Tips for Reporting on Farms and Farmers

By Chris Adams

Ag journalist Charlene Finck knows plenty that she can share with her readers. And it’s not just from her years on the farm beat.

It’s also from her years on the farm.

Finck (Twitter) is division president of Farm Journal Media, which operates magazines, websites, newsletters, live events and other news outlets; she previously was editor of Farm Journal magazine. But when she’s not producing journalism, she’s helping her family produce corn, soybeans and wheat. The farm, about 100 miles northwest of St. Louis, has been in her family for four generations.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows exploring the latest in food and agriculture, Finck gave a tutorial on how to be an ag reporter – starting with making the audience realize how engrained into society and commerce farm products are. For example: Did you know that all crayons have a bit of ag in them? One acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 Prang crayons; Crayola crayons have beef tallow and beeswax in them.

Her talk with NPF fellows went over the economic basics of the farm sector, including the size of what are considered “family farms”:

  • Small family farms have less than $350,000 in gross farm income
  • Mid-sized family farms fall between $350,000 and $1 million
  • Large-scale family farms earn $1 million or more
  • Those large farms have vastly disproportionate impact on the sector, with only 10 percent of farms accounting for 78% of production

“Those families that were successful in farming, their operations have grown,” she said.

She also talked about the heavy impact of the Trump administration’s trade wars on the farm sector. Overall, she said, 20% of ag production depends on export markets.

“All of this has put a level of unpredictability on farmers that’s enormous,” she said.

That doesn’t mean they have turned on President Donald Trump, however. In mid-2019, more than 70% of farmers “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of Trump’s job as president – far higher than his support in the country as the whole.

This program is funded by Bayer. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

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