If you really want to stand out as a reporter within the agricultural industry, you’ll need to have a good handle on a variety of topics, from food trends to following commodity prices.
Here are our five best tips for excellent reporting on agriculture:
1. Introduce yourself to your local agencies and offices.
Look up the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency offices in your area. See if there’s a co-op in your town or surrounding area, and find a time to meet with its members. Both at the offices and the co-op, you’ll find people who have their fingers on the pulse of upcoming projects and issues specific to the locale. Don’t overlook the websites of local conservation and environmentalist groups, as well as the Farm Bureau of the Department of Agriculture.
2. Become knowledgeable with respect to weather
Reporting on agriculture is easy when a growing season is good and farms are producing well, but you will also need to understand why farming can be difficult. All too often, the reason is related to the weather. Do you know what impact it has on a crop when a month is too dry or too wet? What happens to the planting schedule when there’s a slower winter melt? Because growers keep close tabs on the weather, they can give you insight into their concerns with short- and long-term forecasts.
3. Know your Agriculture ABCs
As you’re interacting with farmers, agencies, and others, keep track of words you don’t recognize and find out what they mean. Did you know that agronomy is “the science of managing soil and growing crops”? How about the word that means “the loss of fertilizer when washed from the soil by rain? (Leaching.) Having a good handle on agricultural vocabulary will help you sound more educated in your reporting, and it will give you more credibility as you talk with people working in the field.
4. Follow agricultural legislation, such as the Farm Bill
In the United States, the Farm Bill affects many agricultural and food programs. Each time it is presented before the Congress, there can be changes with a large impact on the economy and on your local farmers. State legislation can also have a significant effect. Because farmers tend to be politically active, it’s important to have an understanding of how your area may be affected by different legislative actions.
5. GET OUT INTO THE FIELDS!
There is no substitute for being out in a real field with a working farmer. He (or she) will know the details of what is happening in the local area, and the particulars with respect to a particular region. Find out where your local farmers tend to get together in the morning – maybe a coffee shop or cafe – and take the time to introduce yourself. You’ll learn a lot from listening to their discussions!