Luke Runyon

AgriBusiness Reporter

I'm a reporter with Harvest Public Media based at KUNC, covering the wide range of agricultural stories in Colorado.

I came to KUNC in March 2013, after spending about two years as a reporter with Aspen Public Radio in Aspen, Colorado.

During my time in Aspen, I was recognized by the Colorado Broadcasters Association and Public Radio News Directors, Inc. for my reporting and production work. My reports have been featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

I'm the product of two farm families in central Illinois, which is where I spent most of my formative years. Before moving to Colorado I spent a year covering local and state government for Illinois Public Radio and WUIS in the state's capital. I have a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield, the same place where I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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Holsteins, the black and white spotted dairy cattle, are known for their long, lanky limbs and calm temperaments.
Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

America's dairy farms are doing more with less. There are fewer dairy cows today than just a few decades ago, but today’s cows are producing more milk than ever.

Part of the increase is due to genetics. Dairy cows have been bred to be larger, hungrier, and more productive. That focus on genetics to produce more milk has some prominent livestock advocates ringing alarm bells.

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

Colorado is now home to some of the nation’s first certified organic cannabis, which comes with a blessing from federal regulators. CBDRx, a Longmont, Colorado cannabis farm, has secured a certification to market its products with the organic seal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a major coup for the plant’s enthusiasts.

“As long as the industrial hemp is grown according to the Farm Bill, it can be certified organic to the USDA National Organic Program,” wrote Penelope Zuck, the agency’s organic program accreditation manager, in an email correspondence obtained by KUNC.

Catch that? We’re talking about hemp here, which is still considered cannabis under federal law. The distinction, and USDA’s decision to certify it, throw the plant into an even larger legal gray area.

Gigi, a nine-year-old cow, reigns supreme as the top milk producer in the country, having churned out 74,650 pounds of milk in 365 consecutive days.
Courtesy Bur-Wall Registered Holsteins

Once a generation, a diva is crowned. She earns a reputation for being independent, polished, fearless and of limitless talent, unreachable by us normal folk. After years of climbing the ladder, she claims her title.

Holsteins of the world have their new queen, and her name is Gigi.

A 9-year-old cow, who spends her days grazing at Bur-Wall Holsteins in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, Gigi has broken a U.S. record for milk production, churning out 74,650 pounds of milk in a 365-day period. The average American Holstein produces 24,953 pounds of milk in a given year.

Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

Animal rights groups are taking aim at North Carolina.

They’re suing over the state’s so-called “ag-gag” law. The legislation found its way into the crosshairs of a coalition of animal groups, including PETA and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, emboldened by a federal Idaho judge who struck down a similar law in that state in 2015.

Ag-gag is an umbrella term, referring to a broad spectrum of laws. Animal rights advocates say the laws, whichever form they take, are meant to turn undercover investigators into criminals and charge them as such for documenting health and safety violations on farms and ranches. 

Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

The sometimes tense conversation about religious accommodation in the workplace is playing out in rural Colorado.

In Fort Morgan, 150 Muslim workers were fired in late 2015 after a dispute over prayer breaks at a Cargill meat packing plant.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

After firing 150 workers from its Fort Morgan meatpacking plant, executives with Cargill’s beef division say they are open to rehiring some of those employees. The company announced this change to its rehire policy — shortening the amount of time to be eligible to reapply for jobs after termination from 6 months to 30 days — following a dispute regarding prayer accommodations.

Courtesy Colorado State University Photography

An outspoken advocate for humane animal treatment, animal science professor Temple Grandin still teaches classes at Colorado State University and consults with livestock operations across the country. While she is best known for cleaning up slaughterhouses, lately she’s been focusing more of her attention to farms.

Courtesy National Christmas Tree Association

It's the time of the year when Katie Abrams sees her Fort Collins neighbors pulling up with real trees tied to car roofs. She feels small pangs of jealousy when friends post woodsy pictures in flannel shirts, cutting down the perfect spruce.

“It all sounds really nice,” Abrams says. “And then once you go out and do it I can just imagine all the steps involved.”

So instead she pulls out the fake tree from the garage. A mentality that terrifies American Christmas tree growers.

How Fast-Casual Eats Conquered Colorado

Nov 24, 2015
Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

Colorado’s Front Range is the birthplace of a restaurant revolution, but it’s not the sort of fine dining you might be thinking of. In Colorado, fast-casual is king.

The Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins metro areas boast the highest numbers of fast-casuals per person in the country. The state is home to both industry pioneers like Chipotle and Noodles & Company, and buzzed-about newcomers like the recently renamed Modern Market and Smashburger.

The restaurants borrow ideas from both fast food and upscale sit-down restaurants, catering to customers who want food fast, inexpensive and customized. Their success -- having grown more quickly than either fast food chains or full service restaurants in recent years -- is part demographics and part economics.

The First Hemp Harvest At Colorado State Is In The Bag

Nov 16, 2015

Researchers at Colorado State University have finished harvesting their first legal test plot of industrial hemp, a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis.

This was the first year CSU was able to secure both federal drug permits and bags of seed to carry out hemp experiments. Researchers planted varieties from all over the world inside a university-owned corn field in eastern Larimer County in a bid to see which would grow best in Colorado’s soil and climate.

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