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

Megan Feeney / For Harvest Public Media

Standing in the pasture he planted with native grasses, Charlie Besher scanned gray autumnal skies as cows with swollen bellies lowed in the valley below. He hoped for rain. He hoped for safety for his herd. For now, the cellphone tower on the near horizon was empty, but by evening, black vultures would roost there again, often by the dozens. 

If a cow had its calf overnight, there would be time for it to clean its baby up, to get rid of the afterbirth, before the black vultures took flight in the early morning. Maybe that would make it less attractive to the birds. 

Most farmers haven't had a single good year since President Trump took office, and Trump’s policies on trade, immigration and ethanol are part of the problem.

Yet farmers, who broadly supported Trump in 2016, are sticking with him as the impeachment inquiry moves forward.

“You see everyone circling their wagons now, and the farm community is no different in that,” says John Herath, the news director at Farm Journal.

Christina Stella / Harvest Public Media

In the fall, livestock veterinarian Dr. Bailey Lammers is often busy with vaccinating calves and helping wean them from their mothers.

A herd of auburn cattle greeted her at the barn gate during one of her house calls in northeastern Nebraska, peering from behind the dirt-caked bars. Lammers and her technician Sadie Kalin pulled equipment from tackleboxes in the back of Lammers’ truck.  

Small farmers and their allies are responding to comments the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture made this week that suggested only big farms are likely to survive.

“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Sonny Perdue told a gathering of dairy farmers in Wisconsin. He added that even 100 cows might not be enough to turn a profit. The comments come at a time when dairy farmers across the country, but especially in the upper Midwest, are struggling.

University of Illinois agriculture policy professor Jonathan Coppess found the comment “shocking.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media file photo

Japan’s Parliament is convening this month and will likely take up a new trade deal with the United States. If enacted, the agreement might bring some good news to farmers, but no one really knows. 

Official language of the deal has not yet been made public, though the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said it would increase access to the Japanese market for U.S. wheat, pork, and beef.

Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media file photo

Farmers have been struggling for years to hire enough workers, and increasingly turn to the H-2A temporary visa program.

Previously, farmers took out print newspaper ads for positions they were hiring for. But starting in late October, the U.S. Department of Labor will manage those postings on a government website and use state workforce agencies to advertise jobs locally.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a hot September day, five Japanese men arrived at Rod Pierce’s central Iowa farm. They represented feed mills and livestock cooperatives, and were there to see the corn they may eventually buy. 

Pierce invited them to walk among his rows of corn, climb into the cab of an 8-head combine and poke their heads into one his empty grain storage bins. 

Christina Stella / Harvest Public Media

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.

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.

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.

Pages