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Christopher Vondracek

Agriculture Reporter | Agriculture
Phone: 612-673-4811

Christopher Vondracek covers agriculture for the Star Tribune.

Vondracek has reported on prairie dog lawsuits in the Black Hills to federal education policy in Washington D.C. A native of Faribault County, Minnesota, he's a graduate of the University of South Dakota, holds an MFA from Hamline University, and taught college English for many years in Winona and St. Paul. His debut collection of poetry, Rattlesnake Summer, was published in 2020, and his memoir, Dancing with Welk, in 2022. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Carrie, and daughter, Rosie.
Recent content from Christopher Vondracek
Beth Ford of Land O'Lakes

Land O'Lakes CEO Beth Ford named to Time's list of 100 influential people

Last year, the leader of the Arden Hills-based agribusiness and food giant, was recognized by Time for sustainable agriculture work.
Becca Rudebusch at Seeds Farm near Northfield on Tuesday. Recent rains help overland crops, but many of the seedlings are watered up to three times a

Minnesota farmers welcome spring rain: 'There's nothing like the chemistry of rainwater'

The Land of 10,000 Lakes (and farms) slipped back out of drought last week and Tuesday's rains helped, too, good news especially for farmers.
Nick Peterson goes to check on how full the semitrailer truck is as it’s filled with corn from an auger at Peterson’s Farm on April 4 in Clear Lak

Fields softened early this year, but corn farmers await April 10 to kick off planting season

Baseball has Opening Day. Anglers have the Fishing Opener. Corn farmers have federal crop insurance day.
Minnesota beef producers benefited from record prices in 2023.

Minnesota farmers saw income drop 76 percent last year from plunging commodity prices

A survey of Minnesota's top-earning farmers suggests sagging pork, dairy and crop prices led to a 76% drop in farm profitability in 2023. The short-term future doesn't look bright, either.
And that's the least of their problems.

Is bird flu coming for Minnesota's dairy cows next?

The devastating avian virus has already infected baby goats in Stevens County. Now Minnesota ag officials brace for what feels like the inevitable.
Community supported agriculture, or CSA, is a way to receive fresh produce straight from a local farm.

Farm out your groceries this summer with a CSA subscription

Community supported agriculture offers big-time nutrition and local produce, as long as you're willing to cook — and eat — whatever your farmer provides.
Members of the Peterson family, who operate Far-Gaze Farms, worked harvesting corn on one of their fields, this one 142 acres, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015,ne

White House yet to release sustainable jet fuel tax credit rules; corn farmers eager to mix in ethanol

The lucrative federal tax credit created by the Inflation Reduction Act could be a boon for corn farmers, if it's ever released.
A school bus driving Austin's basketball teams to Rochester drove past the Hormel Foods plant, which employs much of the town. ] Aaron Lavinsky • aa

Pigs' blood leaked from Hormel plant into storm water system in Austin, Minn.

Officials say the debris, released by faulty equipment at a pork processing plant, overwhelmed the city's system for several days.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison joined AGs in 47 other states and the District of Columbia in the case against C.R. Bard. (MARK VANCLEAVE/Sta

Minnesota AG's office negotiates safe living conditions for dairy workers in wage theft case

Evergreen Acres Dairy in Paynesville, which disputes the underlying charges, has agreed to stipulations while the case continues.
Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune Saturday, May 29, 2004 -- Brandon, MN -- New corn sprouts from a black dirt field in Brandon, MN. Minnesota experienced heavy

AI could help track farm country's carbon emissions, U study says

A new study from the University of Minnesota suggests a machine learning model could help solve the tricky question of where planet-warming gases are escaping from soil.
Five-pound bags of table sugar from beets are filled at American Crystal Sugar Company in Moorhead.

Sugar prices keep climbing. Minnesota bakeries are suing sugar companies over it.

Edina-based United Sugar and Minnetonka-based Cargill are among the defendants in federal antitrust lawsuits.
The manure pit at Dick Thompson's farm on Friday, November 30, 2012, in Boone, Iowa.

Manure haulers sue Minnesota boss, alleging poor housing, deceit and wage theft

South African farm-laborers arrived in western Minnesota town to find a job very different than the one they signed up for, including illegal housing, unpaid hours and poor treatment.
Farming conservation funds earmarked in 2022 now being challenged in Congress

Farming conservation funds earmarked in 2022 now being challenged in Congress

A Minnesota farmer says a "light bulb" went off when he tried environmental practices on his Stearns County farm. Now, some on Capitol Hill want to reallocate the funding that made this climate-smart experimentation possible.
HyLife Foods employees makes their way to the second shift at the pork processing plant in Windom, Minn., on April 19, 2023.

Were Windom slaughterhouse workers' wages actually withheld? State and attorney battle in bankruptcy proceedings.

The sprawling pork processing facility in southwestern Minnesota employed over 1,000 people.
In this photo taken Sept. 22, 2011, Tim Smith of Mackinaw, Ill., works a corn field east of Mackinaw. Illinois' state crop report Monday, Sept. 26, 20

Proposal would tax Minnesota farmers to help pay for cleanup of nitrate pollution

Last year, the EPA called out nitrate pollution, largely from agriculture, in southeastern Minnesota. Now a bill to raise taxes on fertilizer is moving through the Legislature.
Take and prepare food items are easy to locate in the grocery area of the Target in Minnetonka, as are the bulk food items in the foreground. ] JEFF W

Target joins antitrust lawsuit against Cargill and others over high beef costs

The Minnesota retailer is among the most recent to join dozens of plaintiffs alleging a price-fixing conspiracy by the nation's largest beef producers, including fellow Minnesota company, Cargill.
The higher-ethanol fuel blend called E15 has hit the Twin Cities through an unusual marriage between the state corn growers and independent gas statio

Summer sales of E15 coming permanently to Minnesota, EPA says. But not until 2025.

Midwestern governors, including Gov. Tim Walz, had requested the federal agency allow sales of higher blends of ethanol for use by consumers during summer months.
Keith Johnson, plowed a field for cover crop on rented land near his farm in Centre City, Minn., on Wednesday, August 21, 2014. He lets the outskirts

Minnesota's top ag official denies allegations of discrimination made by white, male farmer

Last month, a Beltrami County farmer sued over a state-backed grant program aimed to help producers buy farmland, saying he was discriminated against because he was a white male.
United Stated Department of Labor building in Washington, D.C. (Mark Gomez/ ORG XMIT: 73153775W

Janitorial service breaks child labor laws at Iowa slaughterhouse, feds allege

New court filing says nine teens were working overnight at Sioux City plant.
In 2016, hogs genetically similar to wild hogs, like the two seen above captured in rural Washington County, Mo., found in the southwestern U.S. were

Feral hogs not in Minnesota, new state report finds

But loose swine do run wild in state. Moreover, wild pigs live north of Minnesota's Canadian border, fueling concern about possible incursion down the road.
The Tony Downs Food facility in Madelia, Minn.

Union asks Minnesota meat processor to create child-welfare fund in wake of labor allegations

Amid contract negotiations with Tony Downs Foods in Madelia, the union calls for a novel response: pay for a fund for kids.
With skyrocketing farmland prices and crop insurance guarantees, black dirt is looking more like black gold for farmers in Minnesota. . Looking to exp

USDA says Minnesota farms are growing in size, but shrinking in number

Fewer farmers and farmland across America, as nation's agriculture industry continues to consolidate.
The milking carousel at Louriston Dairy in Murdock, Minn, operated by Riverview LLP, in a 2018 file photo.

A pipeline for cow gas draws environmental support, ag concentration concerns

The PUC met at a bar in Benson, Minn., on Tuesday evening to hear citizen feedback on a plan to pump and sell biogas that could generate green energy.
Kristi Maricle taught an adult literacy class to immigrants at the Windom High School in Windom on Jan. 23.

Many workers displaced by slaughterhouse closure remain in Windom, waiting for opportunity

A state investigation into missing backpay for workers opened the door for many workers on agriculture worker visas to remain in the U.S.
A photo of a farmer trimming the wool behind his sheep’s ears on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, inside the Sheep & Poultry Barn at the State Fairgrounds i

Minnesota farmers wonder: Will a new federal farm bill ever come?

Last fall, Congress extended the 2018 farm bill for another year. Farmers say "kicking the can down the road" just won't do in 2024.
Jack Weber drove his wheat combine on his field. The wheat doesn't bring much cash but it does improve the health of his soil. ] GLEN STUBBE ¥ gl

White farmer sues Minnesota ag grant program, alleging discrimination

Last year, Minnesota's legislature offered money for historically underserved producers — including BIPOC, LGBTQ and women farmers — to buy land.
“Snirt" could be seen for several miles along Hwy. 60 near St. James on Tuesday.

A dry, warmer winter means more snirt. What is it and why is it coating Minnesota ditches?

Not only a wicked portmanteau, the combo of "snow" and "dirt" is a symptom of warmer winters.
Carey Tweten drives at tractor through the barn to push feed to the cows Wednesday, June 15, 2023, at Valley Acres Dairy in Lewiston, Minn.

Minnesota dairy farmer takes Hastings Creamery to court over unpaid milk deliveries

Text messages show Minnesota dairy farmer in distress as historic creamery stumbled toward demise.
Workers make their way out of the Long Prairie Packing Company in Long Prairie, Minn., on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. ] Elizabeth Flores • liz.flores@st

Race, rural economy and a housing shortage collide in Long Prairie apartment fight

Many community leaders in the central Minnesota town welcome a company plan to build apartments, but the proposal has "brought out a lot of ugly in a small town."

Despite drought, Minnesota corn farmers helped U.S. to record 2023 harvest

Farmers in the state harvested 4% more corn than in 2022, while nationwide, last year saw a record harvest of 177.3 bushels per acre.

More than $135M worth of turkeys and chickens have been killed in Minnesota because of bird flu

That's just what the USDA has reimbursed the state's poultry and egg producers so far.

Minnesota hog farmers shoulder weight of adapting to California's law

Jan. 1 marked the deadline for banning sales in the Golden State of pork raised on farms where sows live in confined pens.
Peter and Anne Schwagerl inspected a camelina field on Nov. 10, 2023, on their farm northwest of Beardsley, Minn. 

Move over, Kernza — camelina is a new winter oilseed that could save the Mississippi River

Environmentalists say to repair Minnesota's watershed, farmers should switch to perennial grains. But this winter cover crop, with established buyers, may be a better fix.
Sugar beets fill a hopper during early season harvest in Minnesota’s Red River Valley on Aug. 16, 2023.

Minnesota's sugar beet industry celebrates record harvest during the sweetest season

The state is a top producer of beets — almost entirely in the Red River Valley and across a swath of southern Minnesota. But with the Farm Bill in limbo, so, too, is the federal safety-net.
Minnesota has 146 fewer dairy farmer permits this Christmas than at the beginning of the year, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

Dozens of Minnesota dairy farms folded in November

Minnesota had 146 fewer dairy farmer permits this month than at the beginning of the year.
Greg Ladwig bought meat, bread and cheese at Conger Meat Market in Conger, Minn. on Dec. 11.

Bypass the grocery store meat counter and buy the quarter-beef (or half-hog) to save money

Since the pandemic's run on meat at grocery stores, the old-school lockers of rural Minnesota — purveyors of prime beef, steaks, even lutefisk and once destined for the chopping block — are enjoying a renaissance.
A federal judge in St. Paul has sentenced a 66-year-old Minnesota farmer to three years in prison for falsely selling rail cars full of conventional g

Minnesota farmer gets prison for organic grain fraud scheme

Federal judge delivers three-year sentence to southwestern Minnesota man who undermined the "trust" of U.S. organic grain market.

Monopolies in Minnesota's farm country gaining attention from DOJ, AG Ellison

Fewer companies produce the fertilizer and seed for farmers. There are also only a handful of major commodity buyers. Government prosecutors are taking a look.
Brad Rademaker sifted through soybeans at the CHS soybean processing site in Mankato in 2022.

Congressional watchdog: Stop paying big farmers' crop insurance

New report spells out how Congress could drop subsidies for top producers and save millions in taxpayer dollars
Jack Barrett and Anita Gaul of the State Emblems Redesign Commission hang up some of the 216 flag designs that made the first cut from the original 21

'What are we if we are just one thing?': Minnesota farmers face their likely absence from state flag

The finalists to replace Minnesota's current flag lack explicit agricultural imagery — and maybe that's OK, rural advocates say.

Minnesota's African immigrant farmers throw harvest feast, celebrating first year as a group

Minnesota African Immigrant Farmers Association celebrates this year's bounty and its first year as an organization.
Teri Otterness pointed out a Japanese maple, a hearty Zone 5 plant, at Highland Nursery in St. Paul.

USDA's hardiness zone map changes. What it means for Minnesota gardeners and growers

Minnesotans pride themselves on enduring deep, winter cold. The latest map shows this extreme cold is fading.
Beka Munduruku, a 21-year-old Indigenous leader from Brazil, led a news conference outside Cargill in Minnetonka last month. The group criticizes the

Cargill speeds up timeline to end deforestation in Brazil. Will it be enough?

The Minnesota ag giant's move comes ahead of COP28 and after months of sustained criticism of its soy supply chain from environmental groups.
Erica Sawatzke held a three-week-old turkey in one of the barns at her family farm in Kensington, Minn., on Oct. 4. Sawatzke says having high-speed in

Minnesota turkey farmers say expanded rural broadband could help detect bird flu sooner

Political leaders cast Minnesota as leading the nation in rural internet connection. Some gaps — like the heart of Minnesota's turkey country — still exist.

Gov. Walz greenlights a gobbler in Minnesota — where we don't pardon poultry

Tom the Turkey, raised on an Isanti, Minn., hobby farm, reveled in the State Capitol spotlight on Wednesday.

Gov. Walz greenlights a gobbler in Minnesota — where we don't pardon poultry

President Joe Biden pardoned the national Thanksgiving turkeys, Liberty and Bell, during a pardoning ceremony Monday on the South Lawn of the White Ho

Biden pardons Minnesota-raised turkeys in annual White House Thanksgiving tradition

Willmar-raised Liberty and Bell have been feted since their arrival in Washington, D.C., this weekend.
Two turkeys, named Liberty and Bell, who will receive a Presidential Pardon at the White House ahead of Thanksgiving, attend their news conference, Su

'They are Swifties': Minnesota's turkeys arrive in DC for White House pardon

Liberty and Bell, the Willmar-raised birds, made their Washington D.C. debut on Sunday afternoon at the Willard Hotel.
A Minnesota-grown turkey photographed at a farm in Alexandria before receiving a presidential pardon in 2017.

How did Minnesota become the nation's top turkey state?

Minnesota birds are a Thanksgiving staple around the country, thanks to a turkey turnaround a century ago.
Sophomore FFA student Wyatt Sparks stands on top of the pile of donated corn during the United South Central FFA corn drive in rural Walters, Minn. on

Farm income in the Upper Midwest fell this summer, new Fed survey shows

The Federal Reserve in Minneapolis reports ag-lending banks across the Upper Midwest expect declines for production agriculture producers to continue.
Happy Land Tree Farms field and shipping manager Tony Bacon, right, and crew member Baden Hilty carried a 13-year-old Fraser fir Christmas tree bound

Vice President Kamala Harris' residence will display a Minnesota-grown Christmas tree

Happy Land Tree Farms near Sandstone appears to be the first time a Minnesota tree has been featured at either the White House or U.S. Naval Observatory for the holidays.
President Joe Biden makes a visit on Air Force One to tout his administration's investments in rural America.

Biden visits Minnesota farm on 'barnstorming' tour of rural U.S.

President Joe Biden highlighted the administration's so-called "climate-smart" agriculture investments.

President Joe Biden visits Minnesota farm as he starts 'barnstorming' tour of rural America

President Joe Biden highlighted the administration's so-called "climate-smart" agriculture investments.

Born out of disaster 70 years ago, annual corn drive is a tradition for rural Minnesota ag students

Born out of disaster 70 years ago, annual corn drive is a tradition for rural Minnesota ag students

The annual drive across Minnesota raises money every year for a good cause.

1 dead, 4 injured after car collides with truck on backed-up Hwy. 169 in northern Minnesota

A Dodge Ram had stopped for traffic on 169 when a Chevy Impala — driven by a 38-year-old Virginia, Minn., man with alcohol in his system — struck the pickup. A passenger in the car was killed.

St. Cloud shootings leave one dead, two wounded

No one has been arrested, but police say there is no ongoing threat to the neighborhood near St. Cloud State University.
An ethanol refinery in Chancellor, S.D., one of many in the Midwest, is shown, July 22, 2021.

One of two carbon dioxide pipelines that would cross into Minnesota has folded

The Nebraska-based company cited regulatory uncertainty in South Dakota and Iowa for canceling the Midwest-wide project.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 27, 2021.

DOJ sues data firm, alleging Minnesota meatpackers were 'co-conspirators' in antitrust scheme

Department of Justice alleges Agri Stats Inc. facilitated anti-competitive cooperation between industry giants, including Cargill and Hormel.
Star Tribune agriculture reporter Christopher Vondracek charged his electric Nissan Leaf at Northern Lights Casino in Walker, Minn.

This farm reporter roams rural Minnesota by EV — and it's no easy task

After owning an EV more than six months — and using that vehicle for work as a journalist that involves predominantly driving across rural America — my personal experience suggests we're unprepared to help consumers successfully transition.
Allison Knigge reached for an apple while picking apples with her husband, Ryan, and their son Harrison at Ferguson’s Minnesota Harvest.

University of Minnesota introduces Kudos apples amid growing climate concerns

The University of Minnesota recently announced the latest offspring of the world-famous Honeycrisp.
Signs opposing the proposed route of the Wolf Carbon Solutions captured carbon dioxide pipeline are seen along Ivanhoe Rd. near Ely, Iowa, on Wednesda

A tale of two CO2 pipelines: Navigator presses pause, Summit presses on

After high-profile setbacks in neighboring states, an Iowa-based carbon dioxide pipeline company is doubling down efforts to win regulators' approval after another company pumps the brakes.
Members of Temple Israel Pam Margolis and granddaughter Josie LaMere join in solidarity in light of the attacks in Israel at Beth El Synagogue in St.

Minnesotans gather to show support for Israel, Palestinians

Two Jewish organizations held distinctly contrasting remembrances for those lost in the Hamas attack and Israel's response.

Teenagers work at St. Paul farm to improve neighborhood access to fresh food

Students with Urban Roots planted garlic and harvested Broccolini last week on their small, 1-acre farm that just received a $100,000 USDA grant.

Teenagers work at St. Paul farm to improve neighborhood access to fresh food

HyLife Foods employees went to the second shift at the pork processing plant in Windom, Minn., on April 19.

Minnesota petitions court to have HyLife return $41K to laid off Windom workers

State labor officials filed notice in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware that "hundreds" of laid-off workers at HyLife's pork plant are owed for back wages and unpaid overtime.
A 58-year-old man died at the Seneca Foods plant in Montgomery, Minn., last week. Police are investigating the cause.

Worker dies at Seneca Foods plant south of Twin Cities

Jose Luis Alvarado, 58, died after being trapped by "falling items" at the canning plant in Montgomery, Minn.
Roger Tenney, an energetic St. Olaf graduate, put the high school choir in Owatonna on the map. He died Aug. 13 at age 93.

This 1967 'teacher of the year' took his southern Minnesota choir to the White House

Roger Tenney, an energetic St. Olaf graduate, put the high school choir in Owatonna on the map — enticing football players to join the ranks and coaxing excellence with Lutheran hymns and showtune standards. He died Aug. 13 at age 93.
Canning tomatoes is a good way to start preserving your summer produce.

Don't let your summer garden investment die off; preserve produce to save money in winter

Preserving food rather than wasting it could save hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. each year.
Tremaine Brown, with the Food Group, which is looking to expand its mobile market to places that serve more children and young women if the federal go

Shutdown would hurt America's food supply, ag secretary says

In many states, the WIC food program for mothers and children could collapse after only a day or two.
Steve Lawler talked about aggregation in the soil profile for local farmers during a presentation by the Olmsted Soil and Water Conservation District

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, corn harvest will be diminished by drought, hot summer

Minnesota corn yields — including bushels-per-acre — have dramatically increased over the decades, but low rainfall will still lessen this year's harvest.

Immigrant family finds solace in independent Minnesota farm, but needs more markets

The southern Minnesota producers grow more beautiful produce than they know what to do with, a common problem for smallholder farmers.

Immigrant family finds solace in independent Minnesota farm, but needs more markets

Sonja Trom Eayrs is a member of Dodge County Concerned Citizens, one of the groups suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to try to get it to

Environmental groups sue EPA over water pollution from large livestock farms

They claim waste from the megafarms is contributing to a national clean water crisis.

America's largest water highway is in trouble, ominous for grain farmers

Sixty percent of America's grain flows down the Mississippi River. Last fall, traffic ground to a halt due to low water, causing concern for Minnesota farmers during harvest.