agriculture

On a breezy morning next to a cornfield in rural Weld County, Colo., Jimmy Underhill quickly assembles a black and orange drone with four spinning rotors.

"This one just flies itself," he says. "It's fully autonomous."

Underhill is a drone technician with Agribotix, a Colorado-based drone startup that sees farmers as its most promising market. Today he's training his fellow employees how to work the machine in the field.

After more than a decade of explosive growth, sales of local food at U.S. farmers' markets are slowing. A January report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that while more farmers are selling directly to consumers, local food sales at farmers markets, farm stands and through community supported agriculture have lost some momentum.

When it comes to organic certification, food producers must follow strict guidelines.

For an organic steak, for instance, the cow it came from has to be raised on organic feed, and the feed mix can't be produced with pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetic engineering.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a set of rules for organic farmed fish. Several consumer groups, though, say the recommended rules don't go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods.

2015 Likely To Be A Mixed Bag For Colorado Farmers

Jan 28, 2015

2014 brought with it an abundance of grain for Colorado farmers and it doesn’t look likely to change in 2015. While farmers wait for a rebound, the new year could bring substantive policy change.

Great Plains farmers are unlikely to see relief in 2015 from sluggish commodity crop prices, according to Brian Kuehl, director of federal affairs with K-Coe Isom, one of the country’s largest agricultural consulting firms. Kuehl spoke at an economic forecast event in Greeley.

An American rebound from drought, and bumper crops in other parts of the world, have caused a grain glut that has pushed down prices for corn, wheat and soybeans. Farmers are coming off a couple seasons of some of the highest corn prices in years.

What comes to mind when you think about milk? Like it or loathe it, you probably associate it with cereal, Oreos and milk mustaches. One thing you probably don't think about? Energy.

It turns out, it takes a lot of energy to make a gallon of milk. Recently, a few Colorado dairymen have been working to lighten their milk's energy load.

Many beer aficionados are familiar with the rare breweries run by Trappist monks. The beer is highly sought after, but it's not the only food or drink made by a religious order. Many abbeys and convents have deep roots in agriculture, combining farm work with prayer.

Crop-dusting pilots are the adrenaline junkies of the agriculture world. They whiz through the air, flying under power lines to sow seeds or spread pesticides on farmers' fields.

It's a dangerous job, and now these pilots are facing a new challenge — short towers that can sprout up in fields overnight. These towers are used to gather data for wind energy companies.

Black Welsh Mountain sheep, grazing
Laura Palmisano

Federal researchers are on a mission to back up the genetic material of the plants and animals that the nation’s food supply depends on. A pair of ranchers in the hills of western Colorado are joining in and are trying to ensure the future of the rare Black Welsh Mountain sheep.

It’s a sunny morning at Desert Weyr, a 40-acre sheep farm outside of Paonia, Colorado.

Oogie McGuire and her husband own this farm. They raise Black Welsh Mountain sheep. They’re smaller than the white sheep most people are used to seeing. They’re solid black, and the males have curled horns. 

The average American farmer is a white man in his late 50s. Or at least, that's who's in charge of the farm, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the number of female-run farms has tripled since the 1970s, to nearly 14 percent in 2012. And if you dig a little deeper, you'll find women are showing up in new roles. But because of the way farm businesses are structured, women's work often isn't included in those USDA counts.

Farmers who just got into the business in recent years found it was a good time to both plant and harvest.

"We were all spoiled little brats the past two years, with $5, $6, $7 corn, yep," says farmer Grant Curtis.

He's sitting in the captain's chair of his combine on a brisk, overcast day in western Illinois. He's driving back and forth over rows of corn on his family's farm. Then he arcs the 80,000-pound machine off course towards a single stalk he missed.

It's a busy time of year for turkey farmers around the country. And these days, with the growth of the local food movement, small family farms are struggling to keep up with all the orders for birds. So, we went to find out what one New England farmer is doing to get her gobblers from the field to the table. Enter the "abattoir."

It's a hot summer day outside Lincoln, Neb., and Jack Chappelle is knee-deep in trash. He's wading in to rotting vegetables, half-eaten burgers and tater tots. Lots of tater tots.

"You can get a lot of tater tots out of schools," Chappelle says. "It doesn't matter if it's elementary, middle school or high school. Tater tots. Bar none."

Ask Northern California sheep rancher Dan Macon what this drought is doing to his pocketbook and he'll break it down for you real quick.

"It's like if you woke up one morning and lost 40 percent of the equity in your house," he says. "Our primary investment in our ranch is in these sheep and we just sold 40 percent of our stock."

Coffee has been grown since at least the 13th century in places such as Indonesia, Ethiopia and Central and South America. Though it's not a traditional region for growing coffee, California is playing an increasingly big role in the future of this beloved and lucrative crop.

Sammy Venegas stands on a hillside in Goleta, Calif., outside Santa Barbara, that's shrouded in fog, thick with avocado trees, passion fruit and coffee plants. With a white bucket slung around his neck like a baby carrier, he picks only the reddest coffee beans.

The federal government is about to put $100 million behind a simple idea: doubling the value of SNAP benefits — what used to be called food stamps — when people use them to buy local fruits and vegetables.

This idea did not start on Capitol Hill. It began as a local innovation at a few farmers' markets. But it proved remarkably popular and spread across the country.

"It's so simple, but it has such profound effects both for SNAP recipients and for local farmers," says Mike Appell, a vegetable farmer who sells his produce at a market in Tulsa, Okla.

There's an apple renaissance underway, an ever-expanding array of colors and tastes in the apple section of supermarkets and farmers markets.

Less visible is the economic machinery that's helping to drive this revolution. An increasing number of these new apples are "club apples" — varieties that are not just patented, but also trademarked and controlled in such a way that only a select "club" of farmers can sell them.

To understand the new trend, start with the hottest apple variety of recent years: Honeycrisp.

Making license plates is the stereotypical job for a prisoner, but in California's Central Valley, a group of inmates are doing very different work, supplying milk to almost every prisoner in the state system.

They earn just 35 to 95 cents an hour, but inmates at Corcoran state prison say the job gives them plenty of other benefits.

North Fork Valley
Laura Palmisano

The United States is the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer. North Dakota and Texas are experiencing an oil boom. And many other states are seeing natural gas production increase through hydraulic fracturing.

Colorado has nearly 53,000 active wells. But, the state’s energy boom is a source of tension. 

As I scrolled through tweets about a panel on agricultural entrepreneurs at the SXSW Eco conference earlier this month, one caught my eye. The sender was Vance Crowe, Monsanto's director of millennial engagement.

Corporate America is currently caught up in a torrid infatuation with millennials, who befuddle and torment the companies who want their dollars.

Scientists at startup Apeel Sciences have figured out the secret to doubling lifespans. Not our lifespans, alas, but those of fruits and veggies. And they do it naturally.

It's a big deal. Worldwide, we throw away about a third of our food, some $750 billion per year — and the percentage is even higher in the United States. One reason is rot: Food goes bad before we can bite in.

Could that beloved farmer at your farmers market possibly be lying to you, passing off supermarket produce as locally grown?

California's state officials seem to think so. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law that will raise $1 million to deploy a small army of inspectors to farmers markets around the state. The inspectors will check for signs that farmers are selling fruits and vegetables that they didn't actually grow themselves, but instead picked up wholesale.

Mute Schimpf doesn't want to eat American chicken. That's because most U.S. poultry is chilled in antimicrobial baths that can include chlorine to keep salmonella and other bacteria in check. In Europe, chlorine treatment was banned in the 1990s out of fear that it could cause cancer.

"In Europe there is definitely a disgust about chlorinated chicken," says Schimpf, a food activist with Friends of the Earth Europe, an environmental group.

It's apple season, and if you go to the supermarket you'll find the usual suspects: Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, MacIntosh. But these big, shiny, perfect apples often look better than they taste. Thankfully, there's a whole world of heirloom apples out there — fruit that may look funky, but tastes fantastic, with flavors unlike any you've tried before.

As the Worm Turns episode aired Tuesday, July 29th, 2014.

Produce, Vegetables, Thistle Whistle
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

On this week's Local Motion, we’ll be looking at organic farming, and really, what that means.  There are a number of unique certifications that differentiate produce from conventional farming.  It can get a little confusing as to what the word "organic" means, what makes a farm certified USDA organic, and why some farmers choose different programs, or none at all.  

KVNF's Jake Ryan talked to Steve Ela, Mark Waltermire, Lynn Gillespie, and Don Holt. 

bing cherries, cherry
Laura Palmisano

The summer fruit harvest season has started in western Colorado. Cherries are usually the first fruit ready for picking in the North Fork Valley.

Jeri Mattics Omernik/Valley Food Partnership

The 2nd Annual Western Slope Colorado Food & Farm Forum is coming up on Saturday, January 11th at the Montrose Pavilion. The conference brings together farmers, ranchers and others in the ag industry for conversations about sustainability, food production and marketing. 

For some details about the conference and this year's main theme of "Making Every Drop Count," we spoke to Carol Parker, President of the Valley Food Partnership based in Montrose.

Luke Runyon/KUNC & Harvest Public Media

For decades, housing developments in the suburbs have come complete with golf courses, tennis courts, strip malls and swimming pools. But make way for the new subdivision amenity: the specialty farm.

A new model for suburban development is springing up across the country that taps into the local food movement. Farms, complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees, are serving as a way to entice potential buyers to settle in a new subdivision.

Headlines

  • BLM Finds Temp Location for Gunnison Office after Fire
  • Experts Examine Cost of Natural Disasters
  • Forget the Golf Course, Developers Use Farming to Sell Suburban Homes
  • Grand Junction Airport Authority Members Looking into Fraud Allegations
Travis Bubenik/KVNF

The holidays are officially here, and while Thanksgiving may have come and gone, there’s still plenty of festivities to be had in the coming months.

And of course, what would the season be without food, and lots of it?

To get you into the holiday spirit and prepared for long, laborious hours in the kitchen, we took a visit to a cooking class hosted by Chris Bailey at the Old River Road Trading Post in Paonia.

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