In The Field

A western Illinois farmer harvests corn.
Credit Abby Wendle / File: Harvest Public Media

The people and places that make our food system go.

Ways to Connect

As the nation's dairy farmers struggle through their fourth year of depressed milk prices, concerns are rising that many are becoming depressed themselves. The outlook for the next year is so bleak, it's heightening worries — especially in the Northeast — about farmer suicides.

Agri-Mark Inc., a dairy cooperative with about 1,000 members, saw three farmers take their own lives in the past three years. The most recent was last month. It's a very small sample, but very sharp and disturbing increase.

Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Western Illinois might be close to the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, but it’s the driest part of the state this year.

“We really haven’t really had any measurable rain since the middle of October,” says Ken Schafer, who farms winter wheat, corn and soybeans in Jerseyville, north of St. Louis. “I dug some post-holes this winter, and it's just dust.”

Amy Mayer / file: Harvest Public Media

As agriculture intensified in the 20th century, summers in the Midwest became wetter and cooler.

An MIT study published this month looked at whether vegetation from crop production, rather than greenhouse gas emissions that are an established source of climate changes, could have driven these regional impacts.

Ben Kuebrich / Kansas News Service/Harvest Public Media

A new, widely debated federal mandate requires truckers to electronically track the number of hours they’re on the road — a rule that’s meant to make highways safer. But there’s a big difference between hauling a load of TVs and a load of cattle destined for meatpacking plants.

Dicamba-resistant soybeans sit in a field in rural McLean County, Illinois, in August.
Darrell Hoemann / File/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Lawsuits filed in Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri against the makers of the herbicide dicamba will be centralized in the federal court in St. Louis.

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Ligitation decided Thursday to centralize the 11 cases, which allege the herbicide caused significant damage to soybean crops. 

The FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of most foods, but anything that includes meat falls under the jurisdiction of the USDA. That includes things like the breakfast sandwiches in the frozen foods aisle of this Walmart in Lincoln, Nebraska.
File/Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The two federal agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s food safety laws agreed this week to collaborate better, update biotechnology regulations and implement new safety inspections on produce farms.

The biggest change from the agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, however, could come from a review of how food processing facilities currently are regulated by both departments. Experts say that could lead to less paperwork for food manufacturers and more streamlined reports of recalls and other food safety issues.

File/Harvest Public Media

Partisan politics may meet its match in the 2018 farm bill.

The massive legislation, versions of which will be introduced this spring in the U.S. House and Senate, is shaping up to be less about political affiliations and more about finding common ground.

Some States Establish Pesticide Buffer Zones, But None Where Much Is Sprayed: The Midwest

Jan 24, 2018
Darrell Hoemann / Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Hundreds of rural schools in Midwest states nestle against fields of corn and soybeans that are routinely sprayed with pesticides that could drift onto school grounds.

It’s a time of low unemployment across the Midwest, leading to a labor shortage that’s stunting the growth of urban and rural businesses. Given that Donald Trump campaigned on a staunchly pro-business platform, one would think he’d have instituted policies benefiting everything from high-tech startups to huge dairy operations.

Erica Hunzinger / Harvest Public Media

Since the George W. Bush administration, the federal government has doled out millions of dollars with the promise to expedite access to broadband service in remote parts of the country.

President Donald Trump is no exception, having signed an executive order earlier this month directing the government to use “all viable tools” to speed up the process to locate wireless technology on federal buildings in rural areas. Plus, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai just proposed putting a $500 million toward rural broadband.

While all political persuasions agree with the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Task Force report that broadband is critical for the economic health of a large swath of the country, experts say the devil is in the details — or lack thereof. They also say Pai’s infusion of money does little more than restore funding that previously had been cut.

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