GRAPHIC: Meat processing workers earn an average of $15.53 per hour, with state-level variation

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics shows meat processing workers were paid an average hourly wage of $15.53 in May 2020, its latest calculation. Workers experience higher illness and injury rates compared with other manufacturing jobs, but their average wage is lower than the average wage for all manufacturing employees, at $20.08 an hour. The 3,100 workers processing meat in Massachusetts earned the highest average hourly wage, $21.24, in the country. Louisiana, with just over 5,500 meat processing workers, had the lowest average hourly pay, at $11.89. California had nearly 40,000 such workers, the most in the country, and they received an average hourly rate of $16.76, the 14th largest in the nation. 

Data analysis: Data was pulled directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (selecting state data from https://www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm).

A consolidated market leaves ranchers wondering what’s next

While consumers pay high beef prices at the grocery store, very little has trickled down to ranchers — in fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the gap between the retail price for beef and the price producers receive is the largest it's ever been. In interviews, eight ranchers in seven states agreed their profits have stagnated or even decreased, while the meatpacking companies — which buy the animals for slaughter, then package the meat to be sold at grocery stores — have benefited.

GRAPHIC: Very few farmers are millennials, and, of those, the vast majority are white

Young producers, farmers and ranchers who are 35 and younger represented 9% of all American producers in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Nearly all, 96%, of the young producers were white. This left 14,111 young producers of color in the U.S. Socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, those who have experienced racial or ethnic prejudice, have additional funding opportunities through the USDA’s 2501 program. 

About 80% of the young producers started farming in the last 10 years and about 50% started in the last five years. Most young producers reported a primary occupation that was not farming in 2017. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency offers support to beginning farmers and ranchers through direct and guaranteed loan programs.

The Biden administration has defended some of former President Trump’s pesticide decisions

Although President Joe Biden has promised to limit people’s exposure to “dangerous chemicals and pesticides,” his administration has defended several actions by the Trump administration that generally deregulated pesticides.

But months into the new presidency, the Biden administration has chosen to defend some of the Trump administration’s decisions on pesticides.

GRAPHIC: Americans spent less money on food during the pandemic

In a historic low, U.S. consumers spent 8.6% of their disposable income on food last year, a 10.1% decrease from 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Between 1960 and 2000, the percentage of disposable income — the amount of money consumers have left after paying taxes — spent on food dropped from 17% to 9.9%. But for the last 20 years, the percentage had been steady, remaining around 10%.  

Consumers in 2019 spent an average of 9.58% of their income on food, with 4.94% going towards food cooked at home and 4.65% towards dining out. In 2020, Americans spent 1.4% more of their incomes on food at home and spent 22.2% less on eating out. An analysis by the USDA’s Environmental Research Service attributes the changes in food spending, in part, to coronavirus-related closures and restrictions, and to the largest annual increase in disposable personal income in 20 years due to additional government financial aid during the pandemic.

Climate change triggers rare crop diseases in Missouri

This story was originally published by the Missouri Information Corps. New crop diseases pervading Missouri have been linked to climate change, and they’re directly impacting crop production. Climate change has already made Missouri a little more hot and humid, but has also caused some diseases for crops like corn and soybeans to become more prevalent. If not treated properly, farmers could see a significant loss in crop yields. However, there are ways Missourians can both fight off these crop diseases and combat climate change. 

Kaitlyn Bissonnette, a plant pathologist for MU Extension, said that she has seen climate change impact crop production by changes in disease varieties and prevalence in Missouri.

Climate change worsens flooding devastation across the Midwest

This story was originally published by the Missouri Information Corps. Loaded up with camera gear and permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get up close, John Moon III made his way to Harry S. Truman Reservoir in Warsaw, Mo. A contracted stormtracker for KSN TV, Moon stood on the side of gushing flood waters during the flooding in 2019. The water being 30-40 feet above a normal pool, Moon struggled to shield his equipment from the spray of the water. 

“The spray itself [from the floodgates] made me feel like I was in a rainstorm,” Moon said. Every Missourian remembers the powerful rain and flooding in 2019 — events that caused widespread destruction and financial loss across the state.

Trump ag secretary Sonny Perdue personally lobbied to keep meatpacking plants open during pandemic, emails show

It’s well-established that Trump administration officials wanted meatpacking plants to keep operating, often with industry pressure, as workers fell ill and died by the dozens. But new emails obtained by nonprofit Public Citizen show Perdue personally lobbying to keep plants open, including pressing Robert Redfield, the former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director.

GRAPHIC: Knee high by Fourth of July?

The old term , "Knee high by Fourth of July" was used as a marker to gauge the year's corn crops, meaning that the height of a corn stalk should be at or above an average person's knee cap.

Without an official statewide climate plan, Missourians must look elsewhere for direction

This story was originally published by the Missouri Information Corps. A staple of industry and identity in the state — agriculture has a stake in Missouri's economy and people's livelihoods. 

But Missouri’s agriculture industry will face the harsh realities of the climate emergency if action isn’t taken. The Fourth National Climate Assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research Program states that in the Midwest, climate change will reduce agricultural productivity in the next 30 years due to increased precipitation and extreme temperatures. That is, unless there are major technological advances. 

Not only will more rain cause less flexibility for spring planting and worsen soil erosion, but higher overall temperatures will also reduce yields for staple crops in Missouri like corn and soybeans. 

Although some states have taken initiative to combat climate change, Missouri is one of 30 that has not created a statewide plan to prepare for potential climatic changes. And though Missouri has an $88 billion agricultural industry, the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) does not have a climate adaptation plan for farmers. 

In a written statement, MDA Communications Director Sami Jo Freeman recognized the department's lack of a climate change adaptation program.