last year's drought wreaked havoc on farmers' fields in much of the Midwest, cutting crop yields and forcing livestock producers to cull their herds. This spring, the rain that farmers needed so badly in 2012 has finally returned. But maybe too much, and at the wrong time.

It's almost the end of April, which is prime time to plant corn. But farmers need a break in the rain so they can get this year's crops in the ground and try to lock in good yields at harvest.

NPR has just released a project which tells the stories of nearly 180 people who have been killed in grain-related entrapments at federally regulated facilities since 1984. These stories include those of Missourians and Illinoisans, including 2 teenagers. Explore the full project via the link.

Local Food May Feel Good, But It Doesn't Pay

Mar 18, 2013

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

These days, farmers markets are springing up all over the place, from small towns to big cities. Locally grown food is booming, as shoppers invest more time, money and thought into what they eat. But not all is well in the local food movement.

As St. Louis Public Radio's Adam Allington reports, many of the farmers who supply local markets are barely getting by.

ADAM ALLINGTON, BYLINE: It's a chilly March morning in Elsah, Illinois, near the banks of the Mississippi. But inside Amy Cloud's greenhouse it's toasty warm.

Two rapid-fire snowstorms belted Kansas with more than 2 feet of snow this week. They caused thousands of accidents and all kinds of hardships — but they also produced very broad smiles from some quarters.

That's because in a place as dry as Kansas has been lately, a blizzard can be a blessing for farmers and ranchers.

(Dan Charles/NPR)

Updated on Tuesday, February 19, at 6:10 p.m. to add quote from Bowman.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a legal battle between St. Louis-based Monsanto and a 75-year-old Indiana farmer.

The case revolves around whether Vernon Hugh Bowman violated Monsanto's patent rights when he bought seeds from a grain elevator and planted them.

When Wal-Mart calls, Herman Farris always finds whatever the retailer wants, even if it's yucca root in the dead of winter. Farris is a produce broker in Columbia, Mo., who has been buying for Wal-Mart from auctions and farms since the company began carrying fruits and vegetables in the early 1990s.

During the summer and fall, nearly everything Farris delivers is grown in Missouri. That's Wal-Mart's definition of "local" — produce grown and sold in the same state. In winter, it's a bit tougher to source locally.

Future Farms Of America Might Not Include Much Family

Jan 31, 2013

It may sound like a line from The Godfather, but some agricultural specialists advise that farming isn't personal; it's business. And family farms need to think and act more like a business to survive in a competitive world, says Bernie Erven, professor emeritus in the department of agricultural economics at Ohio State University.

Veronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio

Japan's decision to ease restrictions on U.S. beef imports will provide a boost to the American meat industry, but tight supplies may limit how much exports can grow this year.

Beef producers hope to restore Japanese sales to where they were before the first case of mad cow disease was found in the United States in 2003.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill commended Japan’s decision to ease restrictions on U.S. beef imports, saying it will be a boost for Missouri's economy.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

The worst U.S. drought in decades sizzled farmland last year and cost Illinois its spot as the nation's second-biggest corn producer.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report on 2012 crops shows that Illinois slumped to fourth among corn-producing states. It was overtaken by Minnesota and Nebraska, while Iowa still heads the pack.

The USDA says Illinois farmers produced 1.3 billion bushels of corn in 2012. That's down from 1.9 billion bushels each of the previous two years.

Harvest Public Media's Abbie Fentress Swanson takes a look at why investors are increasingly drawn to putting their monetary green toward farmland - even if they've never grown anything green before. Swanson's colleague Charles Minshew also created a map which shows the priciest plots of farmland in Missouri. Explore it all via the link.

After one of the driest summers on record, recent rains have helped in some parts of the country. But overall, the drought has still intensified. The latest tracking classifies more than a fifth of the contiguous United States in "extreme or exceptional" drought, the worst ratings.

In some parts of the Lower Midwest, water-starved crops have collapsed, but the farmers have not. Farmers across the country are surviving, and many are even thriving. This year, despite the dismal season, farmers stand to make exceptionally good money, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

(via Friends of Shane Schoeller)

Agricultural interests are being highlighted in the Missouri Secretary of State’s race this week.

Republican nominee Shane Schoeller is conducting a “Farm Values Tour” across the state, in which he’s reviving memories of the recent battle over dog breeding regulations.  He says his Democratic opponent, Jason Kander, would follow in Robin Carnahan’s footsteps in writing ballot summaries that could greatly harm farmers who also breed dogs.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

Will be updated.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has extended the state of emergency related to the drought that has gripped the state for most of the summer. 

Yes, organics is a $29 billion industry and still growing. Something is pulling us toward those organic veggies that are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

But if you're thinking that organic produce will help you stay healthier, a new finding may come as a surprise. A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds scant evidence of health benefits from organic foods.

This summer's drought has hit more than half the states in the country. Crops are suffering, but farmers might not be. Most farmers have crop insurance.

U.S. taxpayers spend about $7 billion a year on crop insurance. It's our largest farm subsidy.

And this subsidy goes in part to farmers — who will tell you themselves they aren't so sure about the whole idea. "I have an aversion to it," says Jim Traub, a corn and bean farmer in Fairbury, Illinois. "But you're not going to turn it down."

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

Updated 5:35 p.m. with updated figures.

Gov. Jay Nixon says the state has approved about 4,900 requests from farmers for help in improving their water supplies amid Missouri's extreme drought.

The emergency program provides for the state to pay 90 percent, rather than the usual 75 percent, of the cost of drilling or deepening a well or expanding an irrigation system. The state's share is capped at $20,000 per project.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

A University of Missouri veterinary professor says farmers need to be careful when feeding drought-damaged corn to their livestock.

Tom Evans is an associate professor of veterinary pathobiology at the university's College of Veterinary Medicine. He says nitrate levels can accumulate in drought-stressed corn and pose a risk to animal health.

Many farmers across the Midwest are abandoning ruined corn crops and salvaging what they can to feed to their animals, especially cattle.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

The U.S. Agriculture Department is predicting what could be the lowest average corn yield in more than 15 years as the worst drought in decades scorches major farm states.

Garry Niemeyer farms 1,200 acres of corn and 800 acres of soybeans near Auburn, Ill. He says he's "totally stunned" to have corn with green stalks and leaves after going through weeks of 105-degree temperatures.

ollesvensson / Flickr

With hotter-than-usual temperatures, orchards in southern Illinois are reporting their apple crops are weeks ahead of schedule.

Tom Range of Braeutigam Orchards in Belleville says they picked Gala apples last week. Normally they pick them in the middle of August.

Another surprise this year - the sugar content of the fruit is very high, making for sweeter fruit.

Sherry Chase of Mills Apple Farm in Marine explains that the apples "tend to be sweeter because the sugars are more concentrated."

(Adam Allington/St. Louis Public Radio)

A new report from the United States Department of Agriculture shows the ongoing drought has caused the nation's cattle herd to shrink by more than 2 million head so far this year.

Analysts project the dry weather will impact prices in the checkout aisle.

Today, we have two reports on the effects of the 2012 drought.  In this combined feature, Adam Allington takes a look at the region's corn farmers.

But first, St. Louis Public Radio's Tim Lloyd reports on the agonizing choices faced by Missouri cattle ranchers.      

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

More money is being put into an emergency program to aid farmers and ranchers battling water shortages in Missouri.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) has added $5 million to the $2 million set aside for crop and livestock producers who want to drill new wells or deepen existing ones during the ongoing drought.  More than 600 applications have been sent in since the program’s announcement on Tuesday.

Stop by most any unirrigated farm across the lower Midwest and you'll see crops in distress. Midwestern corn and soybean farmers are taking a beating during the recent drought, but it's not likely to drive many out of business.

Most of those farmers carry terrific insurance, and the worse the drought becomes, the more individual farmers will be paid for their lost crops. The federal government picks up most of the cost of the crop insurance program, and this year that bill is going to be a whopper.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

Dry conditions are expected to get worse in the coming days, and it will take a whole lot more than scattered thunderstorms to break the drought. 

“We’re way, way, way below normal in rainfall,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Fred Glass said.  “Most of the area is in severe drought conditions, it’s going to quite a bit of rain to make that up, probably in many areas 8-12 inches, and in some areas in excess of 12 inches.”

Malory Ensor/KOMU News - via Flickr

Both of Missouri’s Senators have signed a letter asking agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack to declare almost all of the state a disaster area due to drought conditions.

The federal Farm Service Agency recently found that every county except St. Louis city met the requirements for that declaration. It would open up emergency loans and expand the places where ranchers can graze their cattle.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

Gov. Jay Nixon has asked the federal government to declare 114 Missouri counties agriculture disaster areas because of drought conditions.

Nixon's office says in a release that if the counties are designated as agriculture disasters, farmers in those counties would be able to receive assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. The federal aid would also include emergency loans for losses to crops and livestock from the ongoing drought.

(via Flickr/Indofunk Satish)

Early drought exacting a toll on regional corn farmers

Extreme heat and drought are driving down what many farmers expected to be a bumper corn crop.  

Back in March and April, warm weather had Midwestern farmers planting corn at a record setting pace.

In Illinois alone, an estimated more than 13 million acres of corn were planted this year.  

Now, many growers are in full on damage control as record setting heat continues to drive down expected yields.

Gov. Jay Nixon wants federal agriculture officials to determine whether heat and drought conditions are taking a toll on Missouri's crops and livestock. The National Climatic Data Center says moderate drought conditions persist across nearly 87 percent of Missouri. And extreme drought conditions exist in southeast Missouri.

Pages