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Published April 18, 2011, 04:38 AM

Frequently asked questions come with the job

Agricultural journalists often are asked about their job and the subject they cover. Here are some of the questions and my responses.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Agricultural journalists often are asked about their job and the subject they cover. Here are some of the questions and my responses.

Q. How do we pitch a story idea to you?

A. Just call or email and explain what you have in mind. I can’t guarantee to do a story, but I do promise to consider it.

Q. How do you determine what’s a story and what isn’t?

A. Good question; I wish I had a simple, concise answer. The best one I can give is this: if you think something is important to readers or to agriculture — or just plain interesting — it’s a possible story and I’d be glad to hear about it.

Q. (From farmers) You’re supposed to be on our side. Why do you sometimes write about the negatives?

A. C’mon, you know we’re not your PR agents. It’s our job to report fairly and even-handedly.

Q. (From nonfarmers) You always take the farmers’ side. Why do you always write about how rough they have it?

A. Farmers have legitimate concerns about risk, regulation and rising costs. It’s our job to report that. When farmers prosper — as many have in recent years — we write about that, too.

Q. What’s the deal with the alphabet soup in agriculture?

A. Yeah, acronyms are rampant in ag: USDA, NASS, FSA, PP and APH, among countless others. You can’t talk ag for more than a few minutes before at least one acronym pops up. I suppose it’s because government agencies and programs, which lend themselves to acronyms, are so embedded in agriculture.

Most people involved in ag know what the common acronyms stand for — that, for instance, NASS means the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

But to help readers who might drown in alphabet soup, I always try to use the full name and provide a short description on first reference.

Q. What will happen with the next federal farm bill?

A. Spending will be cut. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. If I knew more than that, I’d start a consulting company and get rich.

Q. What will happen with crop prices?

A. They might go up, they might go down, they might stay the same. If I knew the answer in advance, I’d play the futures market and get rich.

Q. What’s the biggest issue in area agriculture right now?

A. Getting in the crop. Most of the Northern Plains is wet, which will delay planting. The delays could be so severe and widespread that a lot of acres might not get planted.

Q. What’s the future of agriculture on the Northern Plains?

A. The best bet is that farms will keep getting bigger and that the technological advances will continue. Opinions are mixed on whether those are good things.

There’s also good reason to think we’ll see more value-added ventures, which just about everybody would support, at least when it’s a venture of which they approve.

Q. Why you do like covering agriculture?

A. It involves politics, economics, agronomy, genetics, weather, technology and people, and all those things interest me. Plus, there’s a satisfying rhythm to agriculture: plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. But because of variable prices, politics and weather, no two years ever are quite the same. It’s always interesting to see what happens next.