Rural America

The Best Way to Start is to Start

Forty years ago, two editors at Successful Farming magazine, Gene Johnston and Dean Houghton, won most major ag journalism awards with a story titled “Who will kill the hogs?”

       The piece (not available online) tracked a new, potent shift just beginning to hit the 600,000 hog farmers in the U.S.: Local meatpackers were being squeezed for hogs […]

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You’re in Charge of USDA; Where Do You Start?

The impossibly improbable has occurred and you’re now secretary of agriculture. What you think or say about farm and rural policy matters as much—and, often, more—than what other political and farm “leaders” think or say.

      So what do you think about U.S. agriculture today?

      You’re entering office with major grain markets on a bull run. Indeed, corn, soybeans, and wheat prices […]

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Questions Surround Carbon Sequestration; USDA Needs to Find Answers

One topic most red, blue, and green politicians—and, even more strikingly, farmers—agree on is climate change; it’s real.

      In fact, notes the Dec. 2020 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, 58 percent of Iowa farmers and landowners now agree that climate change is both occurring and is caused by either human activity or nature.

      Moreover, if you add […]

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First USDA Quick Fix: CRP Expansion and Reform

On his way out the door last month, former House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, just off a hammering reelection defeat, offered the nation one final idea: the incoming secretary of agriculture should be empowered to enroll up to 50 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) over the next five years.

      Yes, 50—as […]

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‘Why are you giving extreme voices so much attention?’

The last column of the year usually features comments from readers whose views differ from those found here the previous 50 or so weeks. Most point out, often in vivid language, the shortcomings of my ideas, opinions, and—increasingly—the “fake news” I peddle through both.

      At least that’s how it has been for at least 25 […]

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Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods that bordered the farm. Big-bulbed lights, strung in barber pole fashion, generated almost as much heat as the nearby wood stove. Yellowed Christmas cards, saved over the years and perched like doves in the untrimmed branches, served as ornaments.

      “I believe this […]

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‘Political democracy can endure only as a guardian of economic democracy’

In early 1999, I wrote a column about lions and gazelles.

      More precisely, I wrote a column on how, in the 1990s, American livestock farmers had become “gazelles… in the brutal world of global agriculture.”

      What that meant was “Every morning the gazelle awakens knowing it must run faster than the fastest lion to live […]

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Gambling on the Future of Food and Rural America

     Three events on consecutive mid-November days show farmers, ranchers, and all Americans where U.S. agriculture now is.

      Event One: On Nov. 18, the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a not-for-profit news website, detailed allegations on how managers at Tyson Food’s hog-killing plant in Waterloo, IA, literally gambled on employee lives as the coronavirus took root last April.

      […]

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A Challenging Year but an Unforgettable Thanksgiving

Rural people often reminisce by years. The general rule for any talk about “good” or “bad” years is that good years rarely merit as much mention as great years and great years usually play second fiddle to bad years.

      The reason that challenging or tough years like 2019 and 2020 leave an impression is not […]

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Out of Many “Theys,” We

      Ten or so years ago a friend asked if I would help him move a gun safe from his garage to his basement. I agreed not knowing what I was in for.

      I had heard of gun safes; I just hadn’t ever seen one. My father’s “safe” was a corner living room closet where […]

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