Corn

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Brandon Biesemeier climbs up a small ladder into a John Deere sprayer, takes a seat in the enclosed cab, closes the door, and blocks out most of the machine’s loud engine hum. It is a familiar perch to the fourth-generation farmer on Colorado’s eastern plains.

He turns onto a country road, heading south to spray an herbicide on his cornfields, an early growing season task his genetically engineered crops demand if he is to unlock their value. In the cab, a computer screen shows a little pixelated tractor moving across digital fields, logging his work.

In Rural Trump Country, Trade Policy Divides

Mar 21, 2017
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Rural voters overwhelmingly chose President Donald Trump in the presidential election. But when it comes to the central campaign promise to get tough on trade, rural voters are not necessarily in sync with the administration.

Dawson County, Nebraska, could easily be called Trump country. As in most of rural America, Donald Trump won a big majority there – 70 percent of the vote. But it’s also a good place to look at one issue where rural residents have different perspectives: trade.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

President Donald Trump has nominated former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as Agriculture Secretary, bucking a recent trend of Midwest leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and making many in the farm country of the Midwest and Great Plans a little leery.

Coupled with the appointments of leaders from Oklahoma and Texas to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, respectively, there looks to be a shift in the power center of the parts of the federal government that most directly impact agriculture.

Luke Runyon / KUNC/Harvest Public Media

The massive industry that supplies farmers with the tools to raise crops is on the brink of a watershed moment. High-profile deals that would see some of the largest global agri-chemical companies combine are in the works and could have ripple effects from farm fields to dinner tables across the globe.

Six companies currently dominate the marketplace for agricultural seeds and farm chemicals, like fertilizer and pesticides: BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Dow, Monsanto and Syngenta. Of those, only BASF is not currently in discussions to merge.

In Boulder County, An Effort To Ban GMO Crops Moves Ahead

Oct 14, 2016
Luke Runyon / KUNC

Officials in Boulder County have released a plan to remove all genetically-modified crops from county-owned farmland within the next five years.

The county’s commissioners directed staffers to draft the plan following a series of heated public hearings in early 2016, where scientists argued farmers were being unfairly targeted and local activists said the crops in question threaten the county’s agricultural viability, and its reputation as an environmentally-conscious community.

The plan calls for farmers who lease county land for their operations to stop planting GMO corn within the next three years, and sugar beets within the next five years.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a gray day, just as the rain begins to fall, Roger Zylstra stops his red GMC Sierra pick-up truck on the side of the road and hops down into a ditch in Jasper County, Iowa. It takes two such stops before he unearths amid the tall weeds and grasses what he’s looking for.

“Here is one of the tiles,” he says, pointing to a pipe about six or eight inches in diameter. Water trickles from it into a culvert that runs under the road after flowing through a network of underground drainage lines below his farm field. “That’s where it outlets.”

Water like this is called runoff and it can contain harmful chemicals, such as nitrates from fertilizer that plants don’t absorb or excess pesticides. For years, contaminants like these have reached public waterways.

Lance Cheung / U.S. Department Of Agriculture

At Ollin Farms in Longmont, Mark Guttridge is transitioning from spring crops to vegetables that will ripen in late summer and early fall. Having water later in the summer is crucial for Guttridge, but he knows from experience that that's not guaranteed.

"In 2012, we were in a drought year and it got hot really early just like it did this year in June," he said.

Guttridge uses a combination of ditch and municipal sources to irrigate his 10 acres. The municipal tap is a partial safety net. The part of the farm that relies on water being available in the ditch... that's more vulnerable. Climate change means water from spring runoff is coming earlier, creating new challenges for farmers.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Boulder County commissioners want to create a plan to remove genetically-engineered crops, commonly known as GMOs, off county-owned land.

Commissioners chose not to take a formal vote on the county’s cropland policy at a meeting. Instead the three-person panel directed county staff to write up a transition plan to disallow GMO corn and sugar beets from being grown on open space land within three to seven years.

Currently farmers grow GMO corn and sugar beets on about 1,000 acres of Boulder County open space.

Can Cover Crops Help Farmers Cut Back On Fertilizer?

Jan 18, 2016
Brian Seifferlein/Harvest Public Media) / Harvest Public Media

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.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

A highly contagious strain of avian flu, a huge trade pact opening export markets and a few “restless” agribusinesses top Harvest Public Media's list of the biggest agriculture and food stories of 2015.

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