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Christina Stella / Harvest Public Media

The Latest Generation Gap In Farming Is About Robots

On a recent bright, clear day in eastern Nebraska, a small red machine crept through a lush field of soybeans. From the highway, it looked like a small tractor. Up close, its mess of wires came into focus. So did the laptop strapped to the back. This is the Flex-Ro (Flexible Robotic Unit), one of several robots across the world being designed and tested to help farmers maximize crop yield, use fewer pesticides, and manage the industry’s dwindling labor market.

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Cooking With Kudzu, The So-Called 'Vine That Ate The South'

Sep 17, 2019
Justin Holt / Kudzu Root Camp

Kudzu, an east Asian vine, was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800s as an ornamental plant and an erosion-control technique.

Now, it’s considered one of most prolific and damaging invasive plant species in the U.S. The vine can grow a foot a day, covering whole trees, fields, and telephone poles. It’s beginning to expand to landscapes as far-flung as Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon.

MANHATTAN, Kansas — A bus filled with livestock industry representatives from South America, Australia, Africa and Europe drove past rows of pens and concrete feed bunks in central Kansas this week.

They held their phones and cameras up to the windows as a wave of cattle lifted their heads and stared back. Dump trucks full of feed shared the roads with cowboys on horses.

Half of the tour group, who had come to Kansas State University for the 9th Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock Conference, had never visited an industrial-sized feedlot.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media file photo

The national average price for corn this season is back to $3.60 a bushel, about where it’s been most of this year except for an early-season spike ($4.16 in July) before the size and quality of the crop was known. 

That’s not great news for corn growers, and for the ethanol part of the market, the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates are even worse.

The Trump administration is changing the definition of what qualifies as "waters of the United States," tossing out an Obama-era regulation that had enhanced protections for wetlands and smaller waterways.

Thursday's rollback is the first step in a process that will allow the Trump administration to create its own definition of which waters deserve federal protection. A new rule is expected to be finalized this winter.

This June the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its plan to move two of its research agencies out of Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area. Most of the people working at the agencies have since quit, leaving gaping holes in critical divisions. Researchers warn that the agency upheaval will starve farmers, policymakers and ultimately consumers out of the best possible information about food and the business of growing it.

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. 

Christina Stella

It’s a difficult year for many farmers in the United States.  A wet spring flooded crops and delayed planting across the Midwest, while trade conflicts with China and other countries continue to wreak chaos on incomes.

For some farms, this year’s losses, even with federal trade-relief payments, will force them to file for Chapter 12 bankruptcy. And that's easier now that a new law raised the level of debt allowed for a Chapter 12 filing.

WICHITA, Kansas — Large industrial operations — think electrical power plants, oil refineries, ethanol facilities —cough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the ton. That, in turn, warms the planet.

But now some researchers think Kansas could be a good place to pump the gas underground rather than up in the air.

Christina Stella / Harvest Public Media

Over the last two years, Rob Van Vleet has been slowly scrapping the last vestiges of Kimball, Nebraska’s first wind farm. The wind turbines are made to be sturdy, he said, but they don’t last forever — about 20 years.

Missouri's H-2A Housing Inspections Missed Deficiencies For Years

Aug 28, 2019
Julia Hansen / Columbia Missourian/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Missouri’s process of inspecting migrant farmworkers’ housing is riddled with holes and easily abused, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and the Columbia Missourian.

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