Agriculture | St. Louis Public Radio

Agriculture

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

The trade war with China is nearly a year and a half old, and farmers say there is no end in sight.

Farmers in Missouri and Illinois will receive a second round of federal payments to make up for losses from the ongoing trade war with China. Tariffs have reduced the demand for U.S. agricultural products.

Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said the farmers he is talking to are not optimistic there will be a resolution soon.

Solar panels are showing up more often on farms. File foto from Fickr
David Goehring | Flickr

Low crop prices and an ongoing trade war limiting exports are adding to the financial struggles of farming. 

Across the nation, and in Missouri, an increasing number of farmers are looking to solar energy as a way to shore up the bottom line.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The Trump administration’s formal withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change has members of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative concerned. The organization is worried that the withdrawal could lead to U.S. commodities producers being taxed or penalized by countries that signed on to the accord, something that the European Union has signaled it would like to pursue.

The State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, has sloped auditorium-style seating and plenty of outlets to keep laptops and cell phones charged. This is where officials gather during and immediately after tornadoes and massive flooding.

It’s the center for crisis control. 

That’s why in September, this space at the Iowa National Guard headquarters became the incident command center for a four day simulation exercise to test how well prepared Iowa and the other top pork-producing states are for an African swine fever outbreak.

Midwestern Farm Runoff Creates Headache For Louisiana Shrimpers

Oct 17, 2019
Shrimper Thomas Olander inspects one of the nets on his boat. Olander says the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico makes shrimping tougher. 10/16/19
Travis Lux | New Orleans Public Radio

It’s only midmorning, but shrimper Thomas Olander is already calling it quits for the day in a small bayou in St. Mary Parish, on the central Louisiana coast.

There aren’t enough shrimp out there — especially the highly sought-after jumbo shrimp that fetch the highest prices at the market.

“It's just not worth it,” Olander said, of his morning burning fuel, supplies and time.

Sarah Schlafly, co-founder of Mighty Cricket, measures cricket powder on March 14, 2019 for a batch of dark cocoa oatmeal at Urban Eats Cafe.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

According to projections by the United Nations, our current food system won’t adequately sustain the 9 billion people expected to be living on Earth by 2050. Protein, the most resource-intensive ingredient in food, will be especially hard to produce.

St. Louis resident Sarah Schlafly is keenly aware of that fact. That’s why she started Mighty Cricket, a startup that produces food products including powdered, roasted crickets.

Crickets are a protein source comparable to animal protein. They can also be farmed in small spaces within an urban setting. Schlafly predicts that this food source will become quite affordable roughly 30 years from now, right around when animal protein will likely be more expensive and harder to come by.

Most farmers haven't had a single good year since President Trump took office, and Trump’s policies on trade, immigration and ethanol are part of the problem.

Yet farmers, who broadly supported Trump in 2016, are sticking with him as the impeachment inquiry moves forward.

“You see everyone circling their wagons now, and the farm community is no different in that,” says John Herath, the news director at Farm Journal.

A concentrated animal feeding operation consisting of black and white dairy cows all in a row, feeding from a trough.
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service

The state of Missouri can begin taking over the regulation of large livestock operations from county and local representatives. 

A Cole County judge last week lifted a temporary injunction that had been blocking a law that transfers that regulatory power from counties to the state since last month.

Holly Bickmeyer and cattle on the small farm she manages. She wants control over large livestock operations to stay local. Sept 9., 2019
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Holly Bickmeyer is worried about what a large livestock operation would do if it moves in next door. 

She points to the small lake in front of her house on the 20-head cattle farm she operates in Maries County.

“Sinkholes open up all the time,” Bickmeyer said. “You see the lake that’s in my front yard here? If somebody builds a hog operation at the end of my driveway, I would be concerned about that waste getting into the groundwater and I walk out one day and all my bass are dead.”

Bickmeyer said that’s why she wants her local county commissioners to decide if concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as CAFOs, can locate nearby. 

Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States.
Mike Mozart |Flickr

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, is manufactured by Monsanto-Bayer. Depending on whom you talk to, it’s either a safe, highly effective herbicide, or it’s a dangerous substance linked to cancer cases from use by farmers and landscapers.

Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with author Carey Gillam, who will give a presentation Friday at Washington University titled “Monsanto Trials and Monsanto Papers.” Gillam has investigated the topic of agrochemical safety and corporate interests for more than 20 years.

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.

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