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Why Even Corn Can Get A Bad Night Of Sleep

In 2020, a stubborn enemy emerged for corn farmers across the Great Plains: drought. Today, about half of the U.S. is in drought , with large swaths of Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois impacted. A little dry or warm weather can be a boon for getting work done on the farm. Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the U.S. National Drought Center, says, for example, farmers in many pockets of the region enjoyed a rainless, temperate September, allowing them to finish harvest in record time...

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Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media file photo

Despite COVID-19 risks and high unemployment rates last year, employers wanted to fill more jobs filled with H-2A guest workers in 2020.

Usually, high unemployment rates decrease the demand for H-2A workers. Diane Charlton, a professor of agricultural economics at Montana State University, says a 1% increase in a state’s unemployment rate is associated with a 5% decrease in demand for H-2A workers, according to a recent study. She says that trend didn't hold up in 2020. 

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

While president-elect Joe Biden has been under pressure to choose a very diverse and forward-thinking cabinet, he’s gone back in time for his nomination to be Secretary of Agriculture.

His pick, Tom Vilsack, served in that position for all eight years of the Obama administration. And while some see the choice as safe and a good compromise, others from both sides of the political spectrum are not happy.

“I was not impressed with Vilsack,” said Darvin Brantledge, a cattle and corn farmer who owns a 1,200-acre plot of land in western Missouri and who voted for Biden.

Courtesy of Meyer Agri-Air

In late July 2019, a group of migrant farmworkers from south Texas was working in a cornfield in DeWitt County, Ill., when suddenly a crop duster flew overhead, spraying them with pesticides. Panicked, the crew, which included teenagers and a pregnant woman, ran off the field with clothes doused in pesticides. Their eyes and throats burned and some had trouble breathing.

It happened again two weeks later, this time twice within 30 minutes.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to choose Tom Vilsack as the new U.S. secretary of agriculture. 

Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, previously served in the position for eight years during the Obama administration. He’s the longest-serving person in the position since Orville Freeman left in 1969. 

Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, likes Vilsack’s years of experience. 

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

In October, Purdue University’s Ag Economy Barometer recorded its highest-ever index, meaning farmers were at an all-time high level of optimism.

However, that number dropped off significantly in November, due in large part to the presidential election.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media file photo

Balance sheets for farms may look better at the end of 2020 than they have in years. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest forecast

Some expenses have been lower this year, like diesel to power farm equipment, interest on bank loans and livestock. 

When it comes to identifying cows, Jake Calvert, a rancher from Norman, OK, goes by the KISS Principle: keep it simple, stupid. 

“Green is for grade cattle. Pink is for our purebred cows, and that's because all of them exhibit just a little bit more femininity than our grade cattle. Yellow is the bull,” Calvert says.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, ethanol producers feared the worst: a world indefinitely stuck at home. As Americans hunkered down for lockdowns, gasoline demand across the country plummeted.

Ethanol industry leaders issued warnings that the financial repercussions of widespread lockdowns could be significant to plants across the country. They later reported half of the nation’s facilities were forced to shut down.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Fifteen Asian-Pacific countries signed a massive trade deal that brings together China, Japan, and South Korea together as trading partners for the first time. The agreement, signed Nov. 15, is one of the largest regional free trade agreements ever penned.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership  excludes the United States and India in a move that some say strengthens China’s global trade standing. Analysts say the deal also expands the China’s ability to buy agricultural commodities from places besides the U.S.

Sean Locke / Digital Planet Design LLC

Many families are heeding the advice of health officials and inviting fewer people to Thanksgiving dinner. The trend has hurt turkey sales, especially for national producers.

But small organic and free-range turkey farmers may be faring better because of a loyal customer base that may be sticking closer to home than usual.

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Change At The Climate Divide

Farms and communities are struggling to adapt as climate change has moved the line dividing the arid west and the rain-soaked east.

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