Grant Gerlock

Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.

The Trump administration will add onto future ethanol requirements to make up for its waivers that allowed small oil refineries to mix less of the biofuel with gasoline. But the extra gallons may not ultimately make up for all the industry has lost.

Farm income has taken a long, hard fall, dropping 50 percent since hitting a high point in 2013. Add to that near-record levels of farm debt, and you have a recipe for financial stress.

But while economists say they can see storm clouds building, it’s not a full-blown crisis. That’s because relatively few farms have been pushed past the breaking point into Chapter 12 bankruptcy — or, worse, into losing the farm entirely.

The U.S. trade war with China has created a financial burden for farmers and companies that import Chinese goods. Consumers, on the other hand, have mostly been spared from the conflict.

That could all change if this month’s negotiations between the U.S. and China don’t go well.

On top of a second round of payments to farmers as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s trade relief program, the agency is trying to ease the impact by purchasing surplus food and distributing it to food banks and other hunger relief groups.

Lawmakers unveiled the much-anticipated farm bill compromise Monday night, ending the months-long impasse over whether a critical piece of legislation that provides subsidies to farmers and helps needy Americans buy groceries could pass before the lame-duck session concludes at the end of the year.

Updated at 3 p.m. Dec. 20 with Trump signing legislation — The long-awaited final version of the farm bill was unveiled Monday night, and it hews somewhat closely to the previous piece of massive legislation — aside from legalizing hemp on a national level. 

A handful of companies — think Tyson and Perdue — all but control poultry production in the U.S. They’ll soon be joined by a retailer known more for selling rotisserie chickens: Costco, which is building a farm-to-table system based in Nebraska to supply itself.

President Donald Trump’s administration will “unleash the power of E15,” allowing the 15 percent gasoline-ethanol blend to be sold year-round.

The announcement, made public this week at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, is being welcomed by corn growers and biofuel groups. But it may take longer for farmers like Kelly Nieuwenhuis of Primghar, Iowa, to feel the positive impact of E15 than they would like.

Prices for crops like corn and soybeans have declined as the U.S. has sparred with top trading partners, but exports of those crops have not plummeted the way many observers had feared.

After 13 years of work, a consortium of 200 scientists from 20 countries has released the first complete genome sequence for wheat. The discovery sets the stage for advances in a staple crop at a time when rising temperatures are beginning to threaten global production.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the nation’s largest program to reduce hunger. It’s also the biggest program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But under the White House’s plan to reorganize the federal government, released Thursday, SNAP would have a new home at a revamped Department of Health and Human Services.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s message to Midwestern farmers this week is a mixed bag, telling them that the agency will be changing an Obama-era rule regarding water regulations but is pausing a plan to expand summer sales of ethanol.

With a litany of alleged ethics controversies swirling at home, embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt took the show on the road this week, meeting with farmers in a handful of Midwestern states to talk about his policy agenda.

While Thursday evening's meeting in Lincoln, Neb., was polite, the reception in other states has not been as welcoming, especially when it comes to conversations about his ethanol policies.

The Senate Agriculture Committee unveiled its version of the farm bill Friday, including a path to legalizing industrial hemp. That’s an effort being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose state, Kentucky, is a leader in the crop.

Though it’s not yet clear which highly processed ingredients will be labeled as genetically modified foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released possible designs for those labels.

The labels fulfill a law passed in 2016 that gives food companies three options to disclose GMO ingredients: a line of text, a scannable QR code, or a symbol. It is meant to be an impartial notice to shoppers, and the labels avoid the polarizing term “GMO.”

Yet, one of the label designs released this month is a smiling orange and green sun with the letters “b-e” standing for “bioengineered,” which is the word used in the law.

There’s a Republican-authored proposal in the next farm bill that would require millions more people to work or volunteer in order to receive federal food assistance.

Held up over disagreements over federal food stamps, the first draft of the 2018 farm bill arrived Thursday, bearing 35 changes to that program, including starting a national database of participants.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30; in the past, Congress has had to extend their work beyond deadlines. The bill — released on Thursday — came from the House Agriculture Committee, which is headed by Texas Republican Rep. Mike Conaway.

It was an appropriate week for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s trade expert to address a gaggle of Nebraska farmers — even if their responses tended toward frustration.

Ted McKinney arrived in Omaha on Wednesday, the day China threatened to impose tariffs on 106 U.S. products including major exports like soybeans, beef and corn. China’s move came after the Trump administration’s attempt to reign in China’s abuse of intellectual property rules by proposing tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports.

If the proposals become reality they could undermine a stagnant farm economy, and not just in Nebraska. “We have bills to pay and debts we must settle and cannot afford to lose any market,” Kansas Farm Bureau President Richard Felts said in a statement.

The U.S., Canada and Mexico wrapped up the latest round of negotiations earlier this month over NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

President Donald Trump has threatened to terminate the trade pact, which he continues to call a bad deal for the U.S. But NAFTA has helped grow the beef industry beyond the U.S. borders, so while some worry about the Trump administration’s wavering commitment to NAFTA, others want more protections.

Congress has passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that’ll keep the federal government running. In that package, which President Donald Trump signed on Friday, is a fix for a troublesome provision for some grain businesses.

Passed in last year’s tax overhaul, the provision allows farmers to deduct up to 20 percent of their earnings from selling crops — but only to cooperatives. That threatens businesses that aren’t co-ops but also buy and sell commodities like corn, soybeans and wheat, including large companies like Cargill and Bunge to small, local grain elevators.

When President Donald Trump follows through on his plan to tax imported steel and aluminum, American farmers will get less money for some crops and pay more for machinery.

Farm groups say their members worry the countries targeted by the tariffs (the list of which has not been finalized by the Trump administration) will tax farm products. The European Union already has threatened imports of corn, rice, cranberries, peanut butter, kidney beans, orange juice and even bourbon, which is usually made from corn.

There is a slight silver lining for consumers, however, because prices of those products may drop in the U.S.

The two federal agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s food safety laws agreed this week to collaborate better, update biotechnology regulations and implement new safety inspections on produce farms.

The two federal agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s food safety laws agreed this week to collaborate better, update biotechnology regulations and implement new safety inspections on produce farms.

The biggest change from the agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, however, could come from a review of how food processing facilities currently are regulated by both departments. Experts say that could lead to less paperwork for food manufacturers and more streamlined reports of recalls and other food safety issues.

In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

Shoring up rural America’s economy must start with broadband access and technology, a federal task force says in a report released Monday.

The group, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and made up of other Cabinet members, says doing so will bring rural areas increased health care access, better job training, smart electrical grids and more precision farming technology. Little of that can be accomplished, the report says, without closing the broadband gap between urban and rural residents.

Many rural businesses and farms will benefit from the tax overhaul passed Wednesday by Congress. But there’s a catch: If the changes fail to spur economic growth as intended, programs that rural areas rely on could be on the chopping block.

One provision in the massive bill, which President Trump has yet to sign into law, allows small business owners to deduct 20 percent of their business income. It also expands the deduction for small business investment — a popular provision among farmers, who can write off the cost of things like a new tractor.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a lawsuit that argues the federal agency must bring back a proposed rule that defined abusive practices by meatpacking companies.

The delivery of federal food benefits for millions of low-income people is likely to change after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week it will allow states more flexibility in how they dole out the money.

The delivery of federal food benefits for millions of low-income people is likely to change after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday it’ll allow states more flexibility in how they dole out the money.


Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release that his agency wants states to try out programs that don’t increase the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) but instead promote job training and reduce waste and fraud. The news release said specifics will be provided in “the coming weeks.”


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