Agriculture

Plants need carbon dioxide to live, but its effects on them are complicated.

As the level of carbon dioxide in the air continues to rise because of human activity, scientists are trying to pin down how the plants we eat are being affected.

Mounting evidence suggests that many key plants lose nutritional value at higher CO2 levels, and scientists are running experiments all over the world to try to tease out the effects.

Thirty-eight calves, between two and four months old, moo and kick at the dirt floor in a steel barn in Brush, Colo. One by one, a handler leads them from the pen to a narrow chute, where their legs are restrained and they're lifted onto a hydraulic table.

Ali Budner / 91.5 KRCC

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may seem like an unlikely champion for an illegal substance, but the Kentucky Republican just added the legalization of marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, hemp, to the Senate farm bill. The industrial hemp business is increasingly seen as an economic savior and substitute for vulnerable industries like mining, especially in Colorado, the first state in the nation to make hemp legal at the state level.

Farming involves a degree of inherent risk, such as environmental and biological factors like drought and disease, which can come and go practically without warning. Depressed commodity and dairy prices and a burgeoning trade war are adding to that usual stress and taking a toll on farmers.

As the Senate prepares to unveil its farm bill draft, a bill backed by a bipartisan group of senators from Midwest and Plains states is looking to provide better access to mental health services and financial help for those needing it. The rate of suicides has been higher in rural areas than urban areas for years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ali Budner / 91.5 KRCC

It's officially Hemp History Week. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes the “full growth potential of the industrial hemp industry.” But at the state level, real progress for the hemp industry is still all over the map.

A warm spring has already melted much of the limited snowpack that sits high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. Water is already flowing through the ditches near the rural village of San Pablo.

It’s 9 a.m. on a windy Saturday morning. Every now and then Dan Quintana -- in weathered work gloves and a ball cap -- raises up his shovel and slams it into the mud and matted willows that line the waterway that runs through his hay fields. His slight frame makes it easy for him to jump across the narrow ditch.

Over the last decade or so, states in the Mountain West region have used less and less coal to make electricity. Wind is one of the energy sources replacing it.

Colorado’s biggest wind farm is set to be completed by this fall — and it might even help keep a piece of state history intact.

Suicide rates among farmers are higher than any other profession in the United States and now some experts and Senators worry Washington politics could be making farmland stresses even worse.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC


Peak Curiosity is a community-driven reporting series from 91.5 KRCC. We ask listeners to submit their questions about the Pikes Peak region and Southern Colorado, and then we answer them. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to submit your question!

Scott Bauer / U.S. Department of Agriculture

According to a monthly survey, farmers across the U.S. aren’t feeling too optimistic these days.  

At his booth for the 5th annual NoCo Hemp Exposition in Loveland, Colorado, Scott Leshman, founder of Cannabinoid Creations, pours samples of his signature soda flavor, Cartoon Cereal Crunch. It’s an ode to the popular breakfast cereal, Cap'n Crunch CrunchBerries, with a twist: It contains cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil.  

The dry and arid climate of the Western U.S. is marching eastward, thanks to climate change.

That’s the conclusion of a set of studies from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute. 


In American farm country, a grass-roots movement is spreading, a movement to keep more roots in the soil. (Not just grass roots, of course; roots of all kinds.) Its goal: Promoting healthy soil that's full of life.

I met three different farmers recently who are part of this movement in one way or another. Each of them took me to a field, dug up some dirt, and showed it off like a kind of hidden treasure.

"You can see how beautiful that soil [is]," said Deb Gangwish, in Shelton, Neb. "I'm not a soil scientist, but I love soil!"

The Chinese government has retaliated in what appears to be an escalating trade war. The government says it will slap tariffs on a long list of American goods including pork and fruit, a move that could put producers across the region in a bind.

China buys a lot of American pork. And while Iowa may be this country’s pig-producing colossus, tariffs would hit producers everywhere, including states in the Mountain West like Utah and Colorado.  

Following Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke's repeated calls for more management of public lands, this spring the Bureau of Land Management is giving certain ranchers more say and options in grazing their cattle on public lands.


Western Illinois might be close to the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, but it’s the driest part of the state this year.

“We really haven’t really had any measurable rain since the middle of October,” says Ken Schafer, who farms winter wheat, corn and soybeans in Jerseyville, north of St. Louis. “I dug some post-holes this winter, and it's just dust.”

Fewer Regulations Heighten Cities’ Concerns Over Water Quality, Cost To Clean It Up

Nov 6, 2017

There’s a city council election in Des Moines soon, and voters have questions about the rivers where the city draws its water supply.

“Is (the water) safe to drink? Is it safe to consume?” candidate Michael Kiernan says he’s been asked.

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that'll be increasingly important to farmers are wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel. 

In the summer of 2002, water pumps in Colorado’s San Luis Valley stopped working.

The center pivot sprinklers that coax shoots from the dry soil and turn the valley into one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions strained so hard to pull water from an underground aquifer that they created sunken pits around them.

“This one right over here,” says potato farmer Doug Messick as he walks toward a sprinkler, near the town of Center. He's the farm manager for the valley's Spud Grower Farms. “I came up to it one day and I could’ve driven my pickup in that hole.”

Mad Cow Disease Detected In Alabama

Jul 18, 2017

A case of mad cow disease has been found in a cow in Alabama.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists confirmed Tuesday that an 11-year-old cow found in an Alabama livestock market suffered from the neurologic cattle disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The animal “at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States,” according to the USDA.

Dana Cronin / 91.5 KRCC

Family farms line the southern reaches of the Arkansas River in Colorado. The agricultural community there depends on the river's yearly flows for crop irrigation. But with predictions of less water in the future, the region could face tradeoffs over the coming decades.

The livelihoods of farmers and ranchers are intimately tied to weather and the environment. But they may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

An app that encourages users to support farmers and growers in southern Colorado is moving into its third year. 

Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith [LC-DIG-highsm-11937]

Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River is a new book from David Owen, a staff writer with the New Yorker magazine and author of more than a dozen books.  His latest takes him on a journey across the west following the Colorado River: the dams, reservoirs and pipelines that help quench the thirst of seven states and parts of Mexico. 

Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-USF343-001617-ZE] / Library of Congress

A new study looked into what would happen if the modern agricultural industry was to experience a 1930s Dust Bowl style event.

Kristen Wyatt / Associated Press

Three varieties of industrial hemp seed are the first to attain certification from the state for widespread use.  They meet the requirements to produce mature plants with less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Deric Stowell / Courtesy Daneya Esgar

The Pueblo Chile Growers' Association and Pueblo County are working together to get a new Colorado license plate approved that would feature the Pueblo chile.

Denise Dethlefsen / Used with permission

A new partnership aims to preserve four farms in Rocky Ford, totaling more than 660 acres.

New conservation easements between farmers Bart and David Mendenhall and the Palmer Land Trust will help ensure the water from their farms can never be sold off.

Holly Pretsky / KRCC

The Colorado State Fair officially opened August 25th in Pueblo. Saturday, hundreds of high school students crowded in to perform at the annual marching band competition. KRCC's Holly Pretsky attended the event and other traditional fair activities, and brought back this audio postcard.  

Shanna Lewis / KRCC

The 144th Colorado State Fair officially opens Friday in Pueblo, and organizers expect more than 500,000 people to attend.

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