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Zaleski: One farm TV show is better than the others

Jack Zaleski, The Forum Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

I'm a fan of farm television programs. I watch several of them every week. Some have been around for decades, others are more recent additions to the farm broadcasting pantheon. I think AgWeek TV, the weekly program that is part of the Forum Communications Co. media family, is the best.

The old standards among farm television, U.S. Farm Report in particular, are mainstays of the genre because they are packed with information and features that are important to farmers and agribusiness people. The faces and personalities in those programs are credible by virtue of their longevity on the air. Of note is Orion Samuelson, the dean of farm broadcasters, who now hosts This Week in Agribusiness.

Iowa Public Television's weekly program, Market to Market, is another one of the best. Its winning formula includes national and international farm policy discussions, a feature or two from Midwest farm country on everything from water quality concerns to innovative crop research, concluding with a thoughtful grains and livestock market analysis segment. It's broadcast Saturday on Prairie Public television.

Other shows are not as credible. One that is produced and hosted by two brothers from South Dakota routinely comes off as a half-hour infomercial for farm chemicals.

AgWeek TV not only is fully focused on farming in the Upper Midwest, but also boasts a team of experienced ag journalists who generate excellent material week after week. Production values are first-class, and the show moves along smartly under the direction of host Shawna Olson. She delivers the message with crisp efficiency and pleasant demeanor, which suggests her pre-broadcast preparation is thorough.

When it comes to farm and agribusiness journalists, none are better than AgWeek's Mikkel Pates and Jonathan Knutson. Both are veterans of The Forum's newsroom, where I got to know them and appreciate their professionalism. Pates grew up in South Dakota. During his career he's reported for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota, mostly on the ag beat. Knutson is a farm boy from northeastern North Dakota, and while with The Forum was lead business writer and covered agriculture.

In addition to their broadcast work for AgWeek TV, Pates and Knutson write news and commentary for AgWeek magazine and for other Forum News Service properties, including The Forum. They find stories in the vast area that includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota. They are not reluctant to take on controversial rural topics. For example, Knutson's recent commentaries have chided farmers for bulldozing mature tree shelterbelts and for being tone deaf when it comes to public perceptions about agriculture. Pates has covered a hotly debated proposal to establish an industrial-type hog barn near Buffalo, N.D. Both journalists have an experienced-based sensitivity to agriculture that is informed by their decades of reporting from farm country.

If Pates and Knutson (and the other highly competent AgWeek reporters) are not enough, AgWeek TV's broadcast boasts a regional weather forecast and outlook by John Wheeler, WDAY TV's chief meteorologist. Wheeler brings his no-nonsense, no-hype science to his weather report. It's one of the highlights of the broadcast.

So there you have it. This son of the industrial Northeast is a fan of television farm programs. Good ones, that is. Like AgWeek TV.

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