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Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Iowa Farmer Invents 'Cluster Cluck 5000' To Bring Livestock Back To Crop Fields

Zack Smith pats the snout of a pig that stretches up to greet him from inside the back pen of a mobile barn. On this field, Smith planted alternating sections of corn and pasture, to test an experiment he calls “stock cropping.” “This is our answer for putting diversification and multiple species back on the land,” he says. “And we’re going to have a four-ring circus, was my idea, of animals parading through, grazing and laying their manure down.”

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Seth Bodine / Harvest Public Media

Pumpkin patches and corn mazes are common on the outskirts of cities, but even more rural areas are getting in on the action. 

Dana Cronin

En las afueras de Rantoul, en el centro-este de Illinois, unos 100 trabajadores agrícolas migrantes están viviendo en un viejo hotel localizado en una parte tranquila de la ciudad.

 

Michael Leland / Iowa Public Radio file photo

Farmers are wrapping up the harvest in much of the Corn Belt and finally seeing how much they can get out of derecho-damaged fields. The August windstorm slammed 3.6 million acres of corn in Iowa alone, leaving some stalks almost flat on the ground and many others standing with a pronounced tilt.

At the time, agronomists said the angle of damage would influence whether the grain could be harvested and they couldn’t predict how much the injured plants would yield. 

United States Drought Monitor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Much of the Great Plains is experiencing drought: So far, at least half of Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa, and Oklahoma are abnormally dry, with large areas experiencing severe drought.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

A propane tank painted to look like a watermelon sits in front of a produce stand on Highway 150 in Fayette County, Iowa. Its long-time owner, Atrus (Attie) Stepp, who was Black, launched Fayette’s annual Watermelon Days festival in 1976.

“Everybody’s got good things to say about Attie,” said Charles Downs, who runs the stand now. 

Downs, who is white, bought the stand from Stepp’s daughter, ending the family’s long legacy. 

“Conservatively, I’d say it’s been here 80 years, at least, and it’s probably... maybe a hundred,” Downs said.

Dana Cronin

 

On the outskirts of Rantoul, in east-central Illinois, about 100 migrant farmworkers are living at an old hotel in a sleepy part of town.

 

Every day at the crack of dawn, Samuel Gomez and the rest of the crew get their temperatures checked on the way out the door. Most workers, donning masks, load onto a big yellow school bus for a 30-minute drive to a large warehouse, where they will spend the day sorting corn coming in on large conveyor belts.

 

Jonathan Ahl / Harvest Public Media

The U-S Department of Agriculture is projecting farm income will increase significantly this year, but that’s only because of an unprecedented amount of government payments that could top $40 billion.

The latest Farm Income Report from the USDA shows net farm will total $102 billion, a 23% increase over last year. But 36% of that money is coming from federal subsidies intended to make up for coronavirus losses.

Without that aid, net farm income would be down more than $10 billion this year.

Jonathan Ahl / Harvest Public Media

Farmers are looking closely at what they might be able to expect from four more years of Donald Trump versus a Joe Biden administration, but they aren't finding a lot of solid answers. And any difference may not matter, anyway.

To evaluate Donald Trump’s agriculture position, the best evidence is his actions and policies over the past 3 1/2 years. 

The highlight of that time has been creating a series of tariffs that has led to retaliation and a trade war with China and other countries, largely hurting foreign markets for farmers.

Christina Stella / Harvest Public Media

So far, 2020 has not been kind to beef producers. Farmers and economists say the food system fielded a one-two punch that triggered huge market disruptions and losses. 

 

When the pandemic closed restaurants and schools, which account for a little over half of food prepared in the U.S., demand shifted, sending cattle prices tumbling even as shoppers were stocking up. And after COVID-19 closed some of beef’s big-name meatpacking plants, cattle sales slowed and farmers found themselves forced to feed cattle for longer than planned.

Dana Cronin

In the midst of what has otherwise been a heavy, unrelenting year, many Midwesterners have found solace in the dirt.

 

So-called “COVID gardens” have popped up all over the country since the beginning of the pandemic with more people working from home and becoming self-reliant in the wake of food supply disruptions.

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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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