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

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

U.S farmers have long depended on foreign buyers for some of their corn, soybeans, pork and other products. And federal officials have used some agricultural commodities as tools of diplomacy for decades.

But as the Trump administration has pursued hard-line moves with major trading partners, especially China, farmers have found themselves with huge surpluses — and on the receiving end of government aid.

Madelyn Beck / Illinois Newsroom

Floodwaters on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers may be going down, but rain has continued to soak farmland around much of the state of Illinois, and more rain could be on the way later this month.

Wet fields make it hard to plant because farmers use large, heavy machinery in the fields. Even if a field is dry enough for equipment not to get stuck, too much pressure on wet soil makes it hard for seedlings to develop solid root systems.

Allison Mollenkamp / NET News

The Missouri River swamped Scott Olson’s land in March — the second time in the last eight years. Flooding tore holes in his fields and left mounds of debris. He’s not entirely sure he’ll plant corn and soybeans this season on the flooded acres.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media file photo

The ongoing effects of the trade war, severe weather and low crop prices have farmers reluctant to make big purchases like tractors, combines and planters. It was apparent in the U.S. Commerce Department’s new report, which shows farm equipment sales were down $900 million dollars over the first three months of 2019.

That’s the biggest decline in sales since 2016.

Jonathan Ahl / Harvest Public Media

Animal waste and nitrogen-based agricultural fertilizers contribute to nitrate runoff, which ends up in creeks, streams, rain and, eventually, water systems. Nitrate, that mix of nitrogen and oxygen, can cause serious health problems if it’s too concentrated.

The best defense is filtering, which forests are great at doing. But a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service suggests forests are falling behind, and heavy rains brought on by climate change are making it worse.

Missouri River Flooding Fans More Uncertainty In Farm Country

Apr 23, 2019
Jack Williams / NET News

All Tom Geisler can see as he trudges through the mud is a big mess. High water from the March floods wrecked pretty much everything on his 1,000-acre farm in Hooper, Nebraska.

Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

As grassland and prairies gave way to farmland in the Midwest, habitats for some native birds disappeared. There’s a relatively new program in central Illinois looking to restore wetlands for migrating birds and help farmers at the same time.

The program to help them is limited but is secure for now. However, the future for both the bird and the program could be on shakier ground in just a few years.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is expected to make a federal disaster declaration this week, which can’t come too soon for farmers and others needing assistance after devastating floods.

A large area of northwestern Missouri near the state lines of Nebraska and Iowa is still underwater following the flooding caused by a “bomb cyclone” that hit in mid-March.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

In a recent national survey, farmers said the biggest threat to their livelihoods wasn’t low commodity prices or global trade policies. It was the rising cost of health insurance.

It’s one of the reasons why state farm bureaus have jumped into the insurance game in Iowa, Tennessee and Nebraska, and are trying to in Kansas.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released 2017 Census of Agriculture data show the amount of land in the largest federal conservation programs has decreased nationwide and in many Midwest and Plains states. But that doesn’t mean farmers are ignoring soil health, nutrient runoff or erosion problems.

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