Jonathan Knutson / Agweek Staff Writer
PITTSBURGH — Understanding the U.S. farm bill isn't easy even for full-time agriculturalists. Journalists with limited exposure to ag may face an even greater challenge. But three veteran agricultural journalists, with extensive experience in covering the farm bill, have some insights that can make the task a little less difficult.
PITTSBURGH — A journalist is supposed to ask questions. On rare occasions, when we're especially brave or foolish (or both), we invite readers to submit questions for us to ask in their stead. That's what I did during the recent annual convention of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Pittsburgh. Though I'm not a member of the group, its event had a strong ag component and I received a fellowship to attend.
GRAND FORKS—It may be one the most colorful images in U.S. agriculture: A tense group of farmers, bunched in a room, bidding energetically against their neighbors to buy land. But that scene has become less common in parts of Agweek Country, particularly northeast North Dakota. The Grand Forks office of Farmers National Company hasn't held a public auction since late 2014, says Jayson Menke, who works in real estate sales in the office.
BROOTEN, Minn. — This is the story of a central Minnesota dairy family that wanted to add income to its operation and support the next generation. It's also the story of a young woman with a passion for making cheese and who, like her three sisters, is a pronounced redhead. The extended Jennissen family and its Redhead Creamery are proof that value-added agriculture is always important and sometimes enjoyable, especially when done with family.
GRAND FORKS — Justin Mead traveled across the state to make hay. The 370-mile trip from his ranch in Grassy Butte, N.D., to a temporary home in Grand Forks, N.D., took him from a brown-and-stunted world to a lushly green one. "It's different, that's for sure," Mead said with a smile as he stood in a field enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program that he and Aaron Reddish, his hired man and longtime friend, were haying.
Drought has always been part of my life, both personally and professionally. I've lost track of the many times I've seen it ravage crops and pasture, stress agricultural communities and devastate farm and ranch families. Sadly, I'm watching and writing about it again this summer. Drought is hammering much of the Upper Midwest; many crops are damaged, in some cases badly or even fatally. Pastures and hayland are suffering, too. So are agricultural towns and families.
CHASE LAKE, N.D. — Neil Shook stands in unpastured grassland and asks visitors, "What do you hear?" He waits 10 seconds or so before answering his own question: "I hear very few birds and insects." Then he points down to the grass and asks, "What do you see?" He waits briefly again before said, "I see very little plant diversity." A little later and a few miles away, he stands in pastured grassland and asks, "What do you hear and see here?" He waits briefly and said, "I hear birds and insects. I see a lot of plant diversity."
OSLO, Minn. — Earl Mallinger's 2017 harvest will begin later this summer — the 96th or 97th in which he's been involved in some way. Yes, you read that right. "Well, I've been interested in what happens on the farm since I was 3 or 4," says Mallinger, who turns 100 on Aug. 14. His remarkable life includes a still-active role on the farm, 60 grandchildren and great-grandchildren (no great-greats yet), and physical and mental vigor that many much-younger people would envy.
CRYSTAL, N.D. — Nick Otto stands in a 160-acre field of fledging corn on a coolish June afternoon. His eyes and experience tell him a lot, but he knows they don't reveal everything, especially about a field this large. He specifically wants a better handle on the stand count, or the number of corn plants growing in the field — information that will help Otto, proprietor of Otto Ag in Crystal, N.D., best advise his farmer client on how much fertilizer to apply. Applying too little shortchanges the crop; applying too much wastes money.
HALLOCK, Minn. — Mike Swanson stands in a field of rye and examines the plants as they sway in the wind. He likes what he sees. The field is thriving, and this warm-but-not-hot June day is helping it along. A few minutes later, he's back inside his nearby distillery and its many barrels, bottles, stills and pipes. Late this year, after the rye — a cereal grain similar to wheat — is harvested, he'll make whiskey from it. "I get the best of two worlds. I get two harvests," Swanson says of both raising the crop and then distilling it.