How did the soybean become such a common crop in the U.S.?

This story was inspired by a question submitted at a Listening Post the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting held in August. Stuart Levy in Urbana, Illinois, asked us what would be needed for row crop farmers to switch from corn and soybeans to “something more sustainable.” We dug into that question, which starts with the unlikely circumstances that turned the soybean into a multi-billion dollar industry, and what this history might reveal about the future of U.S. agriculture. 

Report highlights fears among workers in the meat processing industry

Repetitive motion injuries, amputations and cuts continue to be common dangers that workers in the meat processing industry face, according to a Government Accountability Office report released this month. The GAO also found workers suffer respiratory illnesses from peracetic acid – an antimicrobial chemical – sprayed on meat in processing facilities. In addition, investigators from GAO identified a lack of bathroom access as a major concern among workers – one that workers were afraid to mention to federal labor inspectors at plants for fear of retribution from their employer. The report reviewed the government’s efforts – specifically the Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) – to protect the health and safety of workers in the nation’s animal slaughtering and processing industry, one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S.

Approximately 72 workers were interviewed in Arkansas, Delaware, Nebraska, North Carolina and Virginia. Workers in three of those states said they had suffered negative health effects, such as kidney problems, from delayed or denied bathroom breaks.

Report spotlights nitrate contamination in drinking water across the U.S.

A new report from the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, indicates that more than 1,700 water districts across the U.S. recorded nitrate levels that averaged 5 ppm or more in 2014-2015. The vast majority — 1,683 of the water districts — were rural systems  serving no more than 25,000 people and generally located in farming areas where fertilizer and manure in cropland runoff can seep into the public water supply. Included in those rural districts were 118 systems that matched or exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 10 ppm.

Help us investigate the growing number of pesticide drift complaints

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found that the number of alleged pesticide misuse complaints in Illinois this year is already more than the previous three years combined. States across the Midwest have reported a similar spike. Experts say this sharp increase is due in large part to new formulations of the weed killer dicamba. Many farmers and homeowners are reporting damage to their non-dicamba-resistant plants, raising questions about how easily the product can drift off target, even when applied according to the directions on the label. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has been following the story, and we want to hear from you (regardless of whether you filed a formal complaint).

Long-time housing for migrant farmworkers closes

Since 2001, the former hospital on Nightingale Court in Rantoul, Ilinois housed as many as 450 migrant farmworkers and their families to work in the fields in central Illinois.
But this year, its owner - Unique Storage Inc. - did not submit a migrant labor camp application for the site, known as Nightingale, according to the state public health department. Instead, housing for the farmworkers was moved elsewhere.

Government watchdog recommends steep cuts to crop insurance companies

Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office released a report that outlines its proposal for how the government can improve the crop insurance program’s delivery and reduce costs to the taxpayers who help fund it without passing those costs on to the farmer.

Drought continues in the High Plains, while Midwestern farmers see rainfall extremes

In South Dakota, one of the nation’s top wheat producing states, nearly 75 percent of the spring crop is in poor to very poor condition, according to the report. In North Dakota, the nation’s second largest wheat producer, 40 percent of the spring wheat crop is in poor to very poor condition.