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Published August 03, 2010, 10:17 AM

We started by listening to farmers; we still are

The inspiration that led to Agweek came from talking to farmers. Although I grew up in northeastern Indiana, in a region surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans, my agricultural background was strictly as a consumer. My career in the newspaper business had been in large cities: Detroit, Philadelphia and Miami.

By: Mike Maidenberg, Special to Agweek

The inspiration that led to Agweek came from talking to farmers.

Although I grew up in northeastern Indiana, in a region surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans, my agricultural background was strictly as a consumer. My career in the newspaper business had been in large cities: Detroit, Philadelphia and Miami.

I came to Grand Forks in 1982. I knew and appreciated small towns and close-knit communities. I wanted to learn what made the Grand Forks region tick economically. That led me to agriculture.

I spent as much time as I could talking to individual farmers, county agents, implement dealers, bankers, leaders of farm organizations, academics and others. I was a newly minted publisher, so folks took time to educate me. I still appreciate it.

What struck me in conversation after conversation was the complexity of farming. It was not just in the production of crops. It was in the marketing of crops. It was in how government programs affected key decisions. It was in how global markets played critical roles.

I recall a farmer telling me in precise detail how the Mexican government’s regulations worked. Another described the difference between Europe’s farm program and ours. A third took me step by step through the then-existing farm bill.

That’s when it hit me. Here are men and women whose operations are far from romantic notions of the simple farm life. They are running sizable businesses, which are affected by far more than the weather. They have to know what is going on in Washington and around the world. They need market information.

When I looked at what the Grand Forks Herald was offering, I saw how short we fell. The “Farm and Home” section was largely features surrounding classified advertising. Not good enough.

When I looked at the main farm magazines, I thought they were too heavily focused on production agriculture, on how to grow more. They came out monthly, so they could not respond quickly to news.

Was there an opportunity to create a weekly magazine aimed at farmers’ information needs? There was Business Week. Why not Agriculture Week? Or more simply, Agweek.

The parent company of the Herald, Knight Ridder, showed interest. A “Business Monday” section had been successfully launched in Miami, as part of the Miami Herald. Company headquarters then were in Miami, and top executives took note. It made their decision to invest in a weekly ag magazine less of a hurdle.

Of course, there were growing pains. As a free-standing publication aimed at the agricultural community, Agweek needed to develop its own readership base. Its distribution reached beyond the circulation area of the Grand Forks Herald, bringing new production and circulation costs. We had to build awareness among national advertisers that we existed.

Of prime importance then as now was the editorial content. Under the leadership of Jim Durkin, Agweek’s first editor, and Mike Jacobs, then editor of the Herald, we put together the news-oriented magazine that you have in your hands.

That Agweek is alive and well at age 25 is proof that the original inspiration was on target. If the magazine was born out of listening to farmers, it has thrived because it continues to do so.

So thanks, Dear Reader. In my note of Aug. 5, 1985, I wished you “many good and productive weeks of reading.” Now I wish you many good and productive years.

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