Reporter, Writer, Producer, Photographer

From the cab of a combine to the deck of a ship, my career has introduced me to people with amazing stories to tell. I've lived and worked in Iowa, Massachusetts, Alaska and California and have reported from places as disparate as Argentina, Australia and Panama.

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COVID-19 Put Beef Prices On A Roller Coaster, And The Ride Isn't Over Yet

The global pandemic has impacted the food supply in numerous ways and that has led to fluctuations in the prices of some common items. Consider humble ground beef, the stuff of hamburgers, meatballs, chili and pasta sauce. The fattier it is, the lower the price. Usually. “Normally it would be the case that leaner beef would be priced higher than less lean beef,” says Jayson Lusk, an agriculture economist at Purdue University. With a chuckle, he adds: “But of course different market factors and forces can sometimes alter those two relationships.”
courtesy Hy-Vee

How The Pandemic Inspired New Ways To Get Food To Those In Need

This pandemic spring has changed some pathways of getting food to hungry people, but there’s still plenty being donated and distributed to meet the increased need. West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, with stores in eight states, often makes donations to food banks, says Christina Gayman, director of public relations. But right now, many of its suppliers have approached the chain for help distributing their surplus.

Pork Processing Slowed, But For Now Farmers Largely Spared From Euthanizing Their Pigs

Pork processing fell nearly 40 percent following temporary closures at meatpacking plants across the Midwest last month. That’s created a backlog of market-ready hogs, though the scope of the problem isn’t as dramatic as some had feared. Many observers, making back-of-the-envelope style calculations, have tried to estimate how many pigs might be euthanized during processing slowdowns. The numbers can seem staggering.

Animal Disease Labs Step In To Help Meet Need for COVID-19 Testing

Many of the public health labs determining whether people have COVID-19 have become at least overworked or, at worst, overwhelmed. Some of the country’s animal disease labs have stepped in to help. Rodger Main, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Iowa State University, says early in the COVID-19 outbreak, he and leaders from the University of Iowa’s State Hygienic Lab got on the phone to discuss how they could collaborate.
courtesy ISU

ISU Architecture Students Make Face Shields To Help Healthcare Workers During Pandemic

Architecture students at Iowa State University are using design and fabrication skills honed in the Computation and Construction Lab to support healthcare workers in Iowa during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the campus is quiet as classes are on-line and faculty and staff are expected to work from home. But a handful of undergraduates has permission to work in staggered shifts to create face shields. They responded to an invitation from assistant professor of architecture Shelby Doyle.
Kyler Zeleny

Prairie Research Could Help Farming Become More Resilient, Sustainable

On a still November day, Patrick O’Neal, the burn coordinator at Kansas State University’s Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, Kansas, convenes a meeting about a planned fire. “The goal today is to burn about 52 acres,” he says, pointing out the specific sections on a map. The clear blue sky and minimal wind provide inviting conditions. A short time later, the fire crew arrives at the first spot, and members pull on firefighter coats and helmets. The autumn landscape is mostly be
Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

Change At The Climate Divide | Iowa Public Radio

Southeastern Oklahoma averages at least 40 inches of rain per year, so its agricultural industry focuses primarily on livestock and timber. But an extended drought in 2011 and 2012 cost Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers more than $2 billion in losses statewide. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Billy Smallwood is a fifth-generation rancher and hay baler who has a cow-calf operation in Pushmataha County. He says that year, he made almost no hay. “You know, a hay baler doesn’t like to buy hay, but

Kids Have Been Chowing Down On Healthier School Meals But Adults May Change The Rules

After the day’s meals are done on a recent Tuesday, Gilbert Community Schools director of food service Deb Purcell shuffles through a stack of papers. Gilbert, a town north of Ames in central Iowa, serves about 1400-1600 meals a day. “This is what I do, planning for a week,” Purcell says pointing to columns on a page. “And there's actually seven pages minimum that go with each day.”
courtesy ISU

Iowa State Researchers' Prairie Strips Now Part Of Federal Conservation Program

Farmers and landowners enrolling acres in the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program have a new practice available to them. Areas of native grasses and flowers, called prairie strips, have proven helpful in keeping soil in place, preventing nutrients from washing away and increasing the presence of birds and bees. Researchers from Iowa State University began their study of prairie strips more than 15 years ago and over time invited farmers and land owners to give them a t

Will Iowa farmers benefit from Trump's newest deals with China and Japan?

Shortly before the corn harvest began on Rod Pierce’s farm in Dallas County, Iowa, he welcomed a delegation from Japan. The visitors in September mainly came from Japanese companies and co-ops that import corn from the United States to feed to livestock. Pierce invited them to walk into the tall rows of corn and poke their heads into one of his empty grain storage bins and to climb up into the cab of an eight-row combine. He is doing what he can to keep these Japanese buyers happy, including s

Collateral Damage Of The Trade War, Farmers Want Chinese Market Reopened

U.S farmers have long depended on foreign buyers for some of their corn, soybeans, pork and other products. And federal officials have used some agricultural commodities as tools of diplomacy for decades. But as the Trump administration has pursued hard-line moves with major trading partners, especially China, farmers have found themselves with huge surpluses — and on the receiving end of government aid.

EPA’s Revised Worker Protection Standard Still Leaves Field Crews At Risk

More than 2 million people work in or near agriculture fields in the U.S. that are treated with pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has strict policies about what those workers need to know about pesticide risks, when they can be in those fields and what they should do if they come into contact with the chemicals. “EPA sets particular criteria of what needs to be included in a training,” said Betsy Buffington, a program specialist in the Pesticide Safety Education Program at Iowa State University.

Across Midwest Farm Fields, Pesticide Exposure Is Tracked Unevenly Or Not At All

On July 28, 2017, a central Iowa emergency dispatcher received a 911 call from a man in a corn field. “I had workers that were detasseling,” said the caller, referring to the job of manually pulling the tops off standing corn stalks. “Some may have gotten sprayed by a plane.” The caller said 10 or 12 people reported sore throats or vomiting. They’d seen a plane applying pesticides to the adjacent soybean field and it seemed some of the chemicals had drifted toward the corn and onto the workers

As Electric Cars Shift Into Mainstream, The Corn Belt Begins To Ponder A Post-Ethanol Future

At Hummel’s Nissan in Des Moines, Kevin Caldwell sells the all-electric Leaf. Driving one is basically the same as driving a typical gasoline or gas-electric hybrid car, he said, except for a few new features like the semi-autonomous hands-free option. And the fact that you plug it in rather than pumping gas into it. About a quarter to a third of Caldwell’s Leaf customers are farmers, some of whom grow corn for ethanol. “You typically get two types of customers,” he said, “The customers that a

The Uncertain Future Of Soybean Futures

Farmers know every year they’re going to encounter surprises from things out of their control, like drought or pests. This year, great growing conditions led to a bin-busting soybean harvest, but a tit-for-tat exchange of tariffs with China meant that country went from being a major buyer to virtually ignoring U.S. soybeans. That’s caused prices to drop, leaving U.S. farmers and grain elevators struggling to store soybeans until prices or demand improves.

Small Payouts From Farm Safety-Net Programs Make Big Difference In Rural Schools

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay out almost $7 billion this year through two safety-net programs that offer farmers some assistance during tough financial times. While most of it goes to farmers who grow corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops, K-12 public schools also get a sliver of the total payout. That’s a benefit for often rural districts that are struggling due to state legislatures trimming back their cut of education funding.
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