Soybeans

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers know every year they’re going to encounter surprises from things out of their control, like drought or pests.

This year, great growing conditions led to a bin-busting soybean harvest, but a tit-for-tat exchange of tariffs with China meant that country went from being a major buyer to virtually ignoring U.S. soybeans.

The fields and back roads of eastern Arkansas were a crime scene this past summer. State inspectors stopped alongside fields to pick up dying weeds. They tested the liquids in farmers' pesticide sprayers. In many cases, they found evidence that farmers were using a banned pesticide. Dozens of farmers could face thousands of dollars in fines.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Michael McEnany always knew he wanted to be a farmer. Both of his grandfathers were, and he “always loved tagging along with my Grandpa Ed.”

Both of his parents chose ag-related careers, but neither of them went back to the farms they’d grown up on. Still, McEnany’s done nothing but farm for more than a decade. Starting part-time in college, he worked his way up to a full-time, year-round job on Steve Henry’s corn and soybean operation in Nevada, Iowa.

Mike Hayes and I are sitting on the patio of Blue Bank Resort, the business he owns on Reelfoot Lake, in Tennessee. The sun is going down. It's beautiful.

What really catches your eye here is the cypress trees. They line the lake, and thousands of them are standing right in the water. Hayes tells me that they are more than 200 years old.

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

The details of the federal government’s $12 billion aid package for farmers affected by trade disputes are out — and soybean farmers are the major beneficiaries.

Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Farmers in a federal class-action lawsuit filed two main complaints this week against agro-chemical giants Monsanto and BASF regarding the herbicide dicamba, which is blamed for millions of acres of crop damage, especially to soybeans, over the last couple years.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

After months of verbally sparring with trade partners, the United States is poised to implement wide-reaching tariffs Friday on imported goods, and one in particular has the agriculture economy on edge: soybeans.

The order came in April. China's government instructed farmers in the country's northeastern breadbasket region to grow more soybeans, calling it "a political priority."

But soybean fields lay empty in the village of Sandaogou, which means "Three Ditches," in Liaoning province. It has been a dry spring.

"We've had a drought this year, so we planted soybeans late. The seedlings should be out by now. We need more rain," says farmer Liu, who only gives her surname for fear of trouble with local authorities. Soy, after all, has become "political."

Farmers Face Tough Choice On Controversial Weed Killer Dicamba

Mar 14, 2018
Nicole Erwin / Ohio Valley ReSource

Jeff McGrew stood in line with about 30 other western Kentucky farmers awaiting certification that they’ve been trained to apply the herbicide dicamba. The two-hour session explained the Environmental Protection Agency’s new restrictions on use of the controversial herbicide.

The session left McGrew uncertain about whether to use the spray.

“I'm undecided right now but I'm leaning towards not spraying it,” he said. “I don't think in our area we're going to have much of any place that there will be enough area that we won't have buffer zones or other sensitive crops and I'm not sure that it's going to work out for us.”

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.

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