Harvest Public Media

A joint effort by federal and state governments to help small meatpacking plants increase their capacity is encountering some bumps. 

Earlier this year, COVID-19 outbreaks as large slaughterhouses and meat processing plants led to temporary closures. That resulted in higher prices and meat shortages at grocery stores, which in turn led some consumers to look at local meat from small, mostly rural processing plants.

While that demand was good for the industry, it also overtaxed the small processors’ ability to keep up.

 

Dusty Spurgeon is proud to be a female farmer. 

The surge in online shopping is helping the U.S. Postal Service stay afloat financially, but the influx of packages is straining rural letter carriers across the country. 

An increase in online orders is projected to help the postal service run until September 2021. Ronnie Stutts, the president of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, says while the increase in mail is good, they are facing a worker shortage because a large percentage rural carriers are still on leave. 

Farmers are wrapping up the harvest in much of the Corn Belt and finally seeing how much they can get out of derecho-damaged fields. The August windstorm slammed 3.6 million acres of corn in Iowa alone, leaving some stalks almost flat on the ground and many others standing with a pronounced tilt.

At the time, agronomists said the angle of damage would influence whether the grain could be harvested and they couldn’t predict how much the injured plants would yield. 

Much of the Great Plains is experiencing drought: So far, at least half of Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa, and Oklahoma are abnormally dry, with large areas experiencing severe drought.

For Nathan Bradford Jr., work doesn’t end after his full-time job. When he’s not working at a natural gas processing plant, he’s ranching in Bristow, Oklahoma.  

“If I’m off and I’m not on the ranch, I’m probably sick,” Bradford says. 

His day usually starts around 4:30 a.m., working the cattle and maintaining the plots of land he inherited from his ancestors. He calls his business G Line Meats in honor of his ancestors who moved from Georgia to farm. 

 

On the outskirts of Rantoul, in east-central Illinois, about 100 migrant farmworkers are living at an old hotel in a sleepy part of town.

In the midst of what has otherwise been a heavy, unrelenting year, many Midwesterners have found solace in the dirt.

 

The U-S Department of Agriculture is projecting farm income will increase significantly this year, but that’s only because of an unprecedented amount of government payments that could top $40 billion.

The latest Farm Income Report from the USDA shows net farm will total $102 billion, a 23% increase over last year. But 36% of that money is coming from federal subsidies intended to make up for coronavirus losses.

Without that aid, net farm income would be down more than $10 billion this year.

Farmers are looking closely at what they might be able to expect from four more years of Donald Trump versus a Joe Biden administration, but they aren't finding a lot of solid answers. And any difference may not matter, anyway.

To evaluate Donald Trump’s agriculture position, the best evidence is his actions and policies over the past 3 1/2 years. 

The highlight of that time has been creating a series of tariffs that has led to retaliation and a trade war with China and other countries, largely hurting foreign markets for farmers.

So far, 2020 has not been kind to beef producers. Farmers and economists say the food system fielded a one-two punch that triggered huge market disruptions and losses. 

Farmers in the South were paid more on average than those in the Midwest and Great Plains from a government program set up to offset the losses due to the trade war with China, according to a new study from the Government Accountability Office.

After China placed retaliatory tariffs on crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Market Facilitation Program to help farmers make up the lost income. 

As workplaces and schools go online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many people are relying on a strong internet connection. But in some states, less than 50% of rural households have access to broadband, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission. 

First restaurants and school cafeterias closed, then COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-packing plants slowed processing. In the spring, shoppers started seeing signs declaring limits on the amount of fresh meat they could buy in one trip. Prices for some products crept up. 

Lexington, Nebraska, is just one of the many rural communities that has long dealt with food insecurity, but the global pandemic both intensified need in the town of 11,000 residents and presented new challenges in getting people food. 

 

At a campaign rally in Wisconsin last week, President Trump announced U.S. farmers will receive an additional $14 billion in coronavirus relief aid.

 

Dairy Farmers want U.S. trade policy to focus on opening markets and fending off competition from the European Union and New Zealand.

U.S. dairy exports were up about 10% in the first half of 2020 compared to last year. But that’s not enough to return the sector to profitability, according to dairy farmers and producers that are participating in a series of virtual town hall meetings on trade issues.

Farmers were expected to produce a record corn and soybean harvest this year, but after weeks of poor weather across the region, the USDA has officially walked back those predictions.

While small, craft breweries in the Midwest pride themselves on being hyperlocal and producing high-quality beers, there is an essential ingredient — hops — they can’t get locally.

But that could soon change. 

The hop is the flower part of a family of vines, and how much and what kind you add determines how the beer tastes.

Hops grow best in arid climates with short days. The long days and high humidity of the Midwest make it difficult to grow them in the region.

 

There’s no shortage of peanuts on Loyd Lasley’s farm. Come September, he hopes to harvest about 160,000 pounds of them. Many of the peanuts are roasted and put on shelves at the Made In Oklahoma booth at the state fair. 

With many state fairs across the country being canceled due to COVID-19, many small business owners like the Lasleys will miss out on sales. The family typically makes about $5,000 from sales at the fair every year. It’s not a lot, but it helps, Loyd says. 

Algal blooms in bodies of water often caused by runoff of manure and fertilizer on crop lands have a high price tag. 

Invasive plants such as blackberries and kudzucan turn a field from a grassy habitat for turkeys and quail into an overgrown thicket. But removing them -- particularly within a vast forest -- can be expensive or even harmful to the environment.

“They create a large canopy. They compete for nutrients. And then they push out and eliminate a lot of the desirable native species that we have,” said Brian Davidson, who manages the botany and invasive species program at the Mark Twain National Forest, three million acres of land spread out across southern Missouri in the Ozarks region.


Midwestern farmers are assessing crop and infrastructure damage after a high-wind storm, known as a derecho, ripped through the region Monday. 

Chris Bohr’s farm in Martinsburg, Missouri, has hundreds of acres of soybeans and corn. It also has a 5,000 head hog barn that requires a lot of electricity to power its ventilation system, cooling fans and lights.

About fifty yards away from the barn are three rows of solar panels. Bohr is among a growing number of farmers that are generating solar power to meet their needs. 

Bohr received a Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to help pay for his solar panels. And the number of farmers applying for the grants is going up.

Unsolicited packages of seeds from China are arriving in mailboxes around the country. More than 20 state departments of agriculture, including Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska are warning that the seeds could potentially be harmful. 

Seven states have seen animals infected with vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which causes blister-like lesions in and around the mouth of horses and other livestock. 

Missouri and Oklahoma are both trying to help reduce the supply chain problems in the meat industry seen during the coronavirus pandemic by directing federal grant dollars to meatpacking plants.

Coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants led to shortages and higher prices.

“During COVID-19, our food supply was tested from farm to fork. Farmers and ranchers saw tight livestock supplies on their farms, while consumers saw their choices of certain cuts of meat shrink or go away,” said Chris Chinn, Director of the MIssouri Department of Agriculture.

A federal court in California recently vacated the three popular dicamba herbicides

When Nick Girondo of Rolla, Missouri, first looked at his family calendar this spring, he struggled to find a time to get everyone out turkey hunting during the 22-day season. 

“With sports and other things going on, we probably would have got out one day at the most, the way planning was going with family events,” he said.

But when the coronavirus pandemic came to the Midwest, those events were canceled, so the family went hunting instead.

Pages