farming

Every summer, thousands of Midwestern kids as young as 13 load onto school buses early in the morning to do one of the hottest, dirtiest temporary jobs out there. They are the corn detasselers.

But this year, there’s a snag: Detasseling season is being pushed back due to a wet spring.

It’s been almost three months since massive flooding from the Missouri River washed over parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, but for many farmers, recovery has been slow. Continued wet weather and lingering high water has delayed planting for many growers who can’t afford to miss out on a good crop this season.

“If you walk across mud, just think about running a tractor and planter across it,” said Scott Olson, who farms corn and soybeans in northeast Nebraska. “You can’t touch it. There’s nothing you can do with it.”

Between the growing warehouse district and the south side of Peoria, Illinois, sits 1312 SW Adams Street. The city-owned building looks like a great space for a haunted house: cracked paint, holes, shattered glass and pieces of drywall littering the staircases.

But officials and economic development groups have another idea. They put up booths and led tours of the building in late May, showing how it could be used to bring health services and healthy food to an area that’s been losing businesses like grocery stores and for years.

Organizers also envision it as a place for local farmers to team up and sell their food to places they might not otherwise provide a big enough bounty for.

From Texas Standard:

Most whiskey distillers will likely say that “aging” is a crucial part of their process. Aging is when the spirit is left to sit in a barrel, sometimes for years. The older the spirit, the better it will likely taste. But for Austin-based distillery, Still, it’s the grain from which the whiskey comes that also matters. Still uses 100-year-old heirloom wheat, which can be hard to come by. So it asked a Texas farmer to grow it.

The phrase "American soil" is commonly used to stir up patriotic feelings. They are also words that can't be taken for granted, because nearly 30 million acres of U.S. farmland are held by foreign investors. That number has doubled in the past two decades, which is raising alarm bells in farming communities.

The dirt roads near the tiny southeastern Colorado town of Walsh have been extra sloppy lately because of an abundance of spring rainfall. The Arkansas River drainage, which feeds the surrounding farmland, is more than 200 percent of average right now.

These are good signs for Terry Swanson, who raises dryland crops and cattle on his 20,000 acres in this normally dusty corner of the state.

From Texas Standard:

Travis Krause grew up on the South Texas plains of Medina County, on land his family has been tending to since 1846. Krause always knew he wanted to carry on the tradition, but when he left the family ranch to study wildlife and fisheries sciences at Texas A&M University, his father encouraged him not to come back. For years, Krause’s dad wasn’t able to make a living from his cow and calf operation, and he didn’t want the same hardships for his son.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Farmers along the Missouri River and its tributaries are still assessing damage from recent flooding.

But beyond the farms in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, there’s visible evidence that the impacts are far-reaching and long-lasting — closed interstates and rerouted trains — key cogs in a global agriculture economy.

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.

President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget proposal is getting a lot of attention for its call for more border protection, but it also makes major changes to agriculture programs.

Without providing many specifics, it outlines a plan to reduce the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget by about $3.6 billion — 15 percent of its total funding. Some programs face cuts, while others get a boost, but it’s all just a proposal at this point and likely won’t survive Congress as-is.

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Farmers are failing to pay their loans at the highest rate in nearly a decade, Forbes reports.

The loan delinquencies appear to be due to declining crop prices, as well as tariffs put in place by the Trump administration. Nationwide, nearly 20 percent of farm loans were delinquent. That’s up from 16.5 percent last year.

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As the federal shut down continues, plains states could be affected in unexpected ways.  

Thousands of federal employees have stopped working, while thousands of others are working without pay—at least temporarily.

In some parts of Texas, U.S. Department of Agriculture offices have already closed their doors due to lack of funding.

The USDA says it plans to “shutter every local and state farm service center across the U.S.”

It’s no secret that farming operations can produce some gross smells and loud noises alongside those fresh eggs and produce. As urban and suburban growth encroaches on rural areas, that can become all the more obvious.

“Right to Farm” laws were put in place in the 1970s and 80s when urban sprawl started to invade areas of agriculture. All 50 states have some version on the books.

Federal lawmakers failed to pass a new farm bill by the September 30 deadline.

Austin Price / The Texas Tribune

Funding for crucial safety net programs for thousands of Texas farmers expires Sept. 30. Congress has four working days to act.

From The Texas Tribune:

WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders are just days away from a deadline to work out a compromise on a massive farm bill or risk a lapse in funding for crucial safety net programs used by thousands of Texas farmers.

Kansas Wheat Yields Vary As Harvest Wraps Up

Jul 11, 2018
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Wheat harvest is close to wrapping up in Kansas and overall production is down from last year due to dry weather in some areas and hail damage in others. 

In northwest Kansas, as much as 1 million bushels of wheat were lost to hail.

Eric Sperber, manager of Cornerstone Ag LLC in Colby, told Kansas Wheat that the area was hit with another hailstorm on Saturday.

“We have had five hail events since June 19, and fields that were missed from the previous storms got hit this time. Overall, the crop has good quality; unfortunately, we lost fields due to the hail storms."

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Living the life of a Texas farmworker 1has always been a precarious proposition. But as Scientific American reports, the onset of global warming is making this work even more difficult.

Each year, ever-increasing heat, drought and mosquito-borne diseases are causing farm workers to worry on a very personal level about the effects of climate change.

Meant to fund the federal government through early September, the $1.3 trillion bill signed by President Donald Trump last week also includes money and changes for ag-related programs beyond the “grain-glitch” fix.

No matter how far fruits or vegetables travel, whether they’re grown organically or conventionally, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients. The men and women in the fields try to grow foods with an eye to boosting the health factor, but researchers say it’s hard to measure the precise impact.

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The Amarillo region has now gone 124 consecutive days without any measurable precipitation.

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.

From Texas Standard:

A lot of Texans will be paying close attention Monday to the words and tone of President Donald Trump as he addresses farmers and ranchers at the American Farm Bureau Convention in Nashville. At a time when Texas is growing in population,  becoming less rural and more urban than it was 10 years ago, advocates say rural issues are no less important than they once were. And that's the message Trump aims to send during his Farm Bureau speech. But what do Texans want to hear, especially on issues such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA?

Older Farmers Struggling In Silence

Jan 3, 2018
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There’s an eerie silence among aging farmers but that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling.

As Politico reports, in recent months, lawmakers introduced legislation to make sure young farmers have their voices heard in the next farm bill.

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Suicide rates among farmers are at a higher rate than other occupation in the United States.

As The Guardian reports, last year, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation.

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Roger Sewell slowed his pickup down on a rural section of Pratt County, next to a field gleaming white.

“How’s it look?” he said with a grin, then added this good field of cotton, to be stripped in coming weeks and eventually turned into denim, was his.

Just a few years ago, it was tougher to find a cotton field in these parts. The fledgling industry had been struggling to regain its footing after peaking in acres more than a decade ago. High corn prices and 2,4-D drift were among the culprits causing farmers to shy away from cotton.

Texas Farmer Turning Wine Into Water

Nov 14, 2017
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A Texas farmer is turning wine into water – well sort of.

As The High Plains Journal reports, Steve Newsom of Levelland, Texas recently began growing wine grapes because they are very efficient users of water.

“I get scowled at, but we see ourselves converting irrigated cotton acres to dryland and convert some of that water saved to drip irrigation and still have the same amount of acres in production,” he said.

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