2016 Writing Contest Winners

The awards for 2016 articles will be presented April 24, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.


Judged by Patricia Klintberg,  a former Farm Journal writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 1995.

  1. Jeff McGaw, Reading Eagle, “Rabbits rule” — Judge: The lead is so good. The story spiced with humor — leaving the reader to seriously think about this old/new protein! The writing does not waste a word.
  1. P.J. Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, “Falling Prices, Borrowing Binge Haunt Midwest ‘Go-Go Farmers'” — Judge: This story breaks the news that the agriculture sector is in trouble as it enters a bust cycle. The research is thorough and quotes show the reporter’s inquiries acted as a wake-up call to many who did not see the big picture.
  1. Virginia Harris, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “100 Percent” — Judge: This is a wonderful story about the pluck of a cotton farming family to create a home-grown product: from dirt to shirt. Innovation has always been the sign of successful farmers.

Honorable Mention (eight stories listed in no particular order)

  • Jim Massey, The Country Today, “Tax assessment lower due to proximity to hog farm” — Judge: Here’s a story about a landowner who won his fight to lower his tax assessment arguing that his property values were negatively affected by a hog farm nearby. That’s even though the hog farm had passed a regulatory odor test. Will the rest of the country follow his lead?
  • Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Revenge of the Rural Voter” — Judge: Written five days after the election, the story picks apart the failings of the Clinton campaign for the Presidency in rural areas.
  • Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg, “Peas on the Prairie” — Judge: How some farmers adapt to stay in business by taking the road less traveled by.
  • Todd Neeley, DTN/Progressive Farmer, “EPA’s Glyphosate Boondoggle” — Judge: A look at EPA’s mistaken post regarding the negative assessment of glyphosate on humans.
  • PJ Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer, “When water conservation isn’t enough” — Judge: Great quotes to back up this complex saga of diminishing water.
  • Robert Arnason, Western Producer, “Herbicide Use spikes in Alberta” — Judge: The consequences of crop rotation that doesn’t include a crop equal in value to the one producer’s plant instead: Canola.
  • Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today, “Farmers Respond to Changing Weather Patterns” — Judge: The story documents how farmers are changing their planting routines in response to changes in the growing season, regardless of whether they believe in climate change or not.
  • Emily Unglesbee, DTN/Progressive Farmer, “Going Generic: Monsanto Patent on RR1 beans has expired” — Judge:  A look at a new market for generic RR1 soybeans that can be saved. Excellent writing explaining a complex subject.


Judged by Catharine Richert Jones, who is based in Rochester, Minn., and covers Southeast Minnesota for Minnesota Public Radio News. She previously covered politics and wrote PoliGraph, a fact-checking feature that got behind the spin in Minnesota politics. She has also contributed to MPR News coverage of the federal health care overhaul. Richert worked for PolitiFact.com and Congressional Quarterly, where she spent three years covering the 2008 farm bill debate. She was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Agriculture Journalist of the Year award in 2008.

  1. Lynn Brezosky, San Antonio Express-News, “Cartel-linked fruit fly spread has inspectors at war” — Judge: The lede on this story is top-notch! The reporter immediately drew me in with their vivid imagery, and the story unfolded like a mystery. I love that it connected two seemingly unrelated issues, and drew them together with great writing.
  1. Megan Durisin and Whitney McFerron, Bloomberg News”The British Are Coming – This Time With Cheap Wheat Imports”
  2. Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming, “How to Endure the New Reality of Low Crop Prices”

Honorable Mention

  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Dicamba Restrictions”


Judged by Kent Warneke, award-winning editor of the Norfolk (Nebraska) Daily News.

  1. Lydia Mulvany, Monte Reel and Jason Gale, Bloomberg News, “How Antibiotic-Tainted Seafood from China Ends Up on Your Table” — Judge: In all honesty, I have little innate interest in antibiotic-tainted seafood, but yet this story made me interested. It was compelling and well-written, melding a technical topic with a style that made it highly readable. Very nice job.
  1. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “The Cuban Question” — Judge: I’ve never been to Cuba, but this story was so well done that I felt like I was experiencing it for myself. The characters were vivid and the issues well-explained.
  1. Jamie Klein, Reading Eagle, “Can pheasants come back?” — Judge: “The way this story started made it relatable for so many readers. This is a topic that impacts many, whether involved in production agriculture or not. Excellent work.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order)

  • Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “Vandalism on the farm”
  • Amy Bickel, Hutchinson News, “Farmers Sow and Hope”
  • Lynn Brezosky, San Antonio Express-News, “Small ranchers at odds with big beef marketing”
  • Jenny Hopkinson, Politico, “How Vermont beat Big Food”
  • Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming, “Armed advocate for farm safety”
  • Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “This is your beef”


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.

Overall comment by the judge: “Thanks for the opportunity to look at some really strong entries.”

  1. Gary Marx, David Jackson and Stacey Wescott, Chicago Tribune, “The Price of Pork” — Judge: Extraordinarily readable, exhaustively researched reports on large-scale pork production in Illinois—a disturbing, thoroughly documented  21st Century echo of Upton Sinclair’s muck-raking portrayal of  Chicago’s meat packing industry at the turn of the last century. From stomach-churning glimpses of large-scale hog-confinement operations to the exposure of widely used legal loopholes in the state regulatory system, the series documents the hidden costs – environmental, social and political – that make up the price of pork. Read it and you will never look at that tasty pork chop or pot roast in quite the same way again.
  1. Edward Maixner and Sara Wyant, Agri-Pulse, “Keeping Rural America Competitive” — Judge: Say “infrastructure” and most of us think city streets, highways and bridges. At the height of last year’s political campaigns oft-heard calls for improving the country’s infrastructure, this series took a comprehensive look, with emphasis on rural America, at the broader range of works and institutions that make up America’s infrastructure – from communications and information technology to the human capital must be overhauled if elected officials ever really do get around to making the promised improvements.
  1. Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “RIN Wrangling” — Judge: An insightful, balanced analysis of the byzantine trade in energy credits that has emerged in response to the U.S. Renewal Fuel Standard – a market whose regulations require refiners and importers to choose between actually using renewable fuels – or merely buying credits for their production from someone who does.

Honorable Mention

  • Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “What’s All the Clucking About? The Chicken Coup” — Judge: A dogged effort to document a major new development in Nebraska agriculture – successfully executed in spite of foot-dragging on the part of public officials who repeatedly declined to disclose the details. A reporting effort made better by a follow-up analysis of just how Nebraska’ largest chicken rearing operation is likely to alter the way farmers are used to doing business.


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. Ed White, Western Producer — Judge: These columns are a delight. White delves into issues that, while many may wonder about, few take the time to explore. Boots, radio stations and cemeteries all are grist for his entertaining mill. For those engaged in such a serious and assiduous enterprise, a chance to smile occasionally is a treat.
  1. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator — Judge: Carefully researched, Rance’s columns present readers with deep information on provocative issues. She is neither doctrinaire nor preachy, whether discussing the role of science in agricultural decisions or the real cost of food.
  1. Jonathan Knutson, Agweek — Judge: Knutson’s columns speak both to and about those involved in agriculture with a depth of knowledge and an appealing approach. Whether urging his readers to expand their horizons or simply offering a humorous respite, the columns are well written and constructed.

Honorable Mention

  • Michael Raine, Western Producer — Judge: Written with a conversational style, the columns provide an engaging presentation of the writer’s view without dogmatism. Raine’s approach aptly mixes facts — notably in the column about the average age of Canadian farmers — with opinion
  • Robin Booker, Western Producer — Judge:  These columns are thought provoking and deal with important topics in a clear and easily understood manner. Booker raises significant questions for his readers’ consideration.


Judged by Nina Furstenau, who teaches food and wine writing in the University of Missouri Science and Agricultural Journalism program.  She has written a culinary memoir, “Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland” and “Savor Missouri: River Hills Food and Wine.” She has served as food editor of Missouri Life magazine.

Through her experiences in the Peace Corps and life-long travels, Furstenau developed a passion for great flavors and fresh ingredients and for the ways cultures entwine over food. She is fascinated with food story – its history and connection to land as well people – and the flavors of regions. This focus developed Furstenau’s enthusiasm for teaching students to craft clear, concise writing that stems from hands hands-on learning in the field, and from a knowledge base rooted in agricultural systems.

Judge’s overall comment: The collection of 27 editorials from nine writers in the editorial category were difficult to judge. I engaged the following in hopes of separating the best from this very impressive group: relevance to audience, importance of topic, writing flow and language use, balance, analysis of evidence, empowerment of readers/motivation to action, and engagement of issues not personalities. Thanks to all for the great reading.

  1. Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge on Lehner’s “Little Food’’ editorial and two others in the package of entries: Engaging lead with a keen cultural view used to enlighten and hook readers. The piece is persuasive particularly because it presents evidence to support its claims in an engaging style. Urban Lehner’s work as a package speaks directly to the audience with timely angles, and analysis that takes on issues of importance to not only to agriculture but most cultural segments, in my view. Lehner’s writing holds attention and is a pleasure to read.
  1. Barb Glen, Western Producer — Judge on Glen’s “Farmers Trump Scientists’’ and two others in the package of entries: The scene-based lead of this editorial is accessible and draws readers in. The angle of farmer’s finding their voice to generate trust and connection with their customers is timely and engaging to the publication audience, has broad impact, and serves as a persuasive interpretation of the state of public opinion. Barb Glen’s writing style enlightens and empowers skillfully.
  1. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator and Winnipeg Free Press — Judge on Rance’s “Industry Must Get with the Program” and two others in the package of entries: This editorial creates an immediate connection to farm culture in the lead with its conversational style and content. In fact, the three-editorial package by Laura Rance has a strong pull for readers throughout: complex issues are explained with clarity, and readers are enlightened on issues of importance to agriculture with solid reporting and smooth writing flow.

Honorable Mention (listed in no particular order)

  • Brian MacLeod, Western Producer — Judge on MacLeod’s “Time to Look at Increased Eligibility for APP” and two others in the package of entries: This editorial clearly and concisely explains a complex issue. In fact, Brian MacLeod’s package of three editorials all use engaging writing style, are focused on timely issue-based topics, and have a solid analysis of evidence.
  • John Vogel, American Agriculturalist — Judge on Vogel’s “Three Ways a Farmer Will Survive the $15 Minimum Wage Hike,’’ one of three judged in the package: Clear, concise and spoke directly to the audience. The last line of this piece packed a punch.


Judged by Michael Bugeja, director and professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Teaches media ethics, magazine writing, news writing and new technologies. Worked as a reporter, correspondent and state editor for United Press International. Served as newspaper adviser for The Daily O’Collegian, Oklahoma State University. Held such academic positions as associate professor, Paul Miller School of Journalism and Broadcasting, Oklahoma State University; professor, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University; and associate director, Scripps School of Journalism.

Judge’s Overall Comment: All the entries were informative. Some had a bit more substance. To engage the audience, use more visuals and multimedia, especially multimedia storytelling.

  1. Jacqui Fatka, Feedstuffs — Judge: Good service journalism with fact and visuals to engage the viewer. Quality of service journalism especially about agriculture has declined, but not here. Bravo.
  1. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge: A concisely written, fact-based and informative blog. Quality here is in the insights and coverage.
  1. Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge: The best written blog of all entries. But writing is only one category. Could use more multimedia. If so, this would be the winner. Kudos nonetheless!

Honorable Mention

  • Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer


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. Judge’s Overall Comment: What a class! I think the top stories in this class draw on more sources than many whole newspapers do some days. My faith in the future of good journalism is bolstered.

  1. Helena Bottemiller Evich and Darren Samuelsohn, Politico, “The Great FLOTUS Food Fight” — Judge: I love everything about this piece. In a scan through the contest entries, it was the first one that grabbed my eye and the first one that I read in full. It’s a long in-depth story but a very easy read. The authors didn’t litter the story with references to all 60 sources interviewed, but rather used the information they gleaned to write authoritatively. The story does not get bogged down in detail. That said, one of my only qualms is that I might have liked to see a few more dollar signs in the story.
  1. Kelly House and Mark Graves, The Oregonian/OregonLive, “Draining Oregon” — Judge: A huge amount of information on a hugely important and controversial topic and still an easy read. I so appreciate how everything is made simple for the reader, despite the fact that this story is all about the intersection of science and politics — neither of which are at all simple.
  1. P.J. Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, “Falling Prices, Borrowing Binge Haunt Midwest ‘Go-Go Farmers’” — Judge: “My favorite detail is easily the 2,555 percent annual interest rate on a cow-calf herd. And this story is full of good detail — without getting bogged down in it. On the copy-editing front, the cutline that starts “Cattle is auctioned off” bothered those worried about subject-verb disagreement.

Honorable Mention (listed in no particular order)

  • Alan Bjerga, Cynthia Hoffman and Laurie Meisler, Bloomberg News, “Family Farms Navigate Risk”
  • Ed White, Lisa Guenther, Barb Glen, Shannon VanRaes, Caroline Cooper, Paul Harris and Laura Rance, Glacier Farm Media, “CETA”


  1. Erin Wicker, Agweek, “Calving goes digital” — Judge: Erin Wicker’s story about a high school student who developed a calving book app was of interest to a general audience, not that in a particular region; and told me something about which I previously was unaware. Erin’s story also centered on a person, not a policy, or a building, or a process. It was interesting and readable. I wish she would have fleshed out the young app developer a little more by talking to her parents, teachers and even people who use the app. It essentially was a one-source story, always something to avoid.

Honorable Mention

Tennessa Wild, University of Regina INK, “Not so ‘Superbug’ on the Saskatchewan prairies’’

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.”

2014 Writing Contest Winners

(Awards for the best writing in 2014 were presented April 27, 2015 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.)


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.

Judge’s Overall Comments:
On the heels of last year’s record American grain harvest, this year’s entries in the NAAJ news category yielded a bumper crop of journalistic gems. Choosing the best was no easy task. But there were so many top-notch articles it was nonetheless a rewarding experience. It was a reassuring one too. In an era when some lament the demise of news reporting, the overall quality of these articles attests that, at least in the world of agricultural journalism, the traditions are still strong.

1. Tom Polansek, Thomson Reuters, “Syngenta risks fresh China corn dispute with unapproved trait.” – Judge: A thorough, thoughtful, and nicely balanced account of the tangled web of decision-making that faces farmers, corporations, and public policy makers each time a new genetically engineered trait moves out of the laboratory and onto the farm. This analysis provides a clear, concise and yet satisfyingly complete overview of the chain of decision-making, or indecision, that that stretches from export markets halfway around the world to the local grain elevator.

2. Jonathan Knutson, Agweek, “The Forgotten Ones.” – Judge: Insightful reporting on of how efforts to tame nature’s excesses often have unintended consequences. The story – one community’s flood control is one cattleman’s nightmare – is a familiar plot line, but this article tells the story from the grass roots — a scale enables the reader to appreciate, on a human scale, the impact of alterations in the quantity and seasonality of stream flow projects.

3. Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming, “@#$*% Weather! No, it’s @#$*% climate change!” – Judge: Much has been, and will be, written about the prospect of climate change. This account, however, succinctly chronicles the changes that are already occurring. Neatly avoiding the trap of blaming single isolated on climate change, this account provides a broader perspective that documents, with hard statistics, how climate – not the weather – is changing around us.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • Mikkel Pates, Agweek, “No Room in the Bin” – Judge: A readable, informative report – one of number submitted this year – on how farmers have coped with the surfeit of riches resulting from record grain harvests and transportation bottlenecks.
  • Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “California Drought Transforms Global Food Market” – Judge: A fine account of how multi-year shifts in climate, here manifested by the drought in California, not only change the face of farming at home, but create ripples in the market that reach around the world.
  • Dan Miller, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Dowdy Posts Historic Yields” – Judge: An informative report – rich both in technical details and in colorful anecdotes – of one man’s persistent, some might say obsessive, effort to squeeze ever greater yields out of the land he farms.


Judged by Catharine Richert, a Minnesota Public Radio News reporter. Catharine was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 2008 when she was a Congressional Quarterly reporter.

1. Tom Polansek, Thomson Reuters, “Deadly pig virus re-infects U.S. farm, fuels supply fears” Judge: For me, this story had it all: it was well-written, well-sourced and clearly required aggressive reporting to nail down the specifics. The author clearly and concisely explained why the second wave of sick pigs was important to the industry and national policy. I was also impressed that the reporting spurred federal action.

2. Rod Nickel, David Ljunggren and Solarina Ho, Thomson Reuters, “Canada orders railways to boost grain shipments to ease logjam” Judge: This is a great example of spot reporting done well. The authors took a seemingly mundane news development and surrounded it with political and economic context.

3. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Crop forecast sends corn prices to near taxpayer subsidy trigger” Judge: This author clearly knows his stuff. Rather than write a run-of-the-mill story about corn prices, he put the situation in context, explaining how the development could impact the long-term cost of the Farm Bill.

Honorable Mention: (in no particular order)

  • Christine Stebbins, Thomson Reuters, “Hedge Fund Buying Doubles MGE seat prices” – Judge: This is a great little scoop, one that clearly demonstrates the author’s deep sourcing and knowledge of the issue.
  • Jamie Klein and Garry Lenton, Reading Eagle, “Weather-related ills snowball for farmers’ – Judge: This story had several strong points. First, it gave a general audience a hint of what it’s like to grow crops in difficult weather. The authors used vivid language and imagery to describe unique challenges to area farmers.
  • Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Nutrition labels set for a major overhaul” – Judge: Great scoop about the timing of the administration’s upcoming nutrition label announcement as well as strong political context.
  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “PED continues to spread” – Judge: What impressed me most about this entry was the author’s depth of knowledge on the subject, which made two quick turn-around stories that much more interesting to read.


Judged by George Edmonson, retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter.

Judge’s Overall Comments:

With more than 100 separate pieces to read, I knew I’d have to be fairly brutal in my approach. Nonetheless, I often found myself lost and fascinated as I read about an event such as the founding of the Joplin Stockyards or the impact of sugar quotas on the workers at Goetze’s Candy.

Overall, the quality of the entries was excellent. Whether originating in a publication with a specialized audience or a general news service, the level of thoughtfulness in the approach and clarity of the writing was admirable. My only complaint was that a handful seemed, to me, more appropriately suited for a category covering investigative or news writing.

As in past years, I came away from my reading impressed by the quality and diversity of coverage in this field. And while I’ve no doubt that economics and demographics continue to exert a strong influence, the evidence of a corporate willingness to support travel and in-depth, on-the-scene reporting was heartening. Now, to the winners.

1. Bryan Gruley and Leslie Patton, Bloomberg News, “Starbucks Seeks Rust-Resistant Coffee to Save Joe as We Know It” – Judge: “A lyrical examination of a giant company’s efforts to combat the deadly fungus threatening its future. Gruley and Patton put readers on the scene and guide them expertly through the processes and procedures. Using colorful descriptions (the wet mill is “a groaning, hissing contraption of tubs, troughs, hoses and augers that strip the fruit of its skin, washes a slimy coating from the beans and begins to separate the best.”) and clear writing (“Although coffee is one of the world’s most valuable commodities, it’s essentially an orphan crop. No developed nation farms it in a significant way. Until recently, the squads of scientists toiling over corn and soybeans in multimillion-dollar laboratories had left it alone.”), the writers draw readers in and propel them along the way. This story was a joy to read, appealing to both the reader’s senses and intellect. It is a fine example of thorough reporting and excellent writing.

2. Jesse Hirsch, Modern Farmer, “So You Want to Be a Farmer” – Judge: With a clever conversational style and a clear step-by-step story structure, Hirsch provides an entertaining and revealing look at what wanna-be farmers actually face. Using his own experiences lend color and scene, while broader facts and figures provide context. The reader is rewarded along the way with choice nuggets, such as learning that trendy heritage chickens look great but don’t taste so good or discovering that the consultant who gives seminars to aspiring farmers got out of full-time farming and recalls that “the stress was unbelievable!”

3. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Last Rock on the Planet” – Judge: This story showed how a tightly written, thoroughly reported feature can be fun to read and informative. Patrico deftly guides his readers through the beauty, hardship and quirks of New Zealand farming.

Honorable Mention (listed by judge in no particular order):

  • Jonathan Knutson, Agweek, “Mixing Oil and Cattle”
  • Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “More Beef, Less Cost”
  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Farming on the Mother Road”
  • Amy Bickel, The Hutchinson News, “Politics Aside, Food-Stamp Need Real”
  • Jamie Klein, Reading Eagle, “Hopping Ahead”
  • Luzi Ann Javier and Marvin Perez, Bloomberg News, “U.S. Can’t Get Enough Sugar for Dum Dums with Import Curb”
  • Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Behind the School Lunch Fight”


Judged by Steve Buist, investigations editor, The Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator. Steve was NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award winner in 2009.

1. Marcia Zarley Taylor, Katie Micik and Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Ag’s Great Affluenza.”

2. Brian Cross, Western Producer, grain transportation.

3. Jamie Klein and Ford Turner, Reading Eagle, “Unwanted Horses.”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Farming on the Mother Road.”
  • Jeff Wilson and Lydia Mulvany, Bloomberg News, “Crop Slump.”
  • Bloomberg News staff, “Turning the Tables: The Global Food Challenge.”


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

1. Mikkel Pates, Agweek, “Battling the Critics” “Who Wins?” and “Measure 5 a Setback” – Judge: Wow! From the very first line this is a punch-up of a read: long knives, dirt-on-the-boots, Spud Scam, etc. All of these entries represent top-of-the-line, crisp and compelling writing. It feels like your smartest friend confiding at your elbow. The insistence on listing everybody’s hometown is a little distracting but I realize every publication has their reasons for certain style requirement. This author’s stuff is brilliant.

2. Jim Massey, Country Today, “Ag should target animal abusers, not videographers,” “FDA gets egg on its face for cheese-aging flip-flop” and “Immigration action gets discussion off dead center” – Judge: Strong writing and clear, cogent reasoning that lead to rock-solid stances on difficult issues. More publications and editorialists would benefit from mimicking this model. Well done.

3. Barb Glen, Western Producer, “Data on losses by wildlife…,” “Environmental policy must…” and “Federal funding adds…” – Judge: (no remarks)

Honorable Mention :

  • Phyllis Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer, “With Farm Bill passed, let’s move on immigration reform.” “KanCare ‘savings’ proving quite costly” and “Waters of the U.S. serious issue that deserves thoughtful comment”


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.

Judge’s Overall Comments: In the midst of all the doom and gloom surrounding journalism careers these days, I am encouraged by poring over this good group of entries in the columns contest. Newsrooms might be getting smaller and budgets leaner, but readers across the country are still getting sound advice and easy-to-understand explanations of complicated issues as well as the generally delightful columns that result in newspaper and magazine pages being pushed across the kitchen table, urging someone to “Read this one!”

1. Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Fix school meals? Sorry, we’re from Washington,” “Keep the lights on for the bluefin tuna” and “Walk a mile in the Europeans’ shoes” – Judge: I really like these columns. I like them so much that I feel like I did as a kid in school, faced with writing a book report on a novel that that was my new favorite book ever and wanting my report to be a worthy tribute to a long dead Harriet Beecher Stowe or Margaret Mitchell. Fact is, these columns by Urban Lehner, which boil the economic, political, and social issues of our times down into an interesting, easy-to-read form, make some of the columns that I read on a daily basis look, in comparison, like a collection of paragraphs written by a kid in school. Urban’s work is just that good. The only “fault” I jotted in my notes as I read and reread these columns was his use of the word “comestibles.” Will all of his readers know that word? I wondered. Is he showing off a little? I asked myself. I don’t think all of his readers know that word. (I ran it by three Ohio farmers. None knew the word. One was a high school valedictorian in the 1980s. Two are four-year college graduates.) And any thesaurus offers a number of easier words that mean the same thing. But if he’s showing off a little bit, he has every right too. The readers will stick with him in these columns. And he just might teach them a new a word in the process.

2. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Biotech Wheat Grows in Montana — So Does Industry Mistrust,” “Drought may need to get worse before California finds answers” and “Ethanol’s Era Ending as Bacon Now Brings Profits Home” – Judge: Short, succinct columns that busy people have time to read and that relay need-to-know information in an easy-to-absorb format. I liked the leads and I found the columns to be fact-filled.

3. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator, “Hay there,” “Finding a better balance” and “Lunar eclipses, voodoo — and doughnuts” – Judge: “I was so encouraged by “Hay there.” I think it’s incumbent on publications to take responsibility for corrections and even clarifications and amplifications. And here’s a column built on explaining what happened with a phrase that wasn’t even really incorrect, but wasn’t the best choice of words for a photo caption. All of the columns’ voice is one of great knowledge of the local agriculture scene.”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • Ed White, Western Producer, “Railways need crop forecasting assistance to plan service,” “Profits will be harder to find in future markets” and “Farmers need first-hand market assessment”
  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Dow’s gutsy decision,” “Weed patch lessons; diversity is the key” and “Rotate your thinking”
  • Jacqui Fatka, Feedstuffs, “Immigration implosion” “EPA water rule still murky” and “Getting FSMA right”
  • Cheryl Tevis, Successful Farming, “Compassion contagion,” “Mind your own business” and “Clearing financial landmines”


Judged by Patricia Klintberg, a former Farm Journal writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 1995.

1. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, Machinery Chatter Blog – Judge: Jim Patrico’s entries combine a conversational style with tight writing and descriptions that put you in the driver’s seat with him. “You are there”, as they used to say on TV. As he recounts his adventure, living the dream, of driving any new Chrysler vehicle of his choice, he tells us when things began to go wrong: “On my second trip through the road course, I noticed signs for the off-road trail. They lured me like the scent of pizza lures a teenager.” In the 2nd entry, One of Those Days, an account of one family’s handling of the unexpected machinery breaks, mud-slogged and overheated trucks during harvest, again, you can visualize every delay and feel their well-concealed frustration. Any farmer would identify with this story. In the 3rd entry, Launch Season after the Gold Rush, Patrico leads us into a lucid discussion about how market conditions influence machinery manufacturers decisions on the type of equipment innovations to pursue. Low commodity prices, high meat prices equal new machines that cut, condition and bale. Good reporting, analysis and story telling. If a Blog is for readers who can never get enough information, they will be waiting for the next installment from Patrico.

2. Pam Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, Production Blog – Judge: Pam Smith’s writing is detailed, full of color and good reporting. In Bringing Down the Bee Barrier, she tackles a subject — the care and feeding of honeybees and why it is important –that is at the periphery of most farmer’s consciousness. Grain farmers don’t need bees to make a crop. As she says, “So there was a great sucking sound when I expressed the viewpoint that I think farmers can be arrogant about this issue.” She makes a strong case for a change in attitude. Likewise in Tending Your Traits, which covers the complexities of choosing from the potpourri of genetically engineered seed, she says farmers need to be sure that the seeds they choose to grow result in a crop that can be sold overseas, citing Viptera as an example. China won’t import grain with this trait. You can almost see her wagging her finger at farmers telling them to “go into this planting season with your eyes open as to the risks and benefits. know what traits you are growing. Communicate with your grain buyer. We’ll all sleep a little better if we follow through and keep our grain stream clean…” She also provides a National Corn Grower’s Association website called Know Before You Grow, that farmers can use. In “Filling Out a Big Crop” she shows her farmer creds, carefully hedging her predictions about the 2014 crop with great reporting and years of observation.

3. Ed White, Western Producer – Judge: Ed White adds a new dimension to blogging with video interviews that expand his reporting and bring his points home. With the trend to put every bit of writing online, the addition of video adds a welcome element to his stories. Ed’s writing is conversational and engaging. In the story about the Agri-Innovation Forum, he includes a video interview with Rob Wong, whose company has developed a product called Neo-Pure, an all natural, residue-free sanitizer. White’s story concludes: “There’s a huge gulf between isolated farms in Western Canada, the laboratories of science-based startups and the concrete canyons of Bay Street and Wall Street, but when people can successfully connect those three elements, good things for farmers, consumers and investors can flow.” The story, On GMOs, if the informed and the users don’t get out and talk, who will?. includes a video that seeks to rebut the inaccuracies that prevail about GMOs with an interview of two public sector scientists who are blessed with the ability to put complex scientific terms into plain English. A third story, For grain, farmers and railways there’s never a normal year, but let’s start acting normal again, covers the realities of the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board and the new reality that has left some of the players–railroads, grain companies and farmers–without a net. Still he says, “I sense there’s a more constructive mood out there, after the glib optimism of 2012-13 and furious outrage of 2013-14 have left many wanting to get beyond the politics and ideology and into practical solutions.'”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “An Urban’s Rural View.” – Judge: Urban also has a conversational writing style and uses short sentences to bring the reader along. In A Battlefield Report From the Food Wars he reminds us that perception is reality. If companies think it will improve sales to only use eggs produced from range roving chickens they will do it. Not a nod to food safety an acquiescence to consumer folly. He also takes on the locovore movement propelled by a Vermont based index that works best in–you guessed it –Vermont where small is the realm to which all farmers aspire. In Urban’s story the NYT reports that Alaska’s increase in the production of local produce makes it 16th in the nation in the locovore index. But as Urban says, “this is Alaska we are talking about.” A state that imports 95 percent of its food. Meanwhile California, which grows more fruits, nuts and veggies than anywhere else in the nation is 37th on the locovore index–BECAUSE–local food is sold in Chain stores. I love stories that reveal what’s behind statistics. Remember Mark Twain, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” The third entry about the value of the dollar was less engaging to me.
  • Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Caterpillar Droppings,” “War of the Words” and “Get in the Mode” – Judge: Caterpillar droppings: sassy, clear, good reporting on a new potential pest. 2nd story–again, her personality adds a lilt to her writing. She makes you want to have a conversation. 3rd entry–note the play on words in the title–is about the excruciatingly complex resistance issue. Good website references for farmers to help prevent the spread of herbicide resistant weeds.
  • John Vogel, American Agriculturalist, “Can Amish Survive Economies of Scale?”, “EPA Loads Cleaner U.S. Waters With Red Ink” and “If Only Uncle Sam Would Think Like a Farmer.” – Judge: John’s voice is clear throughout. In the first piece he spells out why the Amish can compete: “Pennsylvania Dutch have different values: No cash rent to pay. Most purchases are made with cash-down discounts. No fertilizer bill since livestock generate all the nutrients needed. To them ‘high maintenance’ refers to horses that don’t pull their weight, not wives….” Likewise the opinion piece about the EPA rule makes a thorough and strong case against it. And finally he makes it plain that when people complain about what is going on in Washington DC–he offers 10 farm lessons that Congress should heed to end those complaints.


Judged by Sharon Schmickle, a journalist with MinnPost.com since 2007. She previously worked for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Sharon was NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award winner in 1992.

1. Reuters staff, “Farmaceuticals.” – Judge: Thanks to impressive investigative efforts, this timely series adds important, specific information to a vexing problem confronting poultry producers, regulators and consumers. It is courageous and tough-minded journalism.

2. Marcia Zarley Taylor, Katie Micik and Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Ag’s Great Affluenza.” – Judge: This project represents ambitious enterprise journalism. The investment of time and effort to analyze the aftermath of the boom years is a true service to agriculture.

3. Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “Coping with Wild Weather.” – Judge: This well-written, well-researched piece explores a fresh angle on the age-old story of weather as it affects farming. The piece is loaded with new information, including specific tips for farmers.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • DTN/The Progressive Farmer staff, “Planning for Profits.” – Judge: This sophisticated annual economic review is appropriately global as well as local. Clear presentation of complex subjects. Good work.
  • Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “Our Collapsing Bee Colonies. – Judge: This important piece is rich in information but also skillfully nuanced to reflect the many unknowns surrounding the collapsing colonies.
  • DTN/The Progressive Farmer staff, “Weeds to Watch.” – Judge: The writers of this well-planned package have done a great job of presenting highly technical information in highly readable form.
  • Jamie Klein, Reading Eagle, “The Volunteers.” – Judge: An impressive amount of time and effort went into this coverage of one of rural America’s most important services.
  • DTN/The Progressive Farmer staff, “Technology Sets the Table to Feed the World.” – Judge: Few Americans adequately understand the global reach of their agricultural systems. This project not only addresses the reach but also puts it into perspective of the global needs.

2013 Writing Contest Winners

(Awards for the best writing in 2013 were presented April 7, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.)

NAAJ’s 2014 writing contest for stories published in 2013 attracted 260 entries. That’s roughly 60 more than the average total in any other year during the last decade.

The breakdown: News 77, Spot News 15, Feature 76, Series 27, Column 19, Editorial 14, Best Blog, 12, Special Projects 20. There were no entries in the Student category.

2014 Glenn Cunningham Agriculture Journalist of the Year – Shannon VanRaes, Manitoba Co-operator


Judged by George Edmonson, retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter.

Overall comments: The quality of entries was impressive. In story after story, reporters delved deeply, thought comprehensively and wrote clearly. Where there was controversy, various views were fairly represented; where there were technical aspects requiring explanation, it was provided. It was truly inspiring to read these fine stories, and I can’t recall another contest where I agonized quite so much in making the final selections. Everyone involved should be proud of their work.

1. Tom Polansek, Thomson Reuters, “U.S. farm economy flowing in reverse as drought impacts persist.” Judge: It’s hard to resist a story that leads with the Mississippi River reversing course. Exploring what’s described as an unprecedented development, the story — like the river itself — flows along with the occasional twist and turn that keeps things interesting. A fine job of reporting and engaging writing.

2. Jim Patrico, The Progressive Farmer, “Mega auction.” Judge: Start with a colorful, lively lead. Then delve deeply and interestingly into the subject. Weave facts and color throughout. End with a nice kicker. All without going on too long. The recipe is easier to recite than to put into practice, but this story does it well.

3. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Crop insurance hazards show in lost pheasants.” Judge: The story begins with a tight, colorful scene that lays out the theme and proceeds to explore an issue of farm policy thoroughly and clearly. Sources with different points of view are quoted, explanatory statistics are interwoven and the writing is clear. A virtual template for reporting on government issues that could easily be ignored or lost in a fog of bureaucratic jargon.

News Honorable Mention

  • Jen Skerritt, Bloomberg News, “Overflowing Canada grain bins compound global glut.” Judge: Abundance was the subject of several entries. This one stood out for the depth and breadth of reporting and clear writing.
  • Deborah Huso and Dan Miller, The Progressive Farmer, “Taking a stand.” Judge: Nicely written story that brings to life a court case with implications far beyond a single Texas farm.
  • Virginia H. Harris, The Progressive Farmer, “One meal at a time.” Judge: Fascinating look that delves into a program with sharp reporting on those who set it up and those who participate.
  • Mary MacArthur, The Western Producer, “Military solution creates farm problems” Judge: Great example of how strong reporting and writing can make a local issue have wide appeal.
  • Shruti Date Singh, Bloomberg News, “Deere lures Africa’s first-time buyers.” Judge: Deep reporting with business, historical and human context.
  • Jonathan Knutson, Agweek, “Shortchanging ag research?” Judge: A thorough, readable exploration of a critical issue.
  • Alastair Stewart, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Brazil crop outlook.” Judge: Tightly written, with a nice mix of color, hard data and human interest.
  • Christine Stebbins, Thomson Reuters, “Trick or treat? Grain hedgers haunted by the ghost of MF Global.” Judge: A readable, clear examination that takes in the past and looks to the future.


Judged by Cheryl Magazine, Sunday editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Overall comments: The definition of spot news is expanded by enterprising reporters who don’t just react to what happens. They turn an interview prior to a two-day meeting into a story that prompts action; they work with challenging deadlines to bring fresh news of record-breaking corn yield results to readers in a timely manner, and they find obscure passages in a dense report that reveal significant changes in government policy. Two honorable mentions go well beyond the news event to provide important background and context to the news of the day.

1.Christine Stebbins, Thomson Reuters, “CME top exec: Grains trading pause doesn’t make sense.” Judge: Reporter got out ahead of the events with an interview before a planning conference. The story is well-constructed, interspersing necessary background information with quotes from the CME Group’s CEO pooh-poohing a request to amend current practices when the U.S. government releases major crop reports. Reaction to his comments prompted a change in policy and the company’s disavowal of the CEO’s opinions. Well done.

2. Dan Miller, The Progressive Farmer, “World record.” Judge: The combination of thorough reporting and deadline management shows how the definition of “breaking news” can stretch. The writers successfully combine a lot of technical nitty-gritty with the growers’ personalities and a sense of place.

3. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Obama plan shifts aid form Bunge to Africa farmers.” Judge: A significant shift in U.S. food aid policy is clearly presented. The story covers all the bases: history, reasons for change, views from proponents and opponents. The writing is tight, the construction very efficient.

Spot News Honorable Mention


  • Charles Abbott, Thomson Reuters, “U.S. House deals shock defeat to Republican farm bill.”
  • Katie Micik and Greg D. Horstmeier, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “GE wheat found on Oregon farm.”


Judged by Richard Estrada, former Modesto Bee ag writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 2001.

1. Shannon VanRaes, Manitoba Co-operator, “Big dreams, big dollars lead to big trouble” Judge: Wonderful reporting work, particularly because it’s on an issue that has humiliated the Canadian government. We all know how difficult it can be to produce a story when the government wants it silenced, and I admire the grief that Shannon must have endured during her work. Great job with hitting me right away with the scale of the situation and I love the verb “pumped’ $3.1 million into Farm Genesis Group … What locked me into the story was the ‘scandal’ factor being established early: A consultant who got $160,000 in four months … and this great tidbit: the company had to loan the consultant a computer. That speaks volumes about the tragic comedy to come – and lack of oversight by government and financial officials. If you’re involved in a long-term project, I like that you tell me. As a reader, I like knowing that a lot of time and effort was exerted. Great job of getting people to talk about their role in this financial disaster. It can take some cajoling to convince people to talk about decisions they made that are now being questioned, or could be embarrassing. What a great public service that is a reminder to folks everywhere that we need to hold government accountable when it makes foolish decisions. Hopefully, this is the sort of story that will spark change and force regional governments to become more transparent to taxpayers. I’m so jealous! Great job on a difficult topic!

2. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Foodies fight to save Detroit with job hopes pinned to arugula” Judge: This story left me jealous! I wish I had been able to write it! Love the financial data – and what a great way to talk about the economic struggles in Detroit without using the emotional crutch of ‘woe is me.’ I never would have thought of Detroit and farming – and I loved the teacher-turned-farmer angle. The $20K-30K an acre stat is a great piece of information, it helps me understand why this is a business story. Good line about why he doesn’t grown cantaloupes, and it goes perfectly with the photo and the ‘don’t-pick-me’ sign. Good job bringing the USDA in and noting that it doesn’t yet know how to react to this new farming. A great follow would be discussing how this urban farming could improve the health of inner-city residents. The old-school, corner-lot farms are trendy, but their production can’t serve a neighborhood the way these new ‘urban’ farms can. Great job of not relying on ‘shallow’ quotes, but instead being judicious in he use of quotes and giving us the meat in information-packed sentences and paragraphs.

3. Des Keller, Progressive Farmer, “Building a better pig” Judge: You had me at the word ‘Bacon.’ Great job of putting me in the hog pen from the start: I could feel that little piglet squirming out of my hands as I read the story. What kept me involved was the perspective you provide on the valuet be gained here: chefs will pay 4.5 times more for Blake’s pigs than what the grocery store sells it for. You back that up with testimony from a chef, and then more proof of the product by noting how he got his name on the ‘foodie’ map … and then the Travel Channel note. The story builds a solid platform for its premise. I don’t have to take the writer’s word for it, he gives me plenty of evidence and I get to make up my own mind. “U.S. pigs suck” … “The other white meat campaign is one of the worst things” … Thank you for making this in perspective by allowing a pig farmer to speak frankly about his peer group … I don’t now if he’s right or wrong, but I know where he stands. You balance the piece by noting he produces for the 1 percent and what a great quote from the ‘opposition’: “I would congratulate (Blake) him on serving the white linen restaurant trade” … You also give us enough clues about Blake’s personality so that he can carry the piece. You take a story that we’ve all read before – whether it’s building a better cow, chicken, ear of corn or wheat kernel – and you give it balance and bring it to life.

Feature Honorable Mention


  • Christopher Doering, Gannett, “It’s healthier, but will kids eat it?’’ Judge: Loved the graphic with the old-school and new-school lunches! Brings back a bit of nostalgia as we think about the school lunches we suffered through, and I liked the information presented from both sides of the argument. I enjoyed the sidebar focused on the ‘focus groups’ of students. Was a nice opportunity for a checklist of five ‘yays’ and five ‘nays’ as voted by the kids. You noted the like/dislike sheet – would have been good to mimic the loo of the sheet. Readers enjoy these snack-sized graphics. The ‘briefs’ on the left side of the jump page are very nice and do a great job of answering some of my questions. Putting all this info in the story would make it clunky, but here it is convenient.
  • Garry Lenton, Reading Eagle, “The lone hunter” Judge: I can hear the coyote howling as I read the story. Absolutely love the use of the graphic – great work introducing me to the subject of the story with a close-up shot. You do a great job of writing about the coyote in the context of making it an agribusiness story. Great tips list at the bottom of the story, and wonderful way to present the stats on coyote complaints. Good idea using circles and corresponding size – more complaints means bigger circle – to present the stats to the story. The timeline is a good element. You do a great of giving me key pieces of information in different formats. I love the variety, it keeps me from getting bored – which is what happens when the same format is used over and over to present data, a checklist or other information. You take what could be an emotion-driven topic and let the numbers do the talking, as well as a few folks who are on both sides of the issue. I raise Boer goats, but I’ve also got a couple of good dogs to keep the coyotes away. After reading our story, I feel even better about the safety of my herd.
  • Dan Looker, Successful Farming, “Farming’s new faces’’ Judge: Bringing real people into the stories can be a challenge when present a ‘demographic story,’ but it’s critical if you want to maintain reader interest. I enjoyed the writer’s presentation and subtle use of graphics, but the key for me was that he put us on the farm, next to the producer. What caught my eye was the section complaining of the potential vegetable overproduction by Hispanic farmers in Spotsylvania – the name along get your attentions. I like that angle because it provides some reality. Including some adversarial perspective elevates this story from a politically correct feel-good piece into a real look at the changing face of farming. These people are still competitors, don’t forget, and that needs to be noted. Good notes with the financial data, such as renting land for vegetables and strawberries at $100 per acre. It’s fun for farmers elsewhere to see what land and food prices are elsewhere – California farmers, for example, would drool at the prospect of vegetable acreage at that price.
  • Victoria G. Myers, Progressive Farmer, “The down side” Judge: The best of both worlds: A feature that provides a good look at people and has a strong business element to it. I’m not a big of fluff – just because it’s a ‘feature story’ doesn’t mean it can run in the financial section, as well. Victoria introduces crop prices, acreage prices, some perspective on ‘now’ vs. ‘then.’ She uses percentages, as well as whole numbers, and that’s critical. It does no good to tell me that cropland prices are up 30 percent, without also telling me that some of it sells for $12,000 an acre. She does both! Telling me about the decision to remove pasture on Horter’s cattle ranch – and moving it to corn – helps me understand the storyline. I love how she explains some of the business decisions being made. She also provides tight details (fifth-generation farmer, 3-year-old son, 225 head of cattle) without belaboring the point. I don’t need the whole family tree, just a few facts. Strong use of statistics, combined with academic folks and business people, without falling into the trap of making this just another financial story. Loved the rationale given by Dobbins, rattling off a grocery list of what could impact future land prices: ‘Commodity prices, interest rates … vs. inpt costs …’ Again, this is done in a tight fashion, then we quickly move on.



Judged by Scott Kilman, former Wall Street Journal ag writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 1994, 1997 and 2004 (with Roger Thurow).

1. Alan Bjerga and David J. Lynch, Bloomberg News, “Crop insurance” Judge: The U.S. crop insurance program has long been fodder for journalists: it addicts farmers and is prone to fraud. Bloomberg reporters David J. Lynch and Alan Bjerga shed new light on these problems in their compelling series, which calls Congress to task for continuing to lavish billions of tax dollars on subsidies for prosperous farmers and insurers even as Washington promises to tame its budget deficit. The series is the hardest format to pull off because it asks readers to commit an extraordinary amount of time. The authors manage this by setting a high bar at the top of their first story and then artfully weaving together powerful anecdotes, surprising facts and an unflinching point of view.

2. Phyllis Jacobs Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer, “Time for action” Judge: This series brings the reader into the trenches of the water war in western Kansas, where overtaxed rivers and the depletion of the ancient Ogallala Aquifer will upend farm life. The depth of the reporting by Phyllis Jacobs Griegspoor is impressive. Among other things, we meet farmers afraid they will be sucked dry by a huge crop-irrigation scheme just across the border in Colorado and learn about a long-forgotten plan to build a mammoth aqueduct across Kansas. Most importantly, the author starts her series with a strong point of view and then guides readers through her line of reasoning with facts and anecdotes. Although written to warn High Plains farmers, even an outsider comes away convinced that the Ogallala Aquifer is one of the great environmental stories of this generation.

3. P.J. Huffstutter, Tom Polansek and Lisa Baertlein, Thomson Reuters, “Zilmax” Judge: These articles are a collection of stories based on breaking news over several months rather than a discrete series in the classic sense. I don’t think the word “series” is used anywhere in the articles themselves. But that takes nothing away from the exemplary work of the Reuters reporters, principally P.J. Huffstutter and Lisa Baertlein. They did a magnificent job covering the fall from grace of a hot-selling Merck drug called Zilmax, which the U.S. beef industry nicknamed “Vitamin Z”. It is that good at packing high-priced muscle onto the ribs of cattle. As meatpackers banned the drug, and then Merck suspended sales, the reporters wrote a string of riveting features off the news developments. As one of their articles showed, even farm kids had turned to Zilmax in the hunt for blue ribbons at the fair. Zilmax flew under the radar of consumers already worried about eating meat from animals treated with hormones and antibiotics because it is a class of drug known as beta-agonists. Indeed, use of this type of drug exploded in part because the FDA allows meat from cattle treated with it to be sold as “hormone-free” and “natural.” Then Tyson and other meatpackers grew concerned last year that Zilmax was harming cattle. As one article in this package revealed, Tyson went cold turkey after Zilmax-treated cattle began arriving at one of its slaughterhouse barely able to walk. Their hooves were disintegrating. The stories just kept getting better and better.

Series Honorable Mention


  • Todd Neeley, Chris Clayton, Russ Quinn and Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Stretching the Ogallala”
  • Marcia Zarley Taylor and Elizabeth Williams, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Health care countdown”



Judged by Patricia Klintberg, a former Farm Journal writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 1995.
Overall comments: The opinions entered in this contest range from solid, well thought out arguments to some that might require farmers to ask for more detail and less “inside baseball” reporting. Such writing tends to happen when an author is so steeped in a subject, he or she assumes every one else is too. And I speak from experience. The winners transcend that sort of writing. Their editorials engage the reader causing one to read from the first sentence to the last. Really well done.

1. Phyllis Jacobs Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer. Judge: The pros and cons of ending the ban on corporate farming in Kansas is extremely balanced and well written. It requires the reader to look at both sides of the issue and gently leads them to consider a sea action in the corporate ban. The piece is extensively researched which adds to its gravitas! 2nd entry: Really well argued especially to an audience not at all sympathetic to perceived restrictions on “gun rights.” The author goes to great lengths to put the constitutional caveat “of the right to bear arms” in to perspective by relating the reality of the time –over two hundred years ago–when the Constitution was written. Bravely done. 3rd entry–another well balanced opinion that makes a strong argument for action.

2. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator. Judge: In the first two editorials the author does not mince words with the pork industry for behavior that exalts the status quo while ignoring growing consumer demand for change. “It is sheer folly for the pork industry to spend its declining resources to hear the views of Rick Berman [whose nickname is Dr. Evil] and his ilk. He’s telling them what they want to hear, not what they need to do.” In Waste Not Want Not, a good model of story telling, about a subject dull as dish water–infrastructure needs–that is a culprit in food waste, the author makes the reader see the importance of this issue in food security.

3. Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Judge: All the entries deal with what could be a deadly dull subject: weed and insect resistance developed from using genetically-modified seeds. But the author makes the subject readable by her familiarity with the science and knowing how to talk to farmers. “Negotiating the BT Maze” is a case in point. It examines the newest demands on farmers to learn the genetic makeup of seeds, weed killers, and their ever-evolving effects on the farm enterprise. The days when the “new best thing” to use in the field could offer some reassurance about harvest is long gone. The author makes clear that knowing how to switch up technologies is as important as marketing.

Editorial Honorable Mention


  • Greg D. Horstmeier, DTN/The Progressive Farmer.
  • Jim Massey, The Country Today
  • John Vogel, American Agriculturalist.


Judged by Deanna Sands, retired managing editor of the Omaha World-Herald (now back to full-time farming on her family operation in southeast Nebraska) and a past president of Associated Press Managing Editors.

Overall comments: This category drew strong competitors. Each writer presents a distinct personality that entices readers to keep going. Entries were well-thought-out, clearly written and topical. Each writer appears to understand the needs of his or her readership.

1. Ed White, The Western Producer. Judge: Good selection of timely topics. Well-reported and well-organized. The thoughtful approach encourages readers to keep reading.

2. Lori Potter, Kearney Hub. Judge: Strong sense of place in choice of topics. Clear, crisp writing invites the reader to continue. Surely rings true for her audience.

3. Laura Rance, Winnipeg Free Press. Judge: Good personalization that engages with the reader. Topics are interesting and on-point for more general audience.

Column Honorable Mention


  • Gregg Hillyer, The Progressive Farmer
  • Jonathan Knutson, Agweek
  • John Vogel, American Agriculturalist



Judged by Steven Lee, former ag writer for the Dallas Morning News and recipient of NAAJ’s Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 1990.

Overall comments: When I won the Cunningham, this category, and even this particular craft, didn’t exist. It’s been that long ago! I’ve since tended to think of blogs as an exercise in emptying one’s notebook of extraneous stuff that didn’t belong in news stories, or self-indulgent, unchecked ramblings. This contest has changed my mind. These submissions show the essential role of the journalist, identifying compelling issues and translating them for readers across the spectrum. They also include some of the best phrasing I’ve read in awhile. Agricultural journalism is alive — and well — by this year’s submissions. Together they reflect the intelligence and passion required to cover a discipline (Ag) that the community at large sometimes overlooks in a time of flashy, entertainment-driven supermarkets. Before we open our refrigerators, a lot (a heck of a lot) has to happen in chemistry, biology, global markets, smoke-filled political meetings. And this sampling from NAAJ punctuates the point. Well done!

1. Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer Judge: Ms. Smith’s leads gently pull in readers before they can resist. It doesn’t get much better than: “I smelled the start of the 2013 planting season.” Plus, she shows appreciation for the adjective, too long overlooked in print journalism, proving that a blog is the place for the latest and greatest.

2. Greg D. Hortsmeier, DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Judge: Greg Horstmeier demonstrates that topic selection is the first decision necessary in crafting a compelling blog. And his masterful follow-through, as in his recollection of a long-ago Paul Harvey talk resurrected in a modern-day ad, made this a very close race for first.

3. Alastair Stewart, DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Judge: Command of the complex places local agriculture at the top of world topics.

Best Blog Honorable Mention


  • Urban C. Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer.


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.

Overall comments: This year’s special projects entries attest that, in the world of agricultural journalism, thoughtful reporting and good writing are alive and well. The large number of exceptionally well conceived and well executed entries are a tribute to the individuals who produced them, to the institutions that published them. and to the North American Agricultural Journalists for encouraging and recognizing their work.

1. Staff, DTN/Progressive Farmer, “Food security.” Judge: Gregg Hillyer’s insightful look at the looming crisis in the world food supply portrays a global challenge with solutions that are, in the final analysis, local in nature. His report is comprehensively framed against a sweeping statistical backdrop of a world that has 82 million new mouths to feed every year. But his story is solidly rooted in a handful of down-to earth efforts in Central America where a handful of human-scale sustainable agriculture projects offer a glimmer of hope that humanity as a whole might yet avoid the “food supply cliff.”

2. Jerry Hagstrom, National Journal, “Inside the House Committee on Agriculture.” Judge: Jerry Hagstrom went behind the headlines to look at one of the most closely watched and powerful committees in Congress to look at the changing role – and the changing dynamics — of the House Committee on Agriculture. His thorough, artfully crafted report provides an instructive glimpse, not only of the elected officials, but the staff, behind the legislation that sets the course of programs ranging from food stamps to the family farm

3. Todd Neeley, Chris Clayton, Russ Quinn and Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Stretching the Ogallala” Judge: In a world increasingly conscious of the limits of of its water resources, the staff of the Progressive Farmer, DTN Grains edition, cast a wide geographic net to capture the multitude of ways farmers in Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska are “making every drop count” by using conservation and technology to extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer and the agricultural resources that depend on it.

Special Projects Honorable Mention


  • Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “The wider world of immigration.”
  • Elizabeth Williams and Marcia Zarley Taylor, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Senior partners.”



2014 writing contest deadline, instructions announced

The North American Agricultural Journalists annual writing contest has several writing categories for professionals and one for college students. Most categories are for members only. The Special Projects  category may be entered by non-members. The contest fee is $10 per entry for members and $75 for non-members. Up to two entries per category are allowed.

This year we have an online entry and judging contest, so there will be no mailing of hard copy.  The instructions are below.

First-place winners in the member categories vie for the Glenn Cunningham Ag Journalist of the Year Award. Eligible stories must have been published in calendar year 2013 (Jan. 1-Dec. 31).

Non-members who are eligible may join NAAJ by paying a $75 membership fee, which must be received by Feb. 1. For membership or other information, contact Kathleen Phillips, NAAJ executive secretary-treasurer, (979) 845-2872; ka-phillips@tamu.edu.

Winners will be recognized at NAAJ’s annual meeting banquet April 7, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Online Contest Instructions:

This year, entries to the NAAJ writing contest will be submitted using BetterBNC Media Awards Platform. The contest is now open.

If you have questions, please contact me at (402) 444-1127, or david.hendee@owh.com. Despite the long list of instructions below, it’s a fairly fast and painless process. Hint: It will help to have all of your entries queued up on your computer desktop for ease of finding them when it’s time to submit them.

IMPORTANT: BetterBNC is optimized for the Google Chrome browser; and Firefox for PC and Macintosh/Apple. Please have a recent version downloaded and installed for the best contest experience.

The deadline for all entries is Feb. 10, 2014.

1.  Login.

*   Go to www.betterbnc.com.

*   Click contestant login (upper left) or the appropriate Contestant Login button on the right side of the page.

*   Select the appropriate contestant type:

*   If you are the single point of contact for your organization (meaning that you’re handling your entries yourself or you are your organization’s contest manager), select Contestant Manager. NOTE: Once you have submitted two entries, you will be receive an email validating your Contestant Manager account, enabling you to create Authorized Entrant accounts to make entries on behalf of yourself or your organization.

*   In very rare instances, if you have received an email authorizing you to submit entries for your organization, select Authorized Entrant.

*   If you are a non-member, select Open Call, then enter your email and password. If you haven’t yet created an Open Call account, follow the on-screen instructions.

*   Contestant Manager and Authorized Entrant only:

*   Select the appropriate contest by scrolling down the Select a Contest box to “2014 NAAJ Writing Contest.”

*   Select your name from the “Select Media Organization” box. All current members’ names are listed in this place.

*   (Authorized Entrant only) Enter your email address.

*   The first time you log in, enter this temporary Password: bnc (lower case), and click Login. When you first login, the system will prompt you to create a secure password and enter your contact information. Be sure to do this.

*   Going forward (including future years) you will log in with your chosen password, or if you forget your password, use the “Lost Password” button.

*   If the designated Contestant Manager should leave the company, and their email account is no longer accessible, contact your Contest Administrator to have the email account changed.

2.  Submit Entries

*   On the Manage Entries page, click Submit Entry (left side).

*   Under Division, select “General”:

*   Select the appropriate Category.

*   Read the corresponding Category Note (directly below the Category selection box), describing the category’s requirements.

*   Complete the Headline/Title field.

*   Add entry content (may vary by category):

*   To upload digital file attachments, click Browse, navigate to the desired file, and select Open. Allowed file types are PDF, DOC/DOCX, TXT, JPG, GIF, and PNG. If more than one attachment is desired for this entry, click Attach More and repeat these steps. If you reach a point where you cannot add any more attachments to an entry, you may have reached the attachments limit, set by your contest administrator. Please keep file sizes under 5mb, to aid judges in accessing entry content. For larger files (between 5-50mb), you may upload your file(s) to a third-party website such as www.issuu.com<http://www.issuu.com/>, and copy and paste the hosted item’s web address into the Website URL field.

*   Add Credits (bylines) for each person responsible for the entry content.

*   Add Comments (for Spot News category only), but keep them brief (e.g. 100 words).

*   Click Submit.

3.  Pay for Entries

*   When all entries are submitted (but before the Entry Deadline of midnight, Eastern Time, Feb. 10), log in to your account’s Manage Entries page.

*   Click Calculate Entry Fee (middle right) and review your list of entries for accuracy.

*   Scroll to the bottom of the list for your Entry Fee Subtotal (lower right).

*   Click the payment link (lower center) to pay for your contest entries via PayPal. This link will take you to NAAJ’s website payment page, which many members have used in past years. Follow the instructions on the payment page to pay via PayPal. You will need to know the total number of stories entered for the PayPal calculator to tabulate your bill.

*   (Optional) Click the Print icon (upper right) to print your list of entries and fees.

Glenn Cunningham Agriculture Journalist of the Year

1960 – Glenn Cunningham, Des Moines Register & Tribune
1961 – Loren Osman, The Milwaukee Journal
1962 – Glenn Cunningham
1963 – Joseph R. Bianco, The Oregonian
1964 – Bill V. Durham, Houston Post
1965 – Richard Youngblood, Minneapolis Tribune
1966 – Loren Osman
1967 – Don Muhm, Des Moines Register & Tribune
1968 – Ron P. Harley, Des Moines Register & Tribune
1969 – Don Muhm 1970 – J. Alan Swegle, Cedar Rapids Gazette
1971 – David M. Skoloda, Milwaukee Journal
1972 – B.J. Noles, The Oregonian
1973 – Gary Martin, Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal
1974 – James R. Russell, Louisville Courier
1975 – David M. Skoloda 1976 – Tom Berschweiler, Oregon Journal
1977 – Gerald J. Petcher, Dairyland Agri-View
1978 – Don Muhm
1979 – James Risser, Des Moines Register
1980 – Warren Wolfe, Minneapolis Tribune
1981 – Kent Parker, Des Moines Register & Tribune
1982 – Karen Freiberg, Kansas City Star
1983 – Ann Toner, Lincoln Star & Journal
1984 – Ward Sinclair, Washington Post
1985 – Bruce Maxwell, Rochester Post-Bulletin
1986 – Lee Egerstrom, St. Paul Dispatch, Pioneer-Press
1987 – Dirck Steimel, Wichita Eagle-Beacon
1988 – Rick Richards, Gary (Ind.) Post-Bulletin
1989 – Bob Cox and Steve Painter, Wichita Eagle
1990 – Steven Lee, Dallas Morning News
1991 – Dan Looker, Des Moines Register
1992 – Sharon Schmickle, Star Tribune
1993 – Tom Webb, Wichita Eagle
1994 – Scott Kilman, Wall Street Journal
1995 – Patricia Klintberg, Farm Journal
1996 – Jane Schmucker, Youngstown Vindicator
1997 – Scott Kilman, Wall Street Journal
1998 – Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register
1999 – David Hendee, Omaha World Herald
2000 – Ed White, Western Producer
2001 – Richard Estrada, The Modesto (Calif.) Bee
2002 – Marcia Taylor, Top Producer
2003 – Joe Carroll, Bloomberg
2004 – Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow, Wall Street Journal
2005 – Alan Bjerga, Wichita Eagle-Washington, D.C.
2006 – Chris Clayton, Omaha World-Herald
2007 – Paula LaVigne, Dallas Morning News
2008 – Catharine Richert, Congressional Quarterly
2009 – Steve Buist, Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator
2010 – DTN/The Progressive Farmer Team
2011 – Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer
2012 – Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer
2013 – Mary Wisniewski and Christine Stebbins, Thomson Reuters
2014 – Shannon VanRaes, Manitoba Co-operator
2015 – Marcia Zarley Taylor, Katie Micik and Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer
2016 – Patricia Callahan, Chicago Tribune

2006 NAAJ Writing Contest Winners

2006 NAAJ Writing Contest Winners

(Presented April 16, 2007, National Press Club, Washington, D.C.)

Glenn Cunningham Ag Journalist of the Year – Paula Lavigne, Dallas Morning News for “Is organic food the real deal?”

Judge: Deanna Sands, retired managing editor of the Omaha World-Herald and a former president of Associated Press Managing Editors.

1. Paula Lavigne, Dallas Morning News, for “Is organic food the real deal?”
Judge’s Comment: ”Good enterprise effort. Writer spotted a trend and started asking questions about whether readers were getting what they thought they were getting. Turns out that they might not be. Complex topic treated with the layman in mind. Clear, concise language. Good context. The original idea and reporting effort made the difference.”

2. Bill Hord, Omaha World-Herald, for “Prairie problem runs deep”
Judge’s Comment: “Reporter went beyond the usual doom-and-gloom reporting of the drought to find out that not everyone is having a bad year. That was an important context for farm and non-farm readers. Reporter gave a balanced picture. Well written.”

3. Libby Quaid, Associated Press, for “Cloned cows”
Judge’s Comment: “Interesting, timely topic told from a different perspective — the farmer’s. Good backgrounding and context. Well-written. Reporter made the science and economics of cloning INTERESTING!”

Honorable Mention
Judge’s Comment: “This is an unusually strong class of honorable mentions. All are well-written and reported and serve the interest of readers.”

Adrian Ewins, Western Producer, for “Ontario let farmers decide. Will Ottawa?”
Mitch Lies, Capital Press, for “Drawing the line against sprawl”
Nancy Cole, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, for “Hands ready as farm hits fruitful time”
Jane Schmucher, The Blade, for “Exchange offers cash to farmers who help rein in greenhouse gases”
Kristy Hebert, Farm and Dairy, for “Raw milk fires up industry”

Judge: Sherry Skufca, managing editor of The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind.

1. Bill Hord, Omaha World-Herald, for “Meat company plans $400 million expansion.”
Judge’s comment: “Good detail (e.g., lean burgers served at the press conference; 80% of all hamburgers in the United States contain BPI products), thorough reporting and clean, clear writing would be impressive even without deadline pressure. The initiative shown by the “snoopy” reporter to scoop this press conference was valuable because he/she used that time to track down a wireless site in a nearby motel lobby for some serious Internet research on the company involved. Nothing in this story, or the accompanying breakout boxes — one providing an at-a-glance look at the company and the other showing how this expansion ranked among the largest ever in Nebraska — suggests the reporter had less than 35 minutes to file and was working from a laptop on a folding chair. Great use of available resources.”

2. Christopher Doering, Reuters, for “US to scale back mad cow surveillance program.”
Judge’s comment: “Ahh, the value of sources. In this case, they allowed this reporter to break a story the USDA undoubtedly wanted to “manage” with its own timed release. The reporter provided important background information about the testing program, managed to get on-the-record USDA comments defending its as-of-yet unannounced decision and balanced that with reaction from consumer and business groups effected. “USDA’s press secretary said later the story was accurate and thorough. He also was annoyed I had broken the news before the secretary could make an announcement.” Annoy away. This was a great reader service.”

3. Jerry Perkins and Phil Brasher, Des Moines Register, for “Iowa scores an ethanol coup.”
Judge’s comment: “Explaining the conversion of cellulosic biomass to ethanol for readers who aren’t chemistry majors is no small task. This story, rooted in a press conference at the governor’s office, does that job very well. It is clear. It explains why readers would care. And two key breakouts explain the benefits/obtacles/impact of the plan, as well as the three-step process for creating this form of ethanol, without making the story difficult to digest.”

Honorable mention
Bill Hord, Omaha World-Herald, for “Planting the seeds of ag tourism.”
Judge’s comment: ”Well-crafted story about a trendy topic in agriculture — tourism on the farm. Good detail (missing only a cost range). Good word choice (e.g., “Second on the city slickers’ lists is witnessing the birth of a calf.”), and not overwritten for the topic.” Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register, for “Australians will buy Iowa plant for ethanol.”
Judge’s comment: ”Clear, concise report on the sale of majority interest in an Iowa ethanol plant. Includes an understandable explanation of the market dynamics at work with these plants, including the controversy brewing over foreign investment. Good use of a breakout box to provide important information without slowing down the story.”

Judge: Jim Nelson, deputy business editor of the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee.

1. Jonathan Knutson, The Forum (Fargo, N.D.), for “From Field to Table.”
Judge’s comment: “A well written, well presented account of a clever idea by the North Dakota Farmers Union. This story blended many elements – feature writing, ag economics, politics and food. It also served as a travel feature. All of this combined with excellent photography made for a fine entry.”

2. Chris Clayton, DTN, for “Iowa Food/Fuel Debate.”
Judge’s comment: “A solid discussion of the rising concerns in this key agriculture state that the increased demand for corn could have major consequences. Good, clear writing, use of statistics.”

3. Libby Quaid, Associated Press, for “Organic appetite.”
Judge’s comment: “Interesting story that showed the challenges facing manufacturers of increasingly popular, well-known food products. Going organic is harder than it appears.”

Honorable Mentions:
Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today, for “Slippery slope.”
Comment: ”Clever idea, well presented.”
Bill Hord, Omaha World-Herald, for “Come wiz me.”
Comment: ”A very fun, short read. A talker.”
Hannah Fletcher, Iowa Farmer Today, for “Vintage Iowa.”
Comment: ”Good look at Iowa vineyards.”
Ed White, Western Producer, for “Hutterite isolation.”
Comment: ”Interesting, informative exploration of Hutterites.”
Andrea Myers, Farm and Dairy, for “Mud and guts.”
Comment: ”Hog wrestling champions return was a fun, breezy read.”
George DeVault, NewFarm.org, for “What am I bid?”
Comment: ”Good look at the workings of ag auctions.”
Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register, for “Finding spirituality.”
Comment: ”Good topic, well presented.”

Judge: Bill Felber, executive editor of the Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury.

1. Marcia Taylor and Jeanne Bernick, of Top Producer, for “Titans of biofuels.”

2. Marcia Taylor, Jeanne Bernick and Linda Smith, of Top Producer, for “Freight gridlock.”

3. Ed White, Western Producer, for “Commodity exchanges.”

Honorable Mention:

Betsy Freese, Successful Farming, for “Show business.”
Jonathan Knutson, The Forum (Fargo, N.D.), for “Exceptionally dry.”
Tim Hoskins, Jeff DeYoung, Gene Lucht and Hannah Fletcher, Iowa Farmer Today, for “Farming the new frontier.”
Dan Looker, Successful Farming, for “Pumped up on ethanol.”

Judge: Jason Ellis, an agricultural journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

1. Kieran Gartlan and Aine Gianoli, DTN, for “Brazil’s Growth Potential.”

2. Ed White, Western Producer, for “Silence breeds suspicion, no matter the motive”

3. Urban Lehner, DTN, for “The customer is always right.”

Honorable Mention:
Betsy Freese, Successful Farming, for “Trials of a 4-H mom”
Darin Newsom, DTN, “The selloff in Kansas City wheat”
Susan Crowell, Farm and Dairy, for “False comfort: Raw milk is safe”
Urban Lehner, DTN, for “Hu cares.”

Judge: John Ullmann, recently retired executive director of The World Press Institute and a former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

1. Capital Press (Salem, Ore.) staff (Mitch Lies, Bob Krauter, Tam Moore, Patricia McCoy, Scott A. Yates, Elaine Shein and Cookson Beecher) for “Climate change.” Comments: A fascinating story told well and featuring excellent reporting.

2. Chris Clayton, DTN, for “The science of BSE.”
Comments: An important in-depth update on a topic that gripped many readers.

3. Dow Jones Newswires staff

(Gary Wulf, Central City, Neb.; Ray Brindal, Canberra, Australia; Sameer Mohindru, New Delhi; Tom Sellen, Overland Park, Kan.; Debbie Carlson, Chicago, Ill.; Holly Henschen, Chicago, Ill.;Grace Fan, Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Terry Wooten, Jersey City, N.J.) for “Ogallala Aquifer Decline.” Comments: Good update with excellent context.

Honorable Mention:
Ed White, Western Producer, for “The end of Crow; 11 years later”
Comments: Measures in a useful way for readers how a government decision has impacted readers in actuality years later.

Elaine Shein, Capital Press, for “Ready to rodeo” Comments: Good series of stories about rodeo and local efforts of farmers to pull it off.

Judge: Jason Ellis of the University of Nebraska Agricultural Communications Department.

Patrick Cain for “Ohio farmers could rotate political field” in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Comments: “Nicely written feature. Drawing lead that gently introduces a potentially controversial topic. The volume of sources is seemingly necessary for the story but becomes confusing by the last column. Well-balanced in presenting views of both parties.”

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2016 Writing Contest Winners

2017 NAAJ Writing Contest

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North American Agricultural Journalists - Award Spotlight

2016 Writing Contest Winners

The awards for 2016 articles will be presented April 24, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. NEWS Judged by Patricia Klintberg,  a former Farm Journal writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award... More...