As we move into February we take one last look at some of our most important stories of 2020: meatpacking plants and COVID, pesticide use (dicamba) and mental health on the farm. These important issues will continue to resonate in 2021 so look forward to more a lot more coverage in the future. We also bring you our latest Graphic of the Week.
There is lots of rain and snow here in central Illinois today. We hope you are all safe and warm wherever you are! Read on.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. In one week, dozens of his colleagues at the Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, got sick. It prompted the company to test all of its 2,800 employees. In late April, large white tents appeared outside.
When it was Serpa’s turn, he got his nose swabbed. Then he went back inside where he stood elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, with dozens of other potentially infected employees to await the results.
His test came back negative, but his relief was short-lived. One week later, the Cuban immigrant was among hundreds of his co-workers to contract the coronavirus in what would become one of the nation’s largest meatpacking plant outbreaks.
Serpa would spend nearly four months in the hospital, much of it in a coma.
Internal company records show the companies knew crop damage from their weed killer would be extensive. They sold it anyway.
By Johnathan Hettinger, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
December 4, 2020
Get poisoned or get on board.
That’s the choice soybean farmers such as Will Glazik face. The past few summers, farmers near Glazik’s central Illinois farm have sprayed so much of the weed killer dicamba at the same time that it has polluted the air for hours and sometimes days.
As Glazik puts it, there are two types of soybeans: Monsanto’s, which are genetically engineered to withstand dicamba, and everyone else’s.
Glazik’s soybeans have been the damaged ones. His soybean leaves will curl up, then the plants will become smaller and weaker. He’s lost as much as 40 bushels an acre in some fields, a huge loss when organic soybeans are $20 a bushel. He has to hold his breath every year to see if the damage will cause him to lose his organic certification.
His neighbors who spray dicamba are frustrated with him, he said. There’s an easy solution to avoid damage, they tell him: Buy Monsanto’s seeds.
Farmers are among the most likely to die by suicide, compared to other occupations
By Katie Wedell, USA TODAY NETWORK Lucille Sherman, USA TODAY NETWORK Sky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
March 5, 2020
One by one, three men from the same close-knit community took their own lives.
Their deaths spanned a two-year stretch starting in mid-2015 and shook the village of Georgetown, Ohio, about 40 miles southeast of Cincinnati.
All were in their 50s and 60s.
All were farmers.
Heather Utter, whose husband’s cousin was the third to take his life, now worries that her father could be next. The longtime dairy farmer, who for years struggled to keep his operation afloat, sold the last of his cows in January amid his declining health and dwindling finances. The decision crushed him.
“He’s done nothing but milk cows all his life,” said Utter, whose father declined to be interviewed. “It was a big decision, a sad decision. But at what point do you say enough is enough?”
By Sky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
February 3, 2021
Meatpacking companies have long relied on immigrant workers to staff the dangerous plants that kill, cut and package America's protein. The federal government has estimated that more than a quarter of the industry's workforce are foreign-born non-citizens.