2015 Writing Contest Winners

The awards for 2015 articles were presented April 25, 2016 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.


Judged by George Edmonson, a retired newspaper reporter and editor. Among the papers still in business where he worked are USA Today, Omaha World-Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  1. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “U.S. Farmers’ $100 billion-a-year profit fades away: commodities” – Judge: “This story is a classic illustration of preparation, depth of knowledge and good sources combining to turn a news announcement into an insightful, well-rounded report. Beginning with a strong, straightforward lead, the writer weaves the personal and the factual into a readable, informative story. He provides historical context as well as current data. And it’s all done in a tightly written and easy to follow style.
  2. Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “Meet the new meats” – Judge: “This breezy read explains a news development and puts it in context for the reader as it explores various facets of the situation. Interestingly, she opts not for an anecdotal lead, but saves an individual for the closing to drive home the story’s key points. Thorough reporting from grocery store shelves to corporate decisions puts the reader on the scene.”
  3. Dan Miller, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “An eye from above” – Judge: “This story begins in a straightforward manner, laying out the news and why it matters. It then quickly moves to explore various aspects of the development and what it could mean for farmers. Avoiding jargon, the story uses solid data and concrete examples to drive home the key elements.”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

  • Jonathan Knutson, Agweek, “A howl of wolves, an uproar of ranchers” – Judge: “While humanizing the controversy over a court ruling, this story is careful to present various views clearly and objectively.”
  • Lydia Mulvany and Jeff Wilson, Bloomberg News, “With Bacon So Cheap, Even Veggie Burgers Get Two Strips on Top” – Judge: “Cleverly written with an extraordinary array of examples from the ‘bacon flight’ to raw bacon ‘flying off the slicers.’”
  • Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Canada Puts Global Trade Deal at Risk to Defend Family Dairies” – Judge: “This compelling examination of the human side of one aspect of a international trade deal is a model of how to make technical, complex issues come alive.”
  • Luzi Ann Javier and Marvin G. Perez, Bloomberg News, “Your New Coffee Habit Is Way Too Efficient for a Reeling Market” – Judge: “A strongly reported, well written look into the consequences of new technology on on old business that readers will likely never have considered.”
  • Amy Bickel, Hutchinson News, “Taxing uncertainty” – Judge: “This in-depth report on the potential impact of a legislative proposal is well done, presenting both the human and financial aspects.”


Judged by Margo Goodhand, retired editor of the Winnipeg Free Press Margo Goodhand is a Winnipeg native. She graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 1979 with an honors degree in politics and English. She completed post-graduate studies in journalism in British Columbia.  She began her career with the West Ender in Vancouver. She was the first female news editor in Medicine Hat. She worked for both the Winnipeg Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press.  Goodhand has been a reporter, columnist, copy editor and section editor. He was named editor of the Winnipeg Free Press in 2007. The newspaper won the Excellence Award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation and a Michener Citation for meritorious public service journalism in 2009. She has been a member of the National Newspaper Board of Governors and other boards and councils.

Competition comments from the judge:

I’ve judged this category before, and was really impressed with the quantity and quality of entrants this year. To me, it shows an increased emphasis on spot and breaking news in agricultural publications, serving a crucial niche as ‘mainstream’ media continues to shrink.

  1. Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “H5N2 confirmed in Arkansas” – Judge: A first-rate example of spot news — thorough and well-written with context and perspective. Impressive work on a tight deadline, particularly the followup.
  2. Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “Bleak day for Omaha, ConAgra pulls up stakes” – Judge: This is a terrific package produced within a day by a strong, smart news team. Great work.
  3. Allan Dawson and Terry Shiells, Manitoba Co-operator “Canola crop succumbs to final blow with May 30 frost” – Judge: A very good, wide-ranging news report compiled under a challenging deadline of just a few hours.

Honorable Mention

  • Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Bollworm invades U.S.” – Judge: Well-written, informative and interesting, with good links at the end for readers.


Judged by Cheryl Magazine, deputy features editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where she has worked since 2007. Cheryl was associate editor at The Hartford Courant where she worked for 13 years before moving to Virginia in 2006. Previously she worked for U.S. News & World Report, The Louisville Times, The Courier-Journal (also in Louisville, Ky.), The Milwaukee Journal and Bloomington Herald-Telephone.  She is a graduate of Indiana University.

  1. Patricia Callahan, Chicago Tribune, “A father, a son, a family farm and a conflict over chemicals” – Judge: Terrific. The family brings the tension between philosophies of farming to life and shows the pluses and minuses of different approaches — to farming and to life.
  2. Bryan Gruley, Bloomberg News, “For $725 Million, You Can Buy a Texas Ranch the Size of a Country” – Judge: What an enjoyable read. Comprehensive and never dull with lots of history and fascinating facts woven into this intriguing yarn.
  3. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Land of Niches” – Judge: Engaging approach, lively writing — who can resist the description of “frozen happiness”? Informative and entertaining.

Honorable Mention

  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Explore Your Roots” – Judge: A true feature, not a tarted up general news story. Clear and clever writing without calling undue attention to itself. i.e. “The decision to use insecticide on trait was a $21-per-acre decision.”
  • Marvin G. Perez, Bloomberg News, “Why Cocaine Farmers Are Getting Into Chocolate Instead” – Judge:  Well reported, tightly written story that puts humanity into a surprising market trend.
  • Urban Lehner, Fortune, “Commercial farming … in your subdivision?” – Judge: Excellent storytelling, engaging explanation of an “accidental pioneer.”
  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Weed Whackers: Walking Beans Makes a Comeback” – Judge: What a good writer! real feature feel to the writing with strong information threaded in.


Judged by Mike Toner, retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for “When Bugs Fight Back,” a series that explored the diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics and pesticides.

  1. Emily Unglesbee and Katie Micik, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Sorghum’s Growing Pains” – Judge: “A timely and comprehensive analysis of the convergence of forces – from international trade to changing climate – that are driving a revival in the sorghum market. A particularly insightful series because it not only looks at the causes of the revival, but at the potential future pitfalls.”
  2. Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Ag’s draining water fight” – Judge: “A thorough, insightful presentation of the issues and what’s at stake in the legal clash between rural Iowa drainage districts and the Des Moines Water Works that may foreshadow tensions between upstream and downstream interests across the country.  Fairly balanced and clearly presented.”
  3. Rhonda Brooks, Dan Crummett and Dan Miller DTN/The Progressive Farmer “In the beginning” – Judge: “A highly readable, richly detailed look at the decisions yield-conscious farmers make before their crop emerges and in the crucial early growing season that follows. These case studies excel in showing the myriad micro-decisions that add up – or don’t add up – to a successful crop.”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

  • Marcia Zarley Taylor and Elizabeth Williams, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Cash rent reset” –
  • Judge: “An impressively balanced and nicely documented account of the pressures and risks cash-for-rent farmers face in coping with the business of managing their costs. Farm finance made interesting.”
  • Thomson Reuters staff, “Chicago Pits: End of an era” – Judge: “Whatever, one wonders, will television do without the visuals of hand-waving commodity traders? A nicely nostalgic look at the soon-to-be bygone age of ‘the pits.'”
  • Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report, “From field to float” – Judge: “Flowers? Well, maybe they’re not the biggest crop in America, but these articles – with perfect Rose Parade timing – offer a delightful hint of the breadth of the nation’s agriculture.”



Judged by Joe Carroll. Joe is a Chicago-based Bloomberg News reporter covering Big Oil. He was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 2003.

  1. Heidi Clausen, The Country Today
  2. Mikkel Pates, Agweek
  3. John Harrington, DTN/The Progressive Farmer

Honorable Mention

  • Lori Potter, Kearney Hub


Judged by Jane Schmucker, a copy editor at the Toledo Blade. Jane was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 1996 when she was a reporter at the Youngstown Vindicator.

  1. Barb Glen, Western Producer – Judge: “An easy first-place choice for me. I like how the “Responsible Irrigation” piece, for instance, gives very specific examples — improved nozzles — along with a very wide overview that includes numbers from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. I wonder though if “riposte” and “nascent” — words that both fit where they are used — are harder words than would be necessary to make your point. How many of us would be willing to bet our paychecks that the majority of our readers could correctly define those words? My fear is that most would be quicker to turn the page than they would be to google the word.
  1. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator – Judge: “These editorials clearly draw on years of work in agricultural journalism. A newcomer to the field would not have produced these. I really hate, however, using CAHRC for the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council. If you must put the abbreviation in parentheses after the first reference, it’s just not commonly used enough to use at all. And I can’t imagine this one is that commonly used among the majority of readers — even for a specialized publication.”
  1. Geitner Simmons, Omaha World-Herald – Judge: “Quiet but very solid work. These editorials appear to be less reliant on original reporting and ideas by the author as those placed higher. I would have rather not had the abbreviation ‘NRD system.'”


Judged by Sue Burzynski Bullard. Sue teaches journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2014, the Society of Professional Journalists named her its Distinguished Educator of the Year. As a visiting faculty member of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, she has taught journalists both internationally and in the United States. Before joining academia in 2007, Sue was managing editor of The Detroit News.


  1. John Vogel, American Agriculturalist, “Nor’east Thinking'” – Judge: “John Vogel doesn’t shy from rooting out the details of a problem and giving readers unexpected insights. For example, in a piece on the decline of milk drinking by school age children, he points to suspicious competitors to milk found in dairy cases.  Good old milk need not even be an ingredient in “faker” milk drinks. Plus those single cans and bottles can be expensive, with one costing the equivalent of nearly $40 a gallon.”
  2. Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “An Urban’s Rural View” – Judge: “Urban C. Lehner has a knack for succinctly contrasting opposing views into a single, readable blog. His own opinions are also to the point.  He liberally laces his writing with links to original sources, giving readers more facts with a click. Topics range from controversies over organic food to analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
  3. Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Production Blog” – Judge: “Are bees addicted to nicotine? You’ll find the answer and more interesting topics in Emily Unglesbee’s informative blog.  She makes complicated stories easy to understand.  For example, she cheerfully details her problems with a specific weed in a small garden plot, then reports the larger weed issue facing farmers.”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order)

  • Ed White, The Western Producer – Judge: “How do ag reporters tackle the job? Ed White tells how in a collection of blogs tied to specific agricultural issues. He offers insights into how farm policy develops, and how it changes, or can be changed.”
  • Jenny Hopkinson and Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Morning Agriculture” – Judge: “This blog wraps up daily agriculture news with plenty of links to details. Agricultural-related issues are collected in an easy-to-digest snapshot by reporters Jenny Hopkinson and Helena Bottemiller Evich.”
  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Production Blog” – Judge: Pamela Smith writes in ways that grab reader attention, and keeps them reading. Her blogs are populated with people grappling with the many issues facing agriculture. And when it gets to the core issues of each piece, she reports the available facts to help readers reach informed conclusions.


Judged by David Skoloda

  1. Staff, DTN The Progressive Farmer, “Rebalance your business” – Judge: “Time to Rebalance, a thorough examination of how farmers are making the complex decisions they face in a period of low commodity prices and high operating costs. Staff writers accomplished this with interview-based story telling that makes the special edition highly readable. As with all the Progressive Farmer entries, the graphics and photography are excellent, providing further evidence of the investment the magazine made in this project.”
  2. DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “The Art of Planting” – Judge: “The Art of Planting, a farmer-narrated tour of planting preparations from reviews of new technology such as multi-hybrid planters and high speed planting to scrutiny of seed costs. As editor Jim Patricio put it in his thoughtful introduction to the special issue, “we lead off this issue with the story of how one Minnesota family plans its planting season. We also hear from an Arkansas family about its near obsession with getting seed in the ground early.” Farmers have their say in this extensive review of planting preparations. And the potential of new technologies is well explained.
  3. Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “An Ontario Phosphorous Reduction Strategy” – Judge: “Baxter’s ambitious project traces the routes by which phosphorous enters waterways from farm fields and contributes to algae blooms such as those in Lake Erie that spurred research. She writes for the Ontario farmers who want science-based regulation, but the research she cites will have broader implications for agriculture.”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

  • Staff, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Changing Climate: Food Security’s Fragile Balance” – Judge: “Changing Climate: Food Security’s Fragile Balance, includes stories about farmers who are already adjusting their operations to climate change. The special section includes examples of farmers who are focusing on climate- smart practices to manage nutrients, soil and water in response to highly variable weather. This venture into climate change reporting is a clear sign that agriculture is not in denial., includes stories about farmers who are already adjusting their operations to climate change. The special section includes examples of farmers who are focusing on climate- smart practices to manage nutrients, soil and water in response to highly variable weather. This venture into climate change reporting is a clear sign that agriculture is not in denial.”
  • Melody Bomgardner, Chemical & Engineering News, “A few tender shoots” – Judge: “Venture capital’s influence on the future of agriculture is examined in this fascinating story of the start-up companies that may contribute to world food security in the years ahead. It’s a solid mix of science and business writing.”
  • Staff, Iowa Farmer Today, “Water wise” – Judge: IFT’s stories examine what’s at stake in the efforts to keep nutrients on the farm and out of the waters headed for the Mississippi River.”
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2016 Writing Contest Winners

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