By Chris Adams

It’s a safe bet that most Americans don’t really know what happens down on the farm. Most journalists don’t either.

Charlene Finck does know – and it comes from a long career of both reporting on the agriculture industry and a lifetime of working it.

Finck (Twitter) is executive vice president and chief content officer at Farm Journal Media, which operates magazines, websites, newsletters, live events and other news outlets. Finck works with editors at 20 branded websites, 11 B2B magazines, six nationally broadcast television and radio programs and eight events that serve the crop, beef, pork, dairy and ag-retailer markets.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows exploring the future of food and farming, Finck talked the basics of the ag sector. She knows it well, having grown up on a farm and continuing, with her family, to operate one near Mexico, Missouri.

Every year farmers make a series of decisions that impact the success – or lack of it – for their highly capitalized small business. They have hundreds of thousands dollars worth of high-tech machinery, hundreds or thousands of acres of land at the mercy of Mother Nature, and a seasonal workforce to supplement family members who run the operation year round.

“The culture of agriculture is distinctively different,” she said.

It’s also complicated. Finck led fellows through the main variables farmers need to manage each year: what seeds to plant, what inputs to use, which machinery to finance, how to access labor, how to work with regulators, and how to manage the land so that the farm is sustainable – able to produce year after year.

And it’s expensive. To start from scratch, with used equipment and frugal management, would cost millions. A 1,500-acre corn and soybean farm in Iowa, for example, would cost $5.1 million. A 250-cow dairy farm in Nebraska would cost $2.7 million. A 3,000-acre wheat farm in Kansas, $4.5 million.

“And it requires risk-taking and resilience,” she said.

Her own farm in central Missouri grows corn, soybeans and wheat. The farm is fourth-generation in her family.