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agriculture

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.

From the BelleWood Acres farmhouse in Washington's Whatcom County, you can see piles of apple crates and rows of trees that stretch for acres. This is the biggest apple orchard west of the Cascades.

“Spring time’s magical in the orchard,” says John Belisle, who owns the orchard with his wife, Dorie.

“There’s bees everywhere,” Dorie agrees. “The orchards hum with their working.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has said they will not ban an insecticide widely used on farms and orchards, including in Washington state.

This comes after recommendations from EPA scientists last year to ban the chemical in question, a pesticide called chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos was banned years ago for use in most household products.

In recent years, environmental groups have been petitioning to have it removed from agricultural use too. They say it can harm children.

The system that delivers fresh salad greens like clockwork to the nation's grocery stores is breaking down slightly. In about three weeks, consumers may get a reminder of two things. First, vegetables really are fragile living things, and most of them have to survive outdoors. Second, we depend to a remarkable degree on just a few places to grow them. (That's a lesson U.K. lettuce lovers also recently got.)

Honey Bees May Be Harmed By Crop-Protecting Fungicides

Feb 21, 2017

You know those nasty brown spots that can ruin an otherwise perfectly delicious apple? Those spots--and other problems, like blossom blight and yellow leaves — are often caused by fungi. Apple growers usually fight back with fungicides — but, it turns out, those fungicides could be hurting honey bees.

“The long-standing assumption is that fungicides won’t be toxic to insects,” says May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The generation that pioneered organic farming is beginning to retire. These farmers want what they've built to last. Some growers are passing on their farms to their kids. But not all of them have a second generation who wants to take over the family farm.

That's what longtime organic growers Tom and Denesse Willey discovered when they decided over the past few years that it was time to retire. When the Willeys asked their kids if they wanted to take over their 75-acre farm in California's Central Valley, they all said "no."

Northwest farmers are getting a bit antsy to start spring prep. But they are tallying up damage from a harsh winter -- and they’re worried it’s not over yet.

On a clear, cold winter evening, the sun begins to set at Lost Lake Farm near Jewell, Iowa, and Kevin Dietzel calls his 15 dairy cows to come home.

"Come on!" he hollers in a singsong voice. "Come on!"

Brown Swiss cows and black Normandy cows trot across the frozen field and, in groups of four, are ushered into the small milking parlor.

WSU President Commits To Diversity

Feb 15, 2017

Washington State University President Kirk Schulz packed an auditorium Wednesday at his first State of the University address. He highlighted the university's accomplishments since his presidency began last June.

During winter’s coldest months, snow can protect winter wheat like a blanket on a bed. But if it hangs around too long it can cause problems.

President Donald Trump signed executive orders to increase immigration enforcement officers, deport individuals living in the country illegally and build a wall along the border with Mexico. All while Northwest farmers say they can’t hire enough people to pick fruit or work in packing houses.

Genetically engineered crops are nothing new. But emerging technology that allows scientists to alter plants more precisely and cheaply is taking genetically engineered plants from the field to the kitchen.

The first version of the Arctic Apple, a genetically modified Golden Delicious, is headed for test markets in the Midwest in February, according to the company that produced it. It is the first genetically engineered apple, altered so that when it is cut, it doesn't turn brown from oxidation.

Third-generation Arlington farmer Andrew Albert. Albert planted winter wheat around a power box that was meant to serve the housing development.
KUOW Photo/Posey Gruener

Farm becomes subdivision. It's an old story, and one that Arlington hay farmer Andrew Albert has seen a lot.

"Happens all the time. Land is farmed for generations, then one generation ends, the other takes over, and they have different ideas, and it's no longer a farm," Albert said.

The recent testy back-and-forth between President Donald Trump and Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto -- could end in real cash losses for agriculture in the Northwest.

Most farmers in rural eastern Washington state say they only hire legal workers. But there’s a polite fiction of living and working there. Federal immigration officers raid farms and ranches here. And people get deported.

Colin Curwen-McAdams opens the door to his greenhouse in Mt. Vernon, Washington, and a rush of warm air hits our faces.

“Basically, it’s summer all year long here,” he jokes.

This is the greenhouse where Curwen-McAdams, a PhD student at Washington State University, and WSU professor Steven Jones developed a new species, which they call Salish Blue. It’s a cross between wheat and its wild cousin, wheat grass. Their goal was to make something that’s like wheat but grows back year after year.

The inauguration of Donald Trump and the next session of Congress mark the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership for the United States. The trade deal proved to be a divisive issue during the presidential election -- and not just among politicians.

Two closely-tied agriculture exporters in the Northwest, beef producers and hay farmers, will be affected by the end of  TPP in very different ways.

This photo was taken by an undocumented immigrant featured in a KUOW story in July 2014. It was the last photo he took of America before turning around and walking into Mexico.
Courtesy Jorge Lerma

Build a wall.

Increase deportations.

End protections for young people known as "Dreamers."

The Port of Portland is suing agriculture giant Monsanto Corp. for widespread PCB contamination on port property, the Port announced Thursday.

The lawsuit doesn’t state a dollar amount, but wants the company to pay for its portion of the clean up in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

“The damages for the Port of Portland range anywhere between tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in total PCB clean-up costs,” said John Fiske, a California-based attorney representing the Port of Portland.

Low temperatures, snow drifts, and northeasterly winds east of the Cascades are making things difficult for Northwest ranchers and dairy owners. They are struggling to keep their animals hydrated, fed and warm.

It's a continuing paradox of the meat industry. Every year, more restaurants and food companies announce that they will sell only meat produced with minimal or no use of antibiotics. And every year, despite those pledges, more antibiotics are administered to the nation's swine, cattle and poultry.

Patricia Aguilar, 21, began working at DeRuyter Brothers Dairy in central Washington nearly three years ago. She worked at the dairy's milking parlor, which she says handles about 3000 cows three times each day, seven days a week. Aguilar was one of four dairy workers responsible for pushing and guiding the cows into the parlor, connecting the animals to milking machines, wiping them and the machinery down, and cleaning towels and milk tanks.

The day after Donald Trump swept to victory, the head of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Zippy Duvall, released a videotaped statement aimed at the President-elect and other political leaders in Washington.

"Rural America turned out and made their voice heard in this election," he said. "Now it's time for our elected leaders to support rural America."

In the small town of Sunderland, Mass., is a 300-year-old, family-run plot of land that fuses fine art and farming.

Mike Wissemann's 8-acre cornfield maze is a feat of ingenuity, with carefully planned and executed stalk-formed replicas of notables such as the Mona Lisa, Albert Einstein and Salvador Dalí.

Many Washington and Idaho wheat farmers are struggling this year because of a weird crop problem. Researchers at the USDA’s Western Wheat Quality Lab at Washington State University in Pullman are looking into it.

By baking cakes, cookies, bread, pancakes, noodles and pasta.

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