Road to Rantoul: Migrant workers journey to central Illinois

The Nightengale Camp in Rantoul, Ill., is licensed by the state to house more than 400 migrant workers. The workers come north from places such as Mexico and Texas to detassle corn.

Each summer, hundreds of seasonal workers leave their homes in Texas and Mexico and travel more than 1,000 miles north to work in the corn fields of central Illinois. Many of those hundreds make their way to Rantoul, a village of about 13,000 people in Champaign County and the summer home of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign football team’s training sessions. As the sessions get underway in mid-August, the hundreds of migrant workers wrap up the first wave of agriculture work in nearby corn fields. Continue Reading →

Agricultural Act of 2014 ensures crop insurance costs will keep climbing

Crop insurance protects farmers from losses caused by extreme weather and market fluctuations. Here, water pools in fields after a strong thunderstorm near Fairmont, Ill.

Ten years ago, U.S. farmers who chose to insure their crops from weather disasters and market fluctuations received a combined total of about $3.2 billion in insurance payouts in a year. Those payouts have steadily increased by billions of dollars since then, leaving some skeptics arguing that the insurance programs – and the bulky government subsidies that go along with them – are simply welfare for farmers. Continue Reading →

Growing influence: a behind-the-scenes look at crop insurance

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2014 Farm Bill will raise government funding of crop insurance by about $5.7 billion from 2014 to 2023. A joint analysis revealed the lobbying efforts behind that expansion.

It took two years for the U.S. Congress to come together and pass the Agricultural Act of 2014, a piece of legislation known simply as "the Farm Bill." During that period of heated discussion, at least 80 groups spent millions of dollars lobbying on topics that included the Farm Bill and crop insurance. Continue Reading →

Lobbyists of all kinds flock to Farm Bill

President Barack Obama signs the Agricultural Act of 2014 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI on Friday, February 7, 2014. The President spoke on the importance of the act to America’s economy, detailing the progress over the last five years and how this bill will build on that progress.

The massive Farm Bill, which will spend $956 billion and set U.S. food policy for the next decade, is no longer the purview solely of agricultural interests. The Farm Bill has evolved from a spotlight on commodities to a focus on consumers, a joint investigation by Harvest Public Media and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found. Continue Reading →

Out of public eye, a bitter Farm Bill fight

K Street in Washington D.C. has long been known as the home to powerful lobbyists. Hundreds of companies and groups lobbied to influence the 2014 Farm Bill.

From major financial institutions (Wells Fargo & Company) to Taco Bell (Yum! Brands) to Midwest farmers (the National Corn Growers Association), outside groups spent big bucks to shape national food and agriculture policy. But thanks to opaque lobbying disclosure laws, it’s nearly impossible to know how much power each group wields and what they were ultimately able to accomplish. Continue Reading →

Farmers turn drone technology to the skies despite cloudy regulation

A Precision Drone aircraft hovers above the ground at the 2014 Precision Aerial Ag Show in Decatur, Ill. More than 1,000 farmers and enthusiasts attended the show, which demonstrated how growers can use drones on their farm.

Experts predict that the agriculture industry may soon account for roughly half of all drone flights in the United States. As part of that trend, farmers from across the country gathered in central Illinois this week for the Precision Aerial Ag Show, a showcase of unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones. Despite the growing popularity of using drones in agriculture, federal regulation challenges remain. Continue Reading →

E. coli outbreaks highlight food-safety concerns

Food-safety workers linked one E. coli outbreak to raw clover sprouts. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the sprouts came from an Evergreen Fresh Sprouts LLC seed lot in Idaho.

More than four-dozen people became sick after eating E. coli and Salmonella-contaminated foods last month, federal food-safety agencies announced. The E. coli illnesses trace back to clover sprouts and ground beef, while the Salmonella threat links back to the seed-based chia powder. Continue Reading →