Agriculture

Most farmers haven't had a good year since President Trump took office and his policies on trade, immigration and ethanol are part of the problem. Yet farmers, who broadly supported Trump in 2016 are largely sticking with him as the impeachment inquiry moves forward. And if they did abandon him, it may not matter.

Farmer Luke Ulrich says he works at least 12 hours a day, almost every day, tending his crops and cattle near Baldwin City, Kan.

In the fall, livestock veterinarian Dr. Bailey Lammers is often busy with vaccinating calves and helping wean them from their mothers.

A herd of auburn cattle greeted her at the barn gate during one of her house calls in northeastern Nebraska, peering from behind the dirt-caked bars. Lammers and her technician Sadie Kalin pulled equipment from tackleboxes in the back of Lammers’ truck.  

Tribes in the Puget Sound region have a problem.

Many of them live on low-lying reservations surrounded by water. So, as climate change causes the oceans to rise, tribal land is disappearing. Climate change also threatens the fish and shellfish these groups rely on for food and income. Now, some tribes are looking at a surprising solution to these problems: clam gardens.

On a rocky beach on Whidbey Island — a densely forested island in Puget Sound — John Cayou watches for the telltale squirt that reveals a clam's location.

In a good year, Jesús García Ramos can feed his family all year on the corn that he grows in small fields around his home in the Guatemalan village of Quilinco. But this was not a good year.

On a visit in August, I met García Ramos in the field behind his house, where I found him hacking down dried-out yellow corn stalks with a machete. He had planted the corn in March. But then it didn't rain in June or July, the crucial months when kernels form on the cob. He expected his yields would be about half what he'd expect in a good year, or maybe less.

On a recent bright, clear day in eastern Nebraska, a small red machine crept through a lush field of soybeans. From the highway, it looked like a small tractor. Up close, its mess of wires came into focus. So did the laptop strapped to the back.

This is the Flex-Ro (Flexible Robotic Unit), one of several robots across the world being designed and tested to help farmers maximize crop yield, use fewer pesticides, and manage the industry’s dwindling labor market.

Farmers have been struggling for years to hire enough workers, and increasingly turn to the H-2A temporary visa program.

Previously, farmers took out print newspaper ads for positions they were hiring for. But starting in late October, the U.S. Department of Labor will manage those postings on a government website and use state workforce agencies to advertise jobs locally.

AMY MAYER / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA FILE PHOTO

The national average price for corn this season is back to $3.60 a bushel, about where it’s been most of this year except for an early-season spike ($4.16 in July) before the size and quality of the crop was known. 

That’s not great news for corn growers, and for the ethanol part of the market, the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates are even worse.

For the first time in half a century, the U.S. government just revised the way that it inspects pork slaughterhouses. The change has been long in coming. It's been debated, and even tried out at pilot plants, for the past 20 years. It gives pork companies themselves a bigger role in the inspection process. Critics call it privatization.

This June the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its plan to move two of its research agencies out of Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area. Most of the people working at the agencies have since quit, leaving gaping holes in critical divisions. Researchers warn that the agency upheaval will starve farmers, policymakers and ultimately consumers out of the best possible information about food and the business of growing it.

It’s a difficult year for many farmers in the United States.  A wet spring flooded crops and delayed planting across the Midwest, while trade conflicts with China and other countries continue to wreak chaos on incomes.

For some farms, this year’s losses, even with federal trade-relief payments, will force them to file for Chapter 12 bankruptcy. And that's easier now that a new law raised the level of debt allowed for a Chapter 12 filing.

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