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agriculture

On a clear day, Jocelyn Bentley-Prestwich can see Mount Adams from the vineyard where she works in Hood River. But lately, she’s had difficulty seeing to the end of her property line. 

With the Eagle Creek Fire burning along the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River has been cloaked in heavy smoke for more than a week. 

The number of ranchers in the U.S. is on the decline. There’s no recruiting for the gig and some of the generational ties to ranch land in the west have been severed, so it’s not clear who will take on the business in the future. One answer may be women.

There's nothing like the fair. Visitors can gorge on deep-fried Oreos, hot beef sundaes and heaps of cotton candy. There are rides, craft displays and, of course, barns full of animals that nonfarmers rarely get to see. Yet there's one day of the fair that's bittersweet and, for some, downright heart-wrenching.

It's a summer evening on the French Atlantic island of Noirmoutier. As the sun shimmers on the rustling marsh grasses, Hervé Zarka rakes in sea salt from shallow pools. He uses a simoussi, a 10-foot pole tipped with a flat board. Salt has been harvested this way since at least the seventh century, when Benedictine monks dug the canals that bring seawater into this marshland.

Brent Deppe is taking me on a tour of the farm supply business, called Key Cooperative, that he helps to manage in Grinnell, Iowa. We step though the back door of one warehouse, and our view of the sky is blocked by a gigantic round storage tank, painted white.

"This is the liquid nitrogen tank," Deppe explains. "It's a million-and-a-half gallon tank."

Nitrogen is the essential ingredient for growing corn and most other crops. Farmers around here spread it on their fields by the truckload.

On Aug. 21, a 70-mile-wide ribbon from Oregon to South Carolina called the "path of totality" will experience a total solar eclipse. Large swaths of farmland in the Great Plains and Midwest will be plunged into darkness for 2 1/2 minutes, and temperatures will drop about 10 degrees in the middle of the day.

But as millions of people look up at the sky, many Midwest scientists will turn their eyes and cameras toward the plants and animals on the ground. And they're not sure what will happen.

Farmworkers march in protest of working conditions at Sarbanand Farms on Wednesday, August 8, 2017, after a fellow worker, Honesto Silva Ibarra, 28, died on Sunday. Click or tap on this image for more photos.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

SUMAS, WASHINGTON — They walked along a dusty, country road, fields of ripe blueberries stretching for miles. 


With A DACA Summer Job, A Bumper Crop Of Worry

Aug 9, 2017

Adeline Guerra is a 19-year old nursing student at Washington State University Tri-Cities, and is one of 1.4 million people living and working in the U.S. under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

KUOW file photo/Liz Jones

Labor tensions have erupted at a berry farm in Sumas, Washington, on the border with Canada. Advocates say more than 120 people have walked off the job after a worker fell ill and later died.

Reusing (@AndreaReusing) is the James Beard award-winning chef at Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Novel and thrilling in earlier days, today's farm-to-table restaurant menus have scaled new heights of supposed transparency. The specificity can be weirdly opaque, much like an actual menu item that recently made the rounds: Quail Egg Coated in the Ashes of Dried Sheep's S***. Farm-to-table fatigue is most evident in those of us who cook in farm-to-table restaurants — Even We Are Sick of Us.

Coming Soon To Eastern Washington: Tree-Free Paper Pulp

Jul 28, 2017

A company in eastern Washington is developing a new way to make paper pulp without trees. The mill will instead use a source abundant to the area: straw.

This is the first story in a three-part series on the wildlife refuges of the Klamath Basin and water in the arid West. Read Part two here.

Driving around Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is like being on bird safari. Guides today are refuge manager Greg Austin and biologist John Vradenburg.

Editor's note: This story is for mature bees only.

Seducing a honeybee drone – one of the males in a colony whose only job is to mate with the queen – is not too difficult. They don't have stingers, so you just pick one up. Apply a little pressure to the abdomen and the drone gets randy, blood rushing to his endophallus, bringing him to climax.

"They're really accommodating," says Susan Cobey, a honeybee breeder on Whidbey Island, Wash. "One ejaculate is about 1 microliter, and it takes 10 microliters to artificially inseminate a queen."

Neil Shook was relaxing at home in Woodworth, N.D., on a Saturday afternoon just over a week ago.

"My wife was outside and she yelled at me to come outside and take a look at this," he recalls.

A massive brown cloud covered the horizon to the west. It was a dust storm — although Shook, who's a scientist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, doesn't like to call it dust. "I like to refer to it as soil, because that's basically what it is," he says. "We saw this huge soil cloud moving from west to east across the landscape."

A brand new flight will send fresh cherries from Seattle to Shanghai, China, several times a week starting June 18.

Northwest And Nation’s Wheat Farmers Battling Fungus 



“Rust” is a four-letter word that makes wheat farmers shudder. The dusty orange fungus called stripe rust cut wheat yields in half. Especially this year—when there’s been an abundance of snow, rain and cool weather.

Now that it's legal in Washington state, a handful of farmers and the Colville tribe have submitted applications to grow industrial hemp. On Tuesday, Moses Lake will be the scene of a "first planting" demonstration of the non-drug cousin of marijuana.

The numbers are out — and they confirm what we've been hearing from farmers and immigration lawyers. More and more farmers are turning to foreign "guest workers" to plant and harvest the country's crops.

Farmland near Ritzville, Washington.
Flickr Photo/John Westrock (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/GwCkwW

Ten years ago, University of Washington professor David Montgomery published his influential book “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.” One year later, he received a MacArthur Genius fellowship, and continued his research in geomorphology: “the branch of geology that is concerned with the structure, origin, and development of the topographical features of the earth's surface.”

Apple growers in Washington state, who dominate American apple production, are starting to plant a new kind of apple. It's the fastest launch of a new variety in history.

Get ready for a new kind of apple. It's called Cosmic Crisp, and farmers in Washington state, who grow 70 percent of the country's apples, are planting these trees by the millions. The apples themselves, dark red in color with tiny yellow freckles, will start showing up in stores in the fall of 2019.

Scott McDougall is one of the farmers who's making a big bet on Cosmic Crisp.

"It goes back to believing in the apple," he says.

"You believe?" I ask.

"I believe!" he says, and chuckles.

Hunger in America can often seem invisible, but recent studies have shown that it is a problem that affects millions of people, many of them children.

An unusually cold and wet spring has Northwest asparagus growers anxious because the crop isn’t coming up. Large asparagus packing houses say they’re down hundreds-of-thousands of pounds so far this spring from normal.

The top attorney in the state of Washington is bringing light to a pattern of alleged sexual assaults at a small-town farm. Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a federal lawsuit (Spanish version here) against Horning Brothers LLC and one of its supervisors.


At the public library in the rural Morgan County town of Brush, Colo., Marissa Velazquez welcomes her students to class. It's a sunny Saturday morning, and the day marks the halfway point in Velazquez's class, a 10-week crash course on American history, civics and English.

Nearly all of the students work in either meatpacking or dairying. Everyone in it has the same goal: become an American citizen. In two hours, Velazquez runs through voting rights, the legislative process and some grammar tips.

Pop quiz: When do we celebrate the venerable American holiday of Flag Day?

Dan Charles

Jeannie Yandel speaks with NPR food reporter Dan Charles about a new apple variety coming to Washington state known as the Cosmic Crisp. Washington grows 70 percent of the apples in the United States, and Red Delicious is the largest single variety grow in the state.

But Americans don't really buy Red Delicious apples anymore. Only half of the 2016 crop has been sold. And the majority of those have gone overseas. Most American shoppers like other varieties - the Honeycrisp, the Gala, the Pink Lady. So apple growers are changing things up. They're hoping Cosmic Crisp will be a big hit among apple lovers. 

With climate change and the decline of honey bees, Northwest farmers are looking for more reliable ways to pollinate cherry and apple trees.

Blink while driving on Highway 34, east of Greeley, Colo., and you might miss the former town of Dearfield.

All that's left of the once-thriving town on Colorado's eastern plains are a rundown gas station, a partially collapsed lunch counter and a former lodge. They are the only indication that there was once a community here. The grass around these buildings is crispy and straw-colored, whipped back and forth by relentless winds. The snowcapped Rocky Mountains barely peek through the haze to the west.

Boardman is best known to thousands of people for its roadside attraction: a sprawling tree farm along Interstate 84. Acres of poplar trees sprouted in orderly rows along the highway running through Eastern Oregon.

Now, most of those plantation trees have been cut down, the land sold. Part of it will soon become Oregon’s second-largest dairy. Lost Valley Farms just received a key permit at the end of March. Its owners say the dairy should be up and running in a few weeks.

At a research lab on top of a forested hill overlooking Hong Kong, scientists are growing viruses. They first drill tiny holes into an egg before inoculating it with avian influenza to observe how the virus behaves.

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