From the Column

Big Ag’s Weak Hand in Nitrate Fight

For over a year the Des Moines Water Works has been warning every private farmer and public official in Iowa that it would sue anyone or any entity it deemed responsible for the dangerously high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River, a key source of the water it delivers to 500,000 people in and around […]

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The COOL Facts

Country of origin labeling, or COOL, for meat, fruit, vegetables and nuts sold in the U.S. has been kicked around by the courts, politicians, international trade panels and special interest farm groups since it became law in 2008. The only people who haven’t kicked it are American consumers. Polls consistently report that at least 85 […]

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Winter From the Window

January’s week of blistering cold was met with the blissful heat from the farmette’s two efficient woodstoves. Red oak and hickory are, after all, the July and August of wood heat both when you split ‘em and when you burn ‘em. Zero degree cold was not common on the big southern Illinois dairy farm of […]

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Welcome Back, Foodie

We didn’t know it back then but everyone on the big southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth was a foodie. Of course there was no one named Bittman or Pollan or Waters to tell us we were foodies but there were people named Mom and Grandma and Aunt Nina whose food knocked your socks […]

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Dirt’s Big Year

Last year may have been a lot of things to a lot of people but one thing it surely wasn’t was predictable. I mean who foresaw last year’s record-setting high in the U.S. stock market, the plunge in global crude oil prices, Russia’s naked grab of Ukraine’s sovereign territory or the Obama Administration’s reaching out […]

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You’re Right, I’m Wrong… Next!

The email got the point as quickly as a working hammer gets to a nail: “Alan—You have got to be kidding me—production agriculture ‘embrace’ the EPA clean water regulations?” it asked not really seeking an answer. The question was sent in reaction to a mid-September column that urged farmers and ranchers to work with the […]

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Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

Originally published in 1994, “Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving” continues to be the most requested, most reprinted Farm and Food File column. The column inspired The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey which will be published by The University of Illinois Press in May 2015.  The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods […]

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Insuring Elephants

Federally subsidized crop insurance is the elephant in the Farm Bill pantry and anyone who had any role in pushing the law through the zoo called Congress knows it. What most didn’t know, however, was when Big Ag would finally acknowledge its huge appetite and suffocating presence. Enter Mary Kay Thatcher, a long-time, well-respected Washington, […]

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Groundhog Day, Again and Again

Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, Christmas in the windshield, and given the glacial pace of key policy decisions awaiting resolution in Washington, D.C., it’s just another Groundhog Day out here in rural America. Those decisions, after two years of heavy duty do-nothingness, are coming slower than the deadlines faced by this Congress and the […]

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All Right Already, Fix It

If you ran your farm or ranch like the White House and Congress run the federal government, your corn would never get planted and your cows would be long gone. Of course, if you ran your farm or ranch anywhere near the level of—what?— the scornful divisiveness and almost pure reactionary politics that now guide […]

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