Nebraska

Midwest Farmers On Notice As Farm Debt Grows

Mar 8, 2016

There are mounting concerns about the direction of the farm economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects farm income to fall for the third year in a row in 2016. At the same time, farmers are borrowing billions more from banks to get by.

The change in farm fortunes follows a drop in prices for corn and soybeans, the top Midwest crops. Supply and demand are both working against the commodity markets. Farmers have raised an oversupply of grain, while at the same time the slow global economy has brought down demand.

The middle of winter is when the stream of locally grown fruits and vegetables in the Midwest begins to freeze up.

Nicole Saville knows first-hand. Saville is the produce manager at Open Harvest, a grocery coop in Lincoln, Neb. The store promotes food grown by local farmers, but this time of year there just isn’t much available.

“We can get kale and some culinary herbs this time of year,” Saville said. “Otherwise the only other local option is a soil mix in our garden center.”

Restoring Prairie On The Great Plains

Feb 4, 2016

From the air, the Midwest looks like a patchwork of cropland and pastures. But before the land was turned over to plows and center pivots, most of it was a sea of grass. 

Native grasslands were first plowed by pioneers homesteading on the plains. More land was converted to crops as tractors and machinery arrived on the farm and conversion of land intensified. 

Cody-Kilgore Superintendant Todd Chessmore helps students check inventory at the store.
Mike Tobias / For Harvest Public Media

The tiny Nebraska town of Cody sits atop Cherry County, a sparsely populated chunk of Sandhills ranchland larger than the entire state of Connecticut. Cody’s population of just 156 people means it’s not a prime location for any retail business.

There is no grocery store in town, the previous grocery store closed more than a decade ago.

Enter: Students from the Cody-Kilgore school system.

As part of their education, local students run the Circle C grocery store. The store does about $250,000 of business a year and stocks about 1,500 items.

High on the Nebraska plains, there’s a citrus grove with trees holding up a canopy of lemons, grapefruit-sized oranges, green figs, and bunches of grapes.

Yes, it’s indoors. And it’s only possible because it taps in to the core of the earth’s own energy, geothermal heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

Russ Finch, a former mail carrier and farmer, designed the greenhouse, which he calls the Greenhouse in the Snow. The original, which he built more than 20 years ago, is connected to his home.

By some estimates, producing our food consumes about a fifth of the nation’s energy supply. It takes a lot of diesel to move tractors and semis around the farm, and electricity to pump water and dry grain. But some farmers are trying to cut back on the coal and gas they use and make our food system more energy efficient.

When winter comes to Greg Brummond’s farm in northeast Nebraska, he spends his days in the machine shed fixing all the things that broke through the year.

Midwest Wheat Farmers Are Waiting For A Breakthrough

Jan 4, 2016

Wheat is one of the world’s staple foods and a big crop on the Great Plains, but it has been left in the dust. A corn farmer can grow 44 percent more bushels per acre than 30 years ago, but only 16 percent more wheat. That’s led many farmers to make a switch.

“Wheat acres have been going down since 1981 or 1982 when they were up around 86 million acres,” said Steve Joehl, director of research with the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). “I think last year we had a little over 56 million. It’s just a straight trend line down.”

My Farm Roots: Showtime At The Fair

Jul 29, 2015

Show day at the Pierce County Fair in Nebraska starts early and goes fast.

I arrived around 9 in the morning, but Emily Lambrecht had already spent an hour and a half in the wash stalls, scrubbing and shampooing her calves so they would sparkle in the show barn.

This was showtime. The 17-year-old 4-H and FFA exhibitor spent months working up to this one day.

My Farm Roots: Coming Home To Roost

Jul 30, 2014

When they heard Dan Hromas’ truck rolling in, the chickens came strutting. The auburn-feathered Rhode Island Reds stood out, even in the tall, green brome grass of Hromas’ rented 3-acre pasture outside of York, Neb.

The pasture is the center of Hromas’ new farming enterprise. For a little over a year he’s been selling farm eggs to local restaurants, grocery stores, and direct to customers in southeast Nebraska.

My Farm Roots: Born To Farm

Aug 21, 2013

One sign that you have strong farm roots is when your rural road is named for your family.

I met Steve Quandt on Quandt Road, north of Grand Island, Neb., on the farm that used to belong to his grandfather. It’s the place he remembers spending days as a kid, from morning to night, helping milk cows, work the fields and repair machinery.

He followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, building his own farming operation. But that path was suddenly interrupted nearly six years ago.

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