Agriculture | St. Louis Public Radio

Agriculture

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Eric Meusch, who farms 240 acres just outside Rolla, didn’t have health insurance for seven years until he recently got another job.

“We signed up for a plan under the Affordable Care Act right when it was passed. But two years later, we couldn’t afford the premiums,” Meusch said, speaking to U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, on the porch of his home last week.

Sci-fi writers have long warned about the dangers of modifying organisms. They come in forms ranging from accidentally creating a plague of killer locusts (1957) to recreating dinosaurs with added frog genes (2015).

Now, with researchers looking to even more advanced gene-editing technology to protect crops, they’ll have to think about how to present that tech to a long-skeptical public. 

Friday is the deadline for U.S.-China trade talks. If they fail and China's 25-percent tariff on soybeans goes into effect, Missouri farmers will feel the impact.
jasonippolito | Flickr

Rural bank presidents in a 10-state area including Missouri and Illinois said the Trump administration’s trade war is hurting their local economies. And while they still back the president in getting tough on China, that support is waning. 

The information comes from Ernie Goss, professor of economics at Creighton University, who surveys small-town bank presidents to get their take on the local economy. 

State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick on Thursday announced a low-interest loan program to help small-business owners and farmers who have suffered losses from storms and flooding this year.

LIFT (Linked Deposits to Invest and Fund a Timely Recovery) offers loans of up to $2 million for those affected by natural disasters. 

Josh Davis tends to his American mulefoot hogs on his farm in Pocahontas, Illinois on September 15, 2018.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

At the end of 2018, Green Finned Hippy Farm in Pocahontas, Illinois, decided to stop selling its meat and poultry at farmers markets.

The reason, according to co-owner Alicia Davis, is she and her partner Joshua were spending a large amount of time driving their products to markets and explaining the farm’s practices, but only a few patrons would actually buy anything. They decided to pursue other ways of reaching customers, which included joining the Missouri Coalition for the Environment’s Known & Grown campaign that launched this month.

By The Numbers: Glyphosate Use In The Midwest For Corn, Soybeans

May 28, 2019

Glyphosate is the most-used pesticide on U.S. crops, an estimated 287 million pounds in 2016, according to an analysis by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

The Midwest saw 65 percent of the nation’s total agriculture glyphosate use on crops, a 12-state territory that includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota.

Use Of Controversial Weed Killer Glyphosate Skyrockets On Midwest Fields

May 28, 2019

Farmers have been using the weed killer glyphosate – a key ingredient of the product Roundup – at soaring levels even as glyphosate has become increasingly less effective and as health concerns and lawsuits mount.

Nationwide, the use of glyphosate on crops increased from 13.9 million pounds in 1992 to 287 million pounds in 2016, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Floodwaters on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers may be going down, but rain has continued to soak farmland around much of the state. More rain could be on the way later this month.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is expected to make a federal disaster declaration this week, which can’t come too soon for farmers and others needing assistance after devastating floods.

A large area of northwestern Missouri near the state lines of Nebraska and Iowa is still underwater following the flooding caused by a “bomb cyclone” that hit in mid-March.

Jen Hobbs is the author of "American Hemp: How Growing Our Newest Cash Crop Can Improve Our Health, Clean Our Environment, And Slow Climate Change."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In December 2018, O’Fallon, Missouri-based author Jen Hobbs was about to hand off the full manuscript for her now-released book arguing for the legalization and potential of hemp. Then something completely unexpected happened in Washington.

“The 2018 Farm Bill passed with hemp legalization from the federal government, and they did that right in the middle of the government shutdown,” Hobbs recalled on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “So it was pretty miraculous.”

Since hemp had long been listed among Schedule 1 narcotics, Hobbs had some significant revising to do before publishing “American Hemp: How Growing Our Newest Cash Crop Can Improve Our Health, Clean Our Environment, And Slow Climate Change,” which was released this week.

Farmers along the Missouri River and its tributaries are still assessing damage from recent flooding.

But beyond the farms in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, there’s visible evidence that the impacts are far-reaching and long-lasting — closed interstates and rerouted trains — key cogs in a global agriculture economy.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said this week that that a long-anticipated program for dairy farmers will be available June 17, with payments possibly coming as soon as early July.

An invasive species in Missouri is causing damage to the landscape, threatening native species and spreading disease.  The Missouri Department of Conservation, on its website, calls feral hogs “a menace that must be destroyed.”

Last year, MDC eliminated more than 9300 feral hogs in the state.  The goal is to completely eradicate them in Missouri.

A soybean research plot.
Claire Benjamin/RIPE Project

A recent study from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center suggests that rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels could have opposing effects on nutrients in soybeans.

About two billion people globally suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies, according to the World Health Organization. Many communities that deal with this problem rely on soybeans and other legume crops to be their source of essential nutrients. As a recent report from the White House noted, climate change will cause temperatures to rise past productive levels for corn and soybeans.

Scientists at the Danforth Center, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the U.S. Department of Agriculture examined the effects of raising carbon dioxide levels and temperatures by three degrees Celsius on soybean plants. They found that while carbon dioxide raised soybean yields and lowered iron and zinc levels, hotter temperatures lowered yields and raised mineral levels.

Dicamba, the controversial herbicide used on soybeans and cotton, is responsible for thousands of acres of damaged crops in recent years.

Experts say that despite new federal rules that go into effect in 2019, the drift will continue but the victims will be different.

St. Louis Public Radio's science and environment reporter Eli Chen and John Hickey, director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, joined Thursday's segment to talk about the effects climate change is having in the region.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

A national climate report issued Friday predicts a bleak picture for the state and region as a result of climate change: increased flooding, hotter temperatures and intensified storms – all of which can hurt the agriculture industry, infrastructure and human productivity.

St. Louis Public Radio's science and environment reporter Eli Chen joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to expand on how climate change is affecting the state, as well as what is being done to try and prevent its most harmful effects.

An illustration of climate change's impacts in St. Louis, Missouri.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

A national climate report released last Friday from 13 federal agencies predicts increased flooding and hotter temperatures in Midwestern states like Missouri — and that unless carbon emissions are significantly reduced, changing climate patterns could be costly.

Pat Westhoff (at left), director of the University of Missouri's Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, and Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, joined Monday's program.
Pat Westhoff & Missouri Farm Bureau

Recent trade disputes between the Trump administration and China have had a heavy impact on farmers in Missouri, where the soybean industry dwarfs other crops in terms of acreage and production value.

“[China accounts] for something like 60 percent of total U.S. soybean sales in a typical year,” Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “So losing a chunk of that market’s a very big deal.”

Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, told host Don Marsh that he and fellow farmers have been directly experiencing the fiscal consequences this year, including a 20 percent drop in soybean prices.

Forecasters say the El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean should lead to slightly warmer and wetter conditions across the Midwest this winter. That’s good news for some farmers who struggled with drought over the summer.

Cattle farmers across Missouri are facing conditions that could allow for heightened fescue foot in cow herds.

Fescue foot is a condition caused by ingesting Kentucky 31 fescue grass that has been poisoned during growth after a drought. Fescue foot can immobilize cows and cause hoof loss.

“We expect it to be worse than in previous years,” MU Extension specialist Craig Roberts said.

When a herd faces fescue foot, it affects more than just a few cows.

From left, Vijay Chauhan, Natalie DiNicola and Dena Ladd discussed gene-editing technology on this Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Gene editing – a novel technique consisting of editing, replacing or deleting gene sequences – is a growing practice in the St. Louis area.

This new ability to redefine and reconstruct organisms at the genetic level is quickly influencing research in a variety of fields, including medicine, agriculture and industry.

The high-desert town of Palisade, Colorado, is synonymous with fresh, locally grown peaches. Years ago, thousands of migrant workers would flock here each year in August to harvest the fuzzy fruit. But today, on its narrow dirt roads, Bruce Talbott drives a truck loaded down with 9 tons of wine grapes.

Josh Davis tends to his American mulefoot hogs on his farm in Pocahontas, Illinois on September 15, 2018.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Josh Davis likes to name his pigs after flowers: Petunia, Iris, Violet and Daisy.

That’s not the only thing that sets him apart as a hog farmer.

For the past three years, Davis and his wife, Alicia, have been raising one of the rarest pig breeds in the world on their farm in Pocahontas, Illinois. The American mulefoot hog was a popular breed in the Midwest in the early 1900s, but now, there are only a few hundred left. The Davises are among a small group of farmers hoping to revive the breed by putting it back on the menu.

Logan Chrislaw heards cattle on Monday, September 3, 2018 at his farm in Howard County, Mo. Chrislaw began farming with his father about eight years ago.
Jennifer Mosbrucker | special to St. Louis Public Radio

Despite recent rainfall, more than half of Missouri is still in a drought, hitting hard at one of the state’s key economic engines: agriculture.

Missouri hay — the primary feed for livestock — has hit its lowest production levels in 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ideally, each acre of pasture produces two tons of hay a year, which would be two of those large circular rolls often seen in farm fields. In 1988, the average acre in Missouri only yielded 1.2 tons, and this year it’s been 1.5 tons.

Ag Innovation Showcase marks 10th anniversary

Sep 10, 2018
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

More than 400 researchers, entrepreneurs and investors are expected to attend Ag Innovation Showcase this week, the 10th year it’s been hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The three-day event has been described as part research conference, part Shark Tank competition, where startups pitch the latest technology to improve crop yields that are safe for farmers, consumers and the environment.

A cornfield outside of Valmeyer, Illinois. Aug 31, 2018
Brian Heffernan | St. Louis Public Radio

Researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center want to learn how a changing climate could affect the fertility of corn and other major crops.

Scientists at the Danforth Center, Stanford University and the University of Delaware have received a $3.5-million grant from the National Science Foundation to take a closer look at anthers in maize plants. Anthers — the male reproductive part of the plant — generate pollen.

A field of rye
Stephen Ausmus | U.S. Department of Agriculture

Farmers and ranchers in Missouri could help cut the state’s contribution to climate change by using practices that store carbon from the atmosphere in the soil, according to a climate science report released this month.

In Missouri, many farmers use no-till or reduced-till practices, which means not using mechanical equipment to overturn the soil. They do this to improve soil health and prevent erosion, but research also shows that no-till farming can store carbon in the soil. Missouri could cut carbon dioxide emissions further if farmers adopted more practices that not only enhances soil quality, but also promotes carbon sequestration, concludes the report from Climate Central, a nonprofit climate science group.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Soybean growers in the Midwest are caught in the middle of an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China.

China retaliated against the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese products Friday by imposing $34 billion in tariffs on hundreds of American goods, including soybeans. Analysts say the added expense of China’s 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans will effectively block the product from entering the Chinese market.

Friday is the deadline for U.S.-China trade talks. If they fail and China's 25-percent tariff on soybeans goes into effect, Missouri farmers will feel the impact.
jasonippolito | Flickr

Soybean farmers across the Midwest are on the frontlines of a looming trade war between the U.S. and China. The first shots could be fired this week if negotiations fail.

Each country is prepared to impose $34 billion in tariffs on the other’s exports if no agreement is reached by the July 6 deadline.

The Senate took a crucial step Thursday to making sure that, among other things, the hungry are fed, farmers have crop price protections and land is preserved beyond Sept. 30 — that is, the day the farm bill expires.

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