Grant Gerlock | KGOU
KGOU

Grant Gerlock

Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.

Lawmakers unveiled the much-anticipated farm bill compromise Monday night, ending the months-long impasse over whether a critical piece of legislation that provides subsidies to farmers and helps needy Americans buy groceries could pass before the lame-duck session concludes at the end of the year.

With a litany of alleged ethics controversies swirling at home, embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt took the show on the road this week, meeting with farmers in a handful of Midwestern states to talk about his policy agenda.

While Thursday evening's meeting in Lincoln, Neb., was polite, the reception in other states has not been as welcoming, especially when it comes to conversations about his ethanol policies.

At the Lee Valley consignment sale near Tekamah, Neb., dozens of used tractors, planters and other equipment were on the auction block for farmers trying to save a few extra dollars. It was a muddy day, with trucks and four-wheelers leaving deep black ruts — fitting conditions for an industry wallowing in bad news.

For the Midwesterner who likes to eat local, this time of year is a challenge. Browse the produce shelves in middle America — or any place where snow falls in winter — and you'll find carrots from Mexico and peppers from Peru.

Plant breeder, Stephen Baenziger, points to anthers - the male part of a wheat floret. Removing anthers by hand using tweezers is one way researchers make hybrid wheat in the greenhouse.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Wheat is one of the world’s staple foods and a big crop on the Great Plains and in Oklahoma, but it has been left in the dust. A corn farmer can grow 44 percent more bushels per acre than 30 years ago, but only 16 percent more wheat. That’s led many farmers to make a switch.

“Wheat acres have been going down since 1981 or 1982 when they were up around 86 million acres,” said Steve Joehl, director of research with the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). “I think last year we had a little over 56 million. It’s just a straight trend line down.”

Keith Dittrich (left) and Loren Broberg farm in the same part of northeast Nebraska. This summer they’ve had the right amount of rain at the right time. Even though most of their fields are irrigated, they have hardly run the sprinklers.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Farmers in the Midwest are facing a situation they haven’t seen in years. Grain prices are down. After some of the most lucrative growing seasons they’ve ever seen, some producers could lose money on this year’s crop. That could slow down the rural economy.

Nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from corn fields polluted many waterways in the Midwest.
David Staedtler / Flickr

Farmers make a living by raising and selling crops. But what if they could also earn money by taking steps to improve water quality? That’s the idea behind a government effort to create markets for clean water.

It’s an example of an environmental market -- making the land do more than just grow corn or soybeans. It can also sequester carbon, filter pollutants out of water, and give wildlife a place to live. These markets are becoming a more common way for state and federal regulators to approach pollution controls from utilities, industry, and agriculture.

Rodeo bullfighter Rowdy Moon runs in to the rodeo ring after a cowboy is thrown by a bucking bull.
Brian Seifferlein / Harvest Public Media

Rodeo season is getting into full swing and at most rodeos, bull riding is the main event. But when the bull ride ends, the work begins for rodeo bullfighters, and a young bullfighter is making a name in the business by putting himself in the middle of the action.

At bull riding time at the Plum Creek Rodeo in Lexington, Neb., the rodeo corral is under the lights and the sun is a ripe orange in the west. Rowdy Moon bounces on the balls of his feet like a boxer waiting for the match to start.

Corn prices are down and the farm bill is stalled in Congress. So there's a lot of uncertainly in the air as harvest season gets into full swing across the Midwest. But this is a time of year when farm families like the Friesens in Henderson, Neb., come together to focus on the big task at hand: the corn harvest.

Everyone in the family has a job to do.

"Like my dad — he drives auger wagon," Curt Friesen says. "He drives auger wagon only. That's all he's done since 1976, I think. ... My wife, Nancy, she drives the combine; that's her job."

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, here's a reality about farming. From the earliest days of this country, it's been an uncertain business, and for many decades, national policies have been designed to smooth out that risk. But, of course, the risk never entirely goes away. You can never control the rain, for example, and lately the uncertainty has been growing. Corn prices are down. The farm bill is stalled in Congress and there's a sense that good times may be fading.

From Nebraska, Grant Gerlock of NET News brings us his report.