Agriculture

In 2019, the federal government delivered an extraordinary financial aid package to America's farmers. Farm subsidies jumped to their highest level in 14 years, most of them paid out without any action by Congress.

The money flowed to farmers like Robert Henry. When I visited in early July, many of his fields near New Madrid, Mo., had been flooded for months, preventing him from working in them. The soybeans that he did manage to grow had fallen in value; China wasn't buying them, in retaliation for the Trump administration's tariffs.

It's been a challenging year for American farmers.

Farmers in the U.S. witnessed a trade war with China unfold, farm debt continues to pile on and delays in planting due to extreme weather linked to climate change.

And as farmers get older — their average age is 58 years old — what does the next generation of farmers look like? Will they face the same barriers?

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

A privately funded, nonprofit organization is creating a 3.2 million-acre wildlife sanctuary — American Prairie Reserve — in northeastern Montana, an area long known as cattle country.

Updated at 9:58 a.m. ET

The tariff war has caused a lot of anxiety for business owners and farmers. But how much has it hurt the overall economy?

The stock market got off to a rocky start this week when President Trump launched a new round of tariff threats. But administration loyalists insist concern about the trade war is overblown.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

KOSU is adding a new agriculture and rural issues reporter position to highlight Oklahoma voices and combat the spread of news deserts. 

The position will be partially funded with $20,000 in seed funding from Report for America, a national service program aimed at increasing reporting on under-covered issues and communities. The new position will also expand KOSU’s regional reach, as the station partners with Harvest Public Media, a collaborative network of reporters and radio stations throughout the Midwest and Great Plains.

Call it a tale of science and derring-do. An international team of researchers has spent six years fanning across the globe, gathering thousands of samples of wild relatives of crops. Their goal: to preserve genetic diversity that could help key crops survive in the face of climate change. At times, the work put these scientists in some pretty extreme situations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out a record $4.24 billion in claims for acres farmers couldn’t plant this year.

The “prevented planting” provision allows farmers to file a crop insurance claim when weather conditions leave fields unfit for a crop. Heavy spring rains and flooding left some Midwest farm ground too wet for seeds and equipment during the planting window, meaning farmers couldn’t put in the corn or soybeans they’d intended for those acres. 

Brittle corn stalks border a backyard garden in Flagstaff, Ariz., on a windswept mesa surrounded by ponderosa pine trees. They look dried-up and ordinary, but the garden's owner, Carol Fritzinger, says opening up the husks to see what's inside is like Christmas morning.

"Oooh, this one's a pink and purple variety," she says, laughing as she peels back a husk to show a translucent, rainbow-colored corn cob inside. "You just never know!"

During 2019, the curveballs thrown at farmers began with the partial government shutdown in January, when some U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies were closed. Spring brought a storm system—called a bomb cyclone—that dumped rain on top of frozen fields unable to make use of it, kicking off weeks of flooding exacerbated by additional precipitation. Planting ran later than usual and some farmers never got a cash crop into certain saturated fields.

Hemp farming exploded after the 2018 Farm Bill passed last December. The bill decriminalized the plant at the federal level, opening the door for many U.S. farmers to grow and sell hemp.

Over the past year, licensed hemp acreage increased more than 445%, according to the advocacy and research group Vote Hemp. More than 510,000 acres of hemp were licensed in 2019, versus about 112,000 acres in 2018.

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