2017 NAAJ Writing Contest

Start compiling your best work from this year in a folder on your computer desktop. It’s NAAJ contest time again!

Contest entries must be published during calendar year 2016 (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31).  The deadline for all entries is Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.

Contest categories are unchanged: News, Spot News, Features, Series, Columns, Editorials, Best Blog and Special Projects. There also is a Student category. See below for detailed descriptions of each category.

The $10 fee per entry for members is unchanged. The fee for non-members also is unchanged at $75 (the same cost of becoming a member).

As usual, winners will be announced as the category judges turn in their results between mid-February and the March 12 judging deadline. The awards will be presented at an April 24 dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., during NAAJ’s annual spring meeting April 23-25, 2017. Contact NAAJ executive secretary-treasurer Kathleen Phillips (979-845-2872 or ka-phillips@tamu.edu ) for membership and meeting information.

Below are directions for preparing and submitting entries. If you have contest questions, please contact contest coordinator David Hendee at 402-444-1127, or david.hendee@owh.com.

For more information about NAAJ, go to www.naaj.net

Again this year, entries to the NAAJ writing contest will be submitted using BetterBNC Media Awards Platform. The entry process is unchanged from last year

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.

How to start:

  1. Login.

a. Go to www.betterbnc.com.

b. Click contestant login

c. Select the appropriate contestant type:

1. If you are the single point of contact for your organization, select Contestant Manager, then skip to “d. Contestant Manager Login”.

2. If you have received an email authorizing you to submit entries on behalf of your media organization, select “Authorized Entrant” on the log in page, then skip to “e. Authorized Entrant Login” below

3. If you are an individual submitting your own entries (including nonmembers and freelancers), please see the “Open Call Contestant Only” instructions below

d. Contestant Manager Login:

  1. Select the contest you would like to enter
  1. Select your Media Organization
  1. Enter your password**
  1. Click “Login”

**Note: If it is your first time logging into your account, use the temporary password: bnc(lower case). After you log in using that temporary password, the system will require you to update your password. Going forward (including future years) you will log in with the password you set. If the designated Contestant Manager should leave your media organization, please contact your Contest Administrator to have the contact info in your account updated.

e. Authorized Entrant Login:

  1. Select the contest you would like to enter
  1. Select your Media Organization
  1. Enter your email address
  1. Enter your password
  1. Click “Login”

f. Open Call Login:

  1. Click “Open Call Login” in the blue bar at the top of the page
  1. If you already have an Open Call Contestant account, enter your email address and password, then click “Login” and skip to section “g.

Request to make entries in a contest” below

  1. If you do not already have an Open Call Contestant account, click

“Create your Open Call account”

  1. Fill out the form
  1. Click “Submit” at the bottom of the page

Once you fill out the form to create your Open Call Contestant account, the system will send you a validation email with a link that must be clicked before you can log into your account.

g. Request to make entries in a contest (Open Call Only):

  1. Hover over the red “Open Call Contestant” text in the blue bar at the top of the page
  1. Select “My Contests” in the menu that appears
  1. In the “Available Contests” section, check the box next to the contest you would like to enter
  1. Hover over the red “Open Call Contestant” text again
  1. Select “Manage Entries”


2.Submit Entries

a. Click “Submit Entry” from the Manage Entries page

b. Select a Division (group of Categories)

c. Select a Category

d. Select the Media Organization where the entry was published or performed

(Open Call Only)

e. Enter the entry headline or title

f. Add entry content (may vary by category)

  1. To upload digital file attachments (other than audio/video), click “Browse”, navigate to the desired file, and then click “Open”. Allowed file types are PDF, DOC/DOCX, TXT, JPG, GIF, and PNG. To upload additional attachments to a single entry, click the “Browse and Attach More Files” button. BetterBNC will allow up to about a 20MB file, however, we suggest keeping your files around 5MB in case the judges have a slow connection. For files larger than 20MB, you can click the “RealView” icon on the Submit Entry page to create a free account, upload your files, and then copy and paste the URL into the URL field on the Submit Entry page. You may also use a similar 3rd-party website that provides hosting services (scribd.com, issuu.com, etc.)
  1. To add web/audio/video content, copy and paste the content’s URL address into the provided Website URL field. To host your content online, either upload it to a free streaming content website (e.g.YouTube) or talk to your IT person about adding it to your publication’s website. Make sure the content will be accessible online throughout the duration of the contest and awards process.Here are some examples of free streaming content websites where you can upload audio and video content:

a. Audio: www.kiwi6.com, www.tindeck.com

b. Video: www.youtube.com, www.vimeo.com

  1. IMPORTANT: Please be sure that items are not behind a paywall or a password-protected area. If they are, you must provide username/password info in the Comments section of your entry.Judges may disqualify your entry if work samples are inaccessible.

g. Add Comments

h. Enter Credits

i. Click “Submit Entry”

  1. Pay for Entries

a. When all entries are submitted log into your account

b. Navigate to the Manage Entries page

c. Click “Calculate Entry Fees”

d. Follow the on-screen instructions to pay for your entries


NAAJ Contest Categories

News: Informs readers about a timely, important, interesting agricultural issue or event in an objective, thorough manner.

Spot News: Covers breaking news–news that is time-sensitive and written under tight deadline. Entries in this category would include (but not be limited to) stories written for wire services and the Internet. A statement of 100 words or less describing the conditions under which the story was written and/or the time significance of the story MUST accompany entries in the spot news category.

Feature: Takes a broader or more human look at an important or interesting agricultural issue, event or experience. It may be longer and more in-depth than a news story. This category includes human interest and technical articles.

Series: Contains multiple stories focused on an agricultural issue or event. The series objectively explores the subject in great depth from various points of view.

Column: Allows the writer to express personal observations, humor or feelings on a topic. Include three selected examples to submit as a single entry.

Editorial: Requires the writer to build arguments on fact and logic to address a certain issue. An editorial should state a position and convince the reader of the need for action. Include three selected examples to submit as a single entry.

Best Blog: Can be on any agricultural topic posted by one writer and updated regularly. A blog can include various writing styles to share the writer’s insight and expertise, but should encourage audience reaction. Blogs must have appeared on a media website or standalone, and were first online rather than in a publication. Blogs generally have features such as reader feedback and links to other sites. Include three examples of blog posts, along with any reader comments, to submit as a single entry.

Special Projects: Takes reporting to a higher level. The overall entry shows careful planning and enterprise. The entry also shows that time, talent, and in some cases, monetary commitments were made to produce the project. May be a team effort.

Student: There are no sub-categories for students. Each student may submit up to two entries, published in 2016 in a student publication or a publication that would have employees eligible for NAAJ membership.


NAAJ writing contest categories

Writing contest categories:

News: Informs readers about a timely, important, interesting agricultural issue or event in an objective, thorough manner.

Spot News: Covers breaking news–news that is time-sensitive and written under tight deadline. Entries in this category would include (but not be limited to) stories written for wire services and the Internet. A statement of 100 words or less describing the conditions under which the story was written and/or the time significance of the story MUST accompany entries in the spot news category.

Feature: Takes a broader or more human look at an important or interesting agricultural issue, event or experience. It may be longer and more in-depth than a news story. This category includes human interest and technical articles.

Series: Contains multiple stories focused on an agricultural issue or event. The series objectively explores the subject in great depth from various points of view.

Column: Allows the writer to express personal observations, humor or feelings on a topic. Include three selected examples to submit as a single entry.

Editorial: Requires the writer to build arguments on fact and logic to address a certain issue. An editorial should state a position and convince the reader of the need for action. Include three selected examples to submit as a single entry.

Best Blog: Can be on any agricultural topic posted by one writer and updated regularly. A blog can include various writing styles to share the writer’s insight and expertise, but should encourage audience reaction. Blogs must have appeared on a media website or standalone, and were first online rather than in a publication. Blogs generally have features such as reader feedback and links to other sites. Include three examples of blog posts, along with any reader comments, to submit as a single entry.

Special Projects: Takes reporting to a higher level. The overall entry shows careful planning and enterprise. The entry also shows that time, talent, and in some cases, monetary commitments were made to produce the project. May be a team effort.

Student: There are no sub-categories for students. Each student may submit up to two entries, published in 2015 in a student publication or a publication that would have employees eligible for NAAJ membership.

NAAJ 63rd Annual Meeting Announced – Save the Date!

The 63rd meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists will be April 24-26, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

The meeting will be headquartered at The Cosmos Club. To reserve a room at  the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, call 202-387-7783. The room block is under North American Agricultural Journalists. The rates are $190 to $255.  Reservations will be accepted through March 24, and you should act early to be sure of a room there.

The NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Scholarship  and Writing Awards Banquet will be April 25 at the National Press Club.

Registration details are available here.

Members visit Norman Borlaug statue

NAAJ members attending the annual meeting in Washington, D.C. in April 2014, were escorted to the new Norman Borlaug statue in the U.S. Capitol. Here is a video by member Ed White, The Western Producer. Pilgrimage to Norman Borlaug Statue

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.”



NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Scholarship Benefit Dance

Guests to the NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Scholarship Benefit Dance:

The dinner-dance payment options for non-members:

  • Pay online via Paypal. If you still need to pay for 2017 tickets, use the link below.

Name(s) of attendee

  • Pay by check payable to NAAJ.  Send the names of each attendee and the check for $150 per person to NAAJ, c/0 Kathleen Phillips, 6434 Hurta Lane, Bryan, Texas 77808.

The scholarship payment options:

  • Click to contribute to the NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Memorial Scholarship online.
  • Or mail a check (payable to University of  Missouri School of Journalism) to University of  Missouri School of Journalism Development Office, 103 Neff Hall, Columbia, MO  65211. Put NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Memorial Scholarship in the memo.

2012 writing contest winners

(Awards for the best writing in 2012 will be presented April 8, 2013 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.)


Judged by Julie Doll, Business editor, The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle

A Kansas State University graduate, Doll’s newspaper career includes The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, Ind.)  Journal & Courier (Lafayette, Ind.)


1st — Amy Bickel, Hutchinson (Kan.) News, “A hard day’s work’’

The package on immigrant and seasonal workers and the role they play in the region’s economy provides readers with insight and perspective. Good sourcing adds dimension, solid information and real-life examples. The historical and political perspectives work well to build an understanding of the issue and helps put it into context.


2nd — Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Water Wars Pit Dakotas Against Barges’’

A strong anecdotal lead draws the reader into a compelling narrative about the debate over Missouri River water releases. The writer explains well what is at stake for the Dakotas as well as for those farther down river. The story also provides great explanations of the laws and agreements that are in place that are shaping the debate, but it doesn’t let itself get bogged down in the legal aspects. Rather, the writer uses the explanations to help drive the story forward.


3rd — P.J. Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, “U.S. farmers hit paydirt with irrigation”

Vibrant writing vaulted this story into a prize-winner.  From the wonderfully descriptive lead to the ending quote, this story about the increasing number of farmers who are relying on irrigation was a fun read. But the writer wasn’t just in it for the fun. She also provided:  solid news; perspectives from business, farming and environmental groups; and a hint of what might be coming amid changes in the world’s climate patterns.




  • Allison T. Williams – Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), “Timber Market on Rise’’ A strong example of economic impact reporting.  The story uses an effective variety of sources to deliver a lot of economic information in an interesting and insightful way.
  • Jamie Lee Klein – Reading (Pa.) Eagle, “The Farm Vote’’ This campaign-issue story was reported and written from the perspective of those who work in agriculture, and the approach works well to engage readers.  Too many campaign stories are focused on the candidates, rather than the people who would be affected by their policies and ideas. Not this winner. Good sourcing and background, and the accompanying topical grid that compared Obama and Romney’s positions was informative and user-friendly.
  • David Hendee, Omaha World-Herald, “Making the best of a bad situation’’ Strong writing and good use of current information on the drought were apparent in this entry. The writer effectively used small details – such as the amount of rain a farmer had received since May—to illustrate and highlight the news.
  • David Rogers, Politico, “Regional battle opens over major farm bill’’ Knowledgeable and insightful.  Written for those most interested in the political churnings of farm politics, and the fine print of the legislation that comes out of Congress.



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 serves on the National Newspaper Board of Governors and other boards and councils.

1st — Katie Micik, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “BSE Case Confirmed”

Judge’s comment: “This story began as a rumour on Twitter, prompting the reporter to work her sources to confirm the incident, and start collecting background and context. Within minutes of the press conference, she filed a complete story, with a compelling amount of detail on the subject and its ramifications. Subsequent rewrites and updates throughout the day made this a truly exceptional job of spot news reporting.”


2nd, Allan Dawson, Shannon VanRaes and Laura Rance, Manitoba Cooperator, “Weanlings euthanized near Austin”

Judge’s comment:  “With two hours to deadline, an anonymous tipster claims 1,300 baby pigs have been shot and killed at a hog barn. One reporter drives an hour out of town to confirm the tip, another reporter and editor jump on the phones to plumb industry and government sources. A great piece of spot news journalism, with colour from the scene combined with solid reporting and context from the office.’’


3rd (tie)

Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Mad cow case confirmed in central California, USDA says”

Judge’s comment:  “Very nicely written on-deadline piece with all the data, sources, context. The covering letter claims this outlet ‘broke’ the story, but because the submission contains quotes from the same press conference of the winning entry, I discounted that claim. I liked the use of quotes — in particular the final one, lifted (and duly credited) from another news outlet. It showed the reporting team’s attention to the story as it evolved through the day, plus a passion to tell it in the most engaging way possible.”

Karl Plume, Thomson Reuters, “Drought measures may curb Mississippi River shipping”

Judge’s comment:  “Great spot news report relying on strong sources and a solid grasp of the issue and its ramifications. Well done.’’




  • Chuck Abbott, Thomson Reuters, “U.S. House panel opposes Senate crop insurance reforms” Judge’s comment:  “Good spot news writing on a very complex subject. Both comprehensive and informative.’’
  • Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, “On verge of 22-hour grain trading, an era passes” Judge’s comment:  “A skillful combination of  colour, context and craft on deadline. Start to finish, a real pleasure to read.’’


Judged by Duncan McMonagle

Duncan McMonagle has taught journalism at Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, since 1998. He holds a master of journalism degree from Carleton University and a bachelor’s (honors) in English from the University of Winnipeg. Duncan is a former executive editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. Other journalistic experience includes reporting and editing at The Globe and Mail and copy editing at cbcnews.ca. He frequently judges national and regional journalism contests, and he reviews fiction and non-fiction books for the Winnipeg Free Press.

1st — Mary Wisniewski and Christine Stebbins, Thomson Reuters, “Midwest farm town, transformed by immigration, thrives”

Judge’s comment: “Plenty of real people enliven an important demographic story.”

2nd — Bryan Gruley and Elizabeth Campbell, Bloomberg News, “Online furor over ‘pink slime’…”

Judge’s comment: “A careful unpacking of a current controversy.”

3rd – Garry Lenton, Reading (Pa.) Eagle, “Cultural change’’

Judge’s comment: “A quiet agricultural revolution, explained through technical details and people’s stories.”

HONORABLE MENTION (in no particular order)

  • Mikkel Pates, Agweek, “Sheep trial adventure’’ — Judge’s comment: “Old-fashioned good reading: plenty of details in a first-person story.”
  • Jamie Lee Klein, Reading (Pa.) Eagle, “Man’s best friend’’ — Judge’s comment: “Lots of observed facts; no attribution of emotions to animals.”


Judged by George Edmonson, Retired Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter and editor

1st — Ford Turner and Jamie Lee Klein, Reading (Pa.) Eagle, “Seeding the Future'”

Judge’s comment: “Written with grace and style, this series delved into a policy issue in a readable and engaging manner. The stories were filled with details that made the people and their settings come to life. One could almost imagine sitting at that old kitchen table with the Browns, walking among the chickens with the Stricker family or watching the “cow channel” with Rodger and Dorothy Wagner. The writer is not afraid to quote sources at length, allowing them to make their points in the context of their own words, another way to bring them to life.

This series also stands out because of the skillful use of facts and figures to undergird the stories, giving them depth and perspective. Yet, they never overwhelm the narrative. Questions concerning the preservation program as well as the pros and cons are clearly laid out and explained, along with the implications. An excellent report, worthy of first place in this category of the NAAJ annual contest.”

2nd — Stephanie Armour, Alan Bjerga, Elizabeth Campbell and Michael Marois, Bloomberg News, “Mad Cow Disease”

Judge’s comment: “This series of stories evolved from on-going reporting on a news event, the discovery of mad-cow disease in a California dairy cow. Over a span of months, the stories provide background, context, on-scene color and never seem to miss any developments. I could only wish that more news coverage of such important events was this good.

These stories follow the news where it leads and the writer gives excellent insight into everything from the farmers and businesses involved to the science and regulatory systems.

When I was judging this contest, I was reading “Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction” by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. As I was going through this series, I recalled a line from that book, which seemed to apply perfectly: “Clarity isn’t an exciting virtue, but it is a virtue always …” Whether detailing the science around the disease or the efforts to deal with it, the writing is clear and easy to follow.”

3rd —  Perry Beeman, Des Moines Register, “Dead Zone”

Judge’s comment: Stories with terms such as “hypoxia,” “eutrophication” and “anhydrous ammonia” aren’t likely to be reader friendly without a careful, thoughtful writer who can guide the uninitiated through the thicket. That’s just what this well-done series does in exploring a problem with which many people feel they’re already familiar.

But as these stories, told from a variety of viewpoints, angles and geographic locations, make clear, thinking you know something and truly understanding it are not the same. Reading this series provides readers with insight and perspective.”


  • Allison T. Williams, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), “Seed to Harvest” – Judge’s comment: “A nicely written, colorful report told with depth and perspective. The stories bring issues to life through strong details and good structure.”
  • Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Drought” – Judge’s comment: “Wide-ranging and engaging, this series put a face on many aspects of the problem by mixing on-scene reporting with the wider context.”
  • Katie Micik, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Lessons From MF Global” – Judge’s comment: “This series deftly lays out the implications of the financial giant’s collapse with strong reporting and clear writing.”


Judged by Beth Pratt, Retired religion editor of the Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal, where she worked for 25 years.

Judge’s comments on overall category:

“This is a difficult category to judge because it is broad, containing different column styles of straight information/opinion, editorial, inspiration, entertainment/angst. It also is an easy category to judge because it is diverse.

Be aware: Avoid trite phrases and qualifiers that weaken writing.

Consider audience: What should be the approach when speaking to the general public as opposed to writing in a niche publication?

Strategy: The goal of good writing is to SHOW AND TELL– in other words, communicate supporting evidence in a compelling way. Devote more time to the basics of good writing (good story-telling). In straight analysis, watch out for alphabet soup — you cannot assume readers recognize more than FBI or IRS. Full name of organization on first reference is still the best rule for clarity.

Check your work: This is not a luxury but a necessity. Edit carefully. Beware of being enamored of your every word — that’s a newbie error.

Take care what you reveal: A few writers address personal, emotion-laden topics with too much or poorly organized information. The temptation is to linger over details that do not serve the point you are making. Write about what you’ve learned from the situation, not your raw pain. Give it some distance so you can be more objective. Do not make yourself the focus of the column.

Overall, there were excellent examples of professional writing.”

1st — Laura Rance, Manitoba Cooperator, “Telling your story”

Judge’s comment: “The three “C’s” of good writing: Clarity, Conciseness and Content are all strong in this opinion. The writer compares response to the U.S. beef slime issue to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture response to a rule change issue in meat animal slaughter. A strong opening paragraph sets the hook for a recap of the U.S. public relations slime debacle, followed by a succinct description of how a slaughter rule change for injured meat animals in Canada could have caused a similar Canadian crisis. A timely response strategy prevented what could have resulted in fear-mongering headlines. This highly skilled writer sheds light rather than heat on a high interest, sometimes abused, topic — food safety.”

2nd — Christine Stebbins, Thomson Reuters, “US bankers say…”

Judge’s comment: “Smooth. I enjoyed reading in a format I usually find dull. Attention to strong writing sets this analysis apart. The writer provides helpful information on a complex issue without over-explaining. Good resourcing and choice of quotes give credibility to the analysis by providing multiple viewpoints on consequences of policy change and farm economics when corn is turned into fuel for vehicles.”

3rd — Cheri Zagurski, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Why it’s ethical to eat meat”

Judge’s comment: “Logic and humor are the keys here to an entertaining essay purportedly for a newspaper often awash in a river of arrogance. Did the New York Times really sponsor an essay contest on “Why it’s Ethical to Eat Meat?” I like my steak medium well and my reading material well done. This column is well done.”


  • Larry Dreiling, High Plains Journal, “The unsung hero of wheat” Judge’s comment: “People like to read about other people, especially heroes, and they like to think they too might be one of those unsung heroes. Cleanly and concisely, this writer uses the personal tribute as an effective way to argue for more recognition of people who work quietly behind the scenes to make life better around the world.”
  • Jonathan Knutson, Agweek, “Risk and reward” Judge’s comment: “Personal narrative to make a larger point is a tool effectively used in this column about the risks inherent in farming. Excellent organization and transitions.”
  • Phyllis Jacobs Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer, “Build it already” Judge’s comment: “Interesting beginning. This snapshot of government bureaucracy inaction could benefit from closer editing, but introduction and organization of the information is a revealing glimpse into the frustration of today’s political realities.”
  • Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Optical illusions and skills gaps” Judge’s comment: “Excellent observation. This is an interesting report that from the production ag angle relegates a growing crisis of farm labor skill gaps too far down in the story, but that placement may defined by the writer’s main audience.
  • John Vogel, American Agriculturalist, “On cusp of feed, food panic” Judge’s comment: “Worst-case drought scenario — the 15 percent no one wants to think about — shows either the benefit of experience or great backgrounding work. Excellent transition and flow.”


Judged by Mary Kay Quinlan, Associate professor of journalism, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

With degrees from Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Maryland, Quinlan spend a year as a suburban schools reporter at the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle. She was a correspondent in the Omaha World-Herald Washington Bureau for more than 10 years, then wrote for Midwestern newspapers as a regional correspondent for Gannett News Service in Washington. She was president of the National Press Club in 1986 and was elected to the Gridiron Club. Quinlan earned a doctorate in American Studies at the University of Maryland and taught there in the journalism college, where she was a Baltimore Sun Distinguished Lecturer and William Randolph Hearst Visiting Professional. She has taught reporting and writing courses at UNL since 1999. Quinlan is editor of the Oral History Association Newsletter, a thrice-yearly publication of the national professional organization of oral historians. She is also a co-author of “The Oral History Manual,” “Native American Veterans Oral History Manual” and “The People Who Made It Work: A Centennial Oral History of the Cushman Motor Works.” She has presented oral history workshops at numerous local, regional and national conferences.

1st — Robert McClure and Jason Alcorn, Investigate West, with Bonnie Stewart, Courtney Flatt and Aaron Kunz  of EarthFix “Agriculture is nation’s biggest water polluter but usually goes unpunished”

Judge’s comment: ”This entry represents all the elements of top-notch reporting and writing.  It was fascinating to read and reflected wide-ranging research at the local, state and federal level.  It took on a highly complex and controversial issue and looked at facts, not just emotions.  To be sure, the emotions are present, as is the sometimes complicated scientific information.  But it was all presented in a highly readable fashion through the eyes of many of the key players.  This is the kind of journalism that can make a difference.’’

2nd — Ron Friesen and Val Ominski, Manitoba Co-operator, “Canadian Grain Commission”

Judge’s comment:  “This special project commemorates the centennial of the Canadian Grain Commission.  I knew nothing about this organization and found myself drawn in to the historical perspective the articles explored.  The reporting and writing was straightforward, detailed and engaging.  But it was not cloying and laudatory the way you might expect a commemorative project to be.  Journalism should more often explore the history of contemporary subjects as this project does, even if there’s not an anniversary to celebrate.’’

3rd — Janet Patton, Lexington Herald-Leader, “Fields of Dreams: A year in the life of Central Kentucky’s horse farms”

Judge’s comment:  “This project clearly took an amazing amount of planning, and it represents an extraordinarily clever way to chronicle Central Kentucky horse farms.  With one story a month for an entire year, the project profiles horse farms in the region with each piece focusing on the primary work for a particular month–from the pregnant mares in January to February breeding, March foaling and so forth through the sales pavilion to a retirement farm for horses whose productive lives are over.  Along the way, readers learn about economic issues affecting the industry and a bit about its history.  Readers who follow Thoroughbred racing would recognize the sometimes overused references to famous racehorses, confusing to a non-racing fan. But that doesn’t detract significantly from the overall quality of this project.’’


HONORABLE MENTION (in no particular order)


  • Karen Briere and Ed White, The Western Producer, “What is happening to Canada’s hog industry: A series of unfortunate events” – Judge’s comment:  “Another example of a highly complex story that attempts to unravel economic issues plaguing Canadian hog producers and relies on farmers as well as ag economists and other experts to tell the story.  Lots of numbers and complicated cause and effect, but overall well told.’’
  • Jim Patrico, Russ Quinn and Claire Vath, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Meet Farming’s Techies’’ – Judge’s comment:  “This collection of stories definitely paints a picture of farming’s future that would cause many city dwellers who think their milk comes from a grocery store to sit up and take notice. A sidebar even lists useful apps for farmers to consider.  Some pieces require a level of tech sophistication that not all readers might have.’’
  • Barb Baylor Anderson, Bryce Anderson, Chris Clayton, Gregg Hillyer, Katie Micik, Victoria G. Myers, Russ Quinn, Pam Smith and Marcia Zarley Taylor, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Planning for Profits” – Judge’s comment:  “This entire magazine is predicated on giving farmers specific, actionable information aimed at helping them deal with volatile economic and weather conditions. The reporting is thorough but the writing isn’t as engaging as it might be.’’
  • Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “The promise and the challenge of perennial commodity crops” – Judge’s comment:  “These stories take a hard-eyed look at the science, the economics and the people behind efforts to develop an array of perennial crops.  A good example of journalism that explores developments at the edges of a complex industry like agriculture and does so in a balanced, readable fashion.’’
  • Alex Daniels, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “In tiny Benin, cotton is king” – Judge’s comment:  “This project illustrates a commitment to showing U.S. readers how farm policy here, particularly with regard to cotton production, affects the livelihoods of growers half-way around the world. Considerable planning and expense likely went into this project, but it lost its focus with one story about a West African church and school supported by an Arkansas congregation. Nonetheless, the reporting was solid and the writing was engaging throughout.’’


Ward Sinclair Student Award

Judged by Pat Waters, retired business editor of the Omaha World-Herald

Mollie Lastovica, Texas A&M University, “Farmers Fight” published in DRIVE Magazine

Judge’s comment: “The writer produced a taut, informative piece about Farmers Fight, a student organization formed with the surprising goal of promoting agriculture in a a state where ranching/beef production is king. The grassroots organization was formed after the Texas A&M student newspaper published a negative article about agriculture, and Yahoo listed agriculture as one of the top five useless college degrees.

This account is an example of the important role of student journalists — informing the public of developments in agriculture on college campuses.


2011 Writing Contest Winners

(Awards for the best writing in 2011 were presented April 16, 2012 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.)


Judged by Charlie Weaver

1ST – Jonathan Knutson, Agweek – “A long, wet ag disaster”

Judge: I loved the narrative lede, it really foreshadows and personalizes the issue nicely. I particularly liked the construction of the overall narrative where you take the reader almost through the stages of the “grieving process” the individuals effected by the lake were facing. I was, however, still left wanting in regards to what the state planned on doing about the issue — which does well to punctuate the end of the story and reinforce the hopelessness the community members are feeling.

2ND – Mikkel Pates. Agweek – “Whistle-blower?”

Judge: The balance of this piece was well done and thoroughly reported. I appreciated the additional sidebars that tied the whole story together and painted a very insightful picture of all involved. I didn’t find myself choosing sides while reading — which, in my opinion is the cornerstone of great investigative journalism.

3RD – Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer – “Extension: Still relevant?”

Judge: The historical lede is very effective and the nut graph kicks off a very interesting and thorough story about the symbiotic relationship between all of the agencies involved in extension and its management. Mapping out the overlaps really gives the reader the understanding that the issue doesn’t necessarily have a cut-and-dried solution.


  • David Hendee, Omaha World-Herald — “Deaths increase care taken with prescribed burns”
  • Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Pulp, paper companies amend tax returns: Actions could cost taxpayers billions of dollars”
  • Mikkel Pates, Agweek — “The push: Did U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service push South Dakota farmer too hard?””
  • Lori Potter, Kearney Hub — “Ag leaders say proposed federal child labor rules not a good fit for farms, ranches”
  • Christine Stebbins, Thomson Reuters — “Crop scientists now fret about heat not just water”


Judged by Bill Felber, Executive editor of the Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury

Felber is a native of Chicago’s South Side, he graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in journalism and has worked in that field for more than three decades. He is a former member of the board of directors of Associated Press Managing Editors. A baseball historian and researcher, he has authored studies for Total Baseball and other publications on numerous on-field and off-field aspects of the game. He has judged the NAAJ contest in past years.

1ST – Victoria Myers, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Wildfires take out forages and animals”

2ND – Tom Polansek, Thomson Reuters — “MF Global sells exchange seat, cuts ties to grains’’

3RD – Ron Friesen, Manitoba Co-operator — “Mass evacuation for cattle near Lake Manatoba’’


  • Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report — “Super Committee failure means uniform cuts as Congress fights over new farm bill”
  • Dan Miller – DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Hula wins yield contest’’


Judged by George Edmonson

Edmonson retired from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2005 after nearly 35 years as a reporter and editor at newspapers across the country. In addition to judging the occasional journalism contest, he writes periodically for a couple of cigar Web sites. He lives in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

“This category was as difficult to judge as any I’ve ever encountered. The wealth of good stories, well told and well reported, is a testament to the high quality work being done in this field.

“These reporters are storytellers with an eye for the telling detail and revealing scene that make their pieces come alive. The subject range was enormous. I read about high-tech developments and old-fashioned ways, corporate farming and urban gardening, environmental fear and complaints about over-regulation. And much, much more.

“No one could read these stories and fail to be impressed.”

1ST – Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Animal lovers”

“This story is just what a feature should be: a compelling read that informs, enlightens and entertains the reader. Focusing on a single farm family, the story explores many issues with subtlety and wit. Excellent work.”

2ND – Nate Seltenrich, East Bay Express (Oakland, Calif.) — “How safe is your soil?’’

“A textbook example of extraordinarily deep reporting and clear explanatory writing wrapped with a finely crafted human element. This story examines not only the problem but possible solutions as well.”

3RD (tie)

– Jack Kaskey, Bloomberg Businessweek — “Attack of the superweed’’

“A fascinating story written tightly with a sense of authority grounded in strong reporting. It covers all the angles and explains a complex issue with clarity and economy.”


– David Hendee, Omaha World-Herald — “Eco-tourism could turn into a cash crop’’

“Coverage of this workshop could have been a brief, but is instead a terrific story brought to life with on-scene reporting and insightful context. Another fine example of agricultural reporting that isn’t limited to the fields and farms.”


  • Mary Baxter, Better Farming – “Lyme disease: The painful and hard-to-diagnose infection”
  • Amy Bickel, Hutchinson (Kan.) News – “Population drain dazes rural areas’’
  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Drought challenges assumptions”
  • William DeKay, The Western Producer — “Whip-cracking cowboy works herd, entertains”
  • Barb Glen, The Western Producer — “Saving wildlife habitat”


Judged by Sue Burzynski Bullard

1ST – Katie Micik, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Farming on the border”

Judge:  Farming on the Border” details how waves of illegal immigrants affect farmers and ranchers on the U.S. border with Mexico.  The stories put readers alongside landowners, who say the nature of foot traffic has changed to include armed smugglers bringing drugs and migrants across the border. The writer paints vivid detail. One rancher estimates 20 percent of his time is spent tending to border-traffic issues – including cut fences and broken water pipes. Whatever your view on U.S. immigration policy, this series, “Farming on the Border” takes readers to ground zero.

2ND – Mikkel Pates, Agweek – “Rick’s world: Upside down dairy still looks ahead”

Judge: “Rick’s World” dissects controversy surrounding a number of dairy-farm partnerships across three states.  Some 13,000 cows were involved in the deals. Subsequent bankruptcies spawned critics and inquiries. One farming couple said their part of the deal cost them $1.2 million, setting them back 10 years financially.  Was it bad timing in a tough economy, mismanagement, or what? “Rick’s World” digs up details to help readers make up their minds — including an extensive time line showing when deals developed and, in some cases, soured.

3RD – Elizabeth Williams and Marcia Zarley Taylor DTN/The Progressive Farmer – “Senior Partners’’

Judge: Two sure things are death and taxes. You can’t avoid the former. But you can do plenty to legally pay less tax and make things go smoothly as you pass the family farm to the next generation, reports “Senior Partners.”  Some 97 percent of family businesses fail to keep family and business together for more than three generations, says the series.  Well-written stories go deep into ways to organize orderly transitions.


  • Elizabeth Campbell, Jeff Wilson, Justin Doom, Debarati Roy, Joseph Richter, Whitney McFerron, all of  Bloomberg News — “Hay sent to China cheaper roiling U.S. dairies”
  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Grounding Climate Science”
  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Drought Challenges Assumptions”
  • Phyllis Griekspoor and Rhonda McCurry, Kansas Farmer — “Taking Care of Kansans”
  • Katie Micik, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Changing Face of Ag Women”


Judged by Mike Toner

1ST – Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming — “$1.123 billion…”

Judge: “At a time when it’s popular to knock public spending on almost any research as wasteful, it’s reassuring to see a writer point out that popular perceptions aren’t always founded in fact. This insightful, succinct analysis provides a refreshing “au contraire” on a federal-state program in South Dakota that has produced big returns.”

2ND – Carey Gillam, Thomson Reuters — “Super weeds pose growing threat to U.S. crops’’

Judge: “A decade of benefits from genetically engineered crops capable of tolerating glyphosate herbicides has, as predicted, produced a generation of weeds that are resistant to them too. In two thoughtful pages, this analysis explains the current dilemma and casts an eye to the future and farmers’ never ending war with weeds.”

3RD – Karl Plume, Thomson Reuters — “US corn export dominance to bend, not break’’

Judge: “As U.S. corn growers scramble to meet the growing demand for ethanol, we’re still learning about the unintended consequences of  programs promoting crop-based fuels. This analysis makes it disturbingly clear that, amid growing domestic demand and international competition, U.S. exports of corn are one of the casualties.”


  • Phyllis Griekspoor,  Kansas Farmer –  “Would you trade your GPS for a cell phone signal?”  Judge: “A clear-headed look at what promises to be another Faustian bargain – the looming conflict between a new way of delivering broadband services to rural areas and the time-honored benefits of the global positioning system.”
  • Urban Lehner,   DTN/The Progressive Farmer –  “Want fries with that regulation?”  Judge: “A delightful tongue-in-cheek commentary on the dubious merits of making school lunches conform to current nutritional guidelines. Once-a week French fries, sure. But don’t throw out the peas, lima beans and corn.”


Judged by Louise Seals

Judge’s remarks about the category: “The projects entered in this category present a body of work commendable for its breadth of topics, depth of reporting and research, and excellent explanatory writing. No topic seemed too complex or daunting, and I applaud the reporters and their editors for their willingness to devote the resources to tackle these projects and to tell them well. These are excellent examples of what journalists do better than anyone else: research, synthesize and then tell the story. Judging this category was a pleasure.”

1ST -Gregg Hillyer, Tom Dodge, Susan K. Davis and Charles Johnson DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Unlock the secrets of soil”

Judge: “Outstanding science writing with everyday applications to the livelihoods of the publication’s audience. I kept coming back to this package and finding another gem of a sentence or example, such as: ‘Soil pits shed new light on the mysteries of the underground.’ Or this: ‘Scientists using new DNA techniques are identifying previously undiscovered microbes almost daily. Figuring out what they do is not so easy.’ The writer had made it easy, though, for readers to understand how the discoveries could affect their farming and finances by reporting numerous examples, opinions and hypotheses to make the issues clear.”

2ND – Gregg Hillyer, Charles Johnson, Barb Baylor Anderson, Jim Patrico, Tom Dodge, Des Keller and Marcia Zarley Taylor DTN/ — The Progressive Farmer  “Agriculture’s Greatest Challenge”

Judge: “This investigation of predicted global food needs and what they mean for U.S. farmers demanded extensive and wide-ranging reporting and then a disciplined approach to storytelling. But “disciplined” does not mean “dull,” and this skilled reporter proved to be a talented writer. The gee-whiz facts and mind-boggling predictions are never allowed to overwhelm the goal of helping readers understand how they could be affected.

3RD – Chris Clayton and Katie Micik, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “Cutting into Conservation”

Judge: “Thoughtful organization of articles and skilled writing keep the reader moving through this potential snoozer of a topic. The writer keeps a tight rein on quotations, using them to truly advance the story but without confusing brevity and usefulness. Well-crafted transitions contribute to pacing and understanding. One gets the impression this reporter knows the subject backwards and forwards, and may even have personal experience with some of the issues.


  • Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming — “Corn high yield team”
  • Dan Miller, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “America’s best young farmers and ranchers”
  • Linda Smith and Marcia Zarley Taylor, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — “A new marketing era”
  • Cheryl Tevis, Successful Farming — “A first-rate farm business”


Judged by Pat Waters, retired business editor of the Omaha World-Herald.

Anthony Schick, Columbia Missourian- University of Missouri –  “Mississippi River town of Pinhook struggles to reclaim its community after levee break”

Judge’s comment: “The writer dexterously weaves information and data about the flood and rebuilding efforts with the history of Pinhook and its residents. The result is a strong, readable narrative rich in detail — for example, the description of the Baptist church after the floodwaters receded. This is not a story that the reporter “phoned in.” It obviously is the result of myriad interviews, historical research and visits to Pinhook and to the homes of its former residents. Well done indeed!”

Annual meeting – April 15-17, 2012

Sunday, April 15

Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Ave NW

(Note: The Cosmos Club has a dress code. Male members and visitors must wear a coat and tie at all times except upon arrival. Women members and visitors are expected to dress accordingly.)

1 p.m.              Business meeting

4 p.m.              Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, a wheat mill now operated by National Park Service. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe,  USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White and Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes.

7 p.m.              Group dinner, Dino’s, Dino, 3435 Connecticut Avenue N, (Pay-your-own)

Monday, April 16

Cosmos Club, Crentz Room

8:45-9:45 a.m. — Farmers and biodigesters
Panelists: Steve Reinford is co-owner with wife Gina of a 1,035-acre dairy farm near Mifflintown, Pa.
Harry S. Baumes, Ph.D., Director of the Office of Energy Policy and New Uses, in the USDA Office of the Chief Economist.

Moderator – Phyllis Griekspoor

9:45-10 a.m. — break

10 a.m.-11:15 a.m. — A look ahead at the cattle herd, feedlot operations and beef quality
Panelist: Mike Kasten, v.p., Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifers and farmer, Millersville, Mo.; Larry Corah, v.p. Certified Angus Beef, Manhattan, Kans.; and Scott Brown, MU Extension beef economist, Columbia, Mo.
Moderator – Duane Dailey

11:15 a.m.-noon  – The Bison Stampede. Dave Carter, president of North American Bison, and Trey Lewis, bison owner and marketer who owns Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co. in Maryland

Moderator – Ed Maixner

NOON – 1:30 p.m. Luncheon, U.S. Agriculture Secretary TomVilsack.

1:30-2 p.m. — break

2-3 p.m. – Is Agriculture Over-regulated or Under-regulated?
Panelists: Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President, Wyoming Stock Growers Association (Over-regulated)
Scott Faber, Vice President, Government Affairs, Environmental Working Group (Under-regulated)
Urban Lehner, Vice President, Editorial, DTN/The Progressive Farmer (Moderator)

3-4 p.m. — Herbicide Resistant Weeds – What the best scientists tell us
Richard Wilkins, a farmer from Greenwood, Del. His farm was close to the fields where the first glyphosate-resistant weeds in the United States were discovered in 2000.

Bill Curran, Extension Weeds specialist at Pennsylvania State University.

Moderator –  Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade

National Press Club

NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Scholarship Benefit and Awards

5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. – Reception, dinner, awards and dance with music by Colin Peterson and the Second Amendments.

Tuesday, April 17

10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. – Briefings with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

2 p.m. – White House kitchen garden and a briefing with Doug McKalip, a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council staff.

Past Presidents

Year – Name, Publication
1953 – J.S. Russell, Des Moines Register & Tribune
1954 – Bill Durham, The Houston Post
1955 – E.S. Kieckhofer, Memphis Commercial Appeal
1956 – Rex B. Conn, Cedar Rapids Gazette
1957 – Hal Herd, Nashville, Tenn.
1958 – Richard T. Orr, The Chicago Tribune
1959 – James Colby, Davenport Times-Democrat
1960 – Robert Bjorklund, Wisconsin State Journal
1961 – Harold K. Street, Hartford Courant
1962 – Frank Salzarulo, Indianapolis News
1963 – Glenn Cunningham, Des Moines Register & Tribune
1964 – William B. Humphries, Raleigh News & Courier
1965 – Herbert Karner, Tulsa Daily World
1966 – Harold Joiner, Atlanta Journal
1967 – Loren H. Osman, The Milwaukee Journal
1968 – James E. Vance, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
1969 – Ray Pagel, Green Bay Press-Gazette
1970 – Don Muhm, Des Moines Register-Tribune
1971 – S. Archie Holdridge, Harford Courant
1972 – William H. Zipf, The Columbus Dispatch
1973 – Keith L. Wilkey, The Quincy Herald-Whig
1974 – William M Blair, The New York Times
1975 – Bernard Brenner, UPI- Washington, D.C.
1976 – Audrey Mackiewicz, The Sandusky Register
1977 – Michael J. Carr, Decatur Herald & Review
1978 – J. Alan Swegle, Cedar Rapids Gazette
1979 – Donald M. Kendall, AP, Washington, D.C.
1980 – Mary Roesner, The Moline Daily Dispatch
1981 – H. Carlisle Besuden, III The Lexington Herald
1982 – Thornton Hartley, The Florida Times Union
1983 – Mildred M. Bunting, Lancaster Livestock Reporter
1984 – William S. Kilby, Jacksonville Journal Courier
1985 – Ann M. Toner, Kansas City Star
1986 – Ernest Wilkinson, Indianapolis Star
1987 – Sonja Hillgren, UPI- Washington, D.C.
* 1988 – Galen Moses, Gainseville Sun
1989 – Kathleen Davis (Phillips), Lubbock Avalanche Journal
1990 – Lee Egerstrom, St. Paul Pioneer Press
1991 – Michael Flaherty, Wisconsin State Journal
1992 – June Sekoll, Farm Chronicle
1993 – Wayne Falda, South Bend Tribune
1994 – Dan Looker, Successful Farming
1995 – Tim White, Ohio Farmer
1996 – Patricia Klintberg, Farm Journal
1997 – Steven Lee, Dallas Morning News
1998 – Scott Kilman, Wall Street Journal
1999 – Mikkel Pates, AgWeek
* * 2000 – Richard Estrada, The Modesto (Calif.) Bee
2001 – Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator
2002 – David Hendee, Omaha World-Herald
2003 – Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register
2004 – Sally Schuff, Feedstuff
2005 – Larry Dreiling, High Plains Journal
2006 – Jerry Hagstrom, National Journal
2007 – Chuck Abbott, Reuters
2008 – Betsy Freese, Living the Country Life
2009 – Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer
2010 – Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg
2011 – Ed Maixner, Kiplinger Agriculture Letter
2012 – Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer
2013 – John Vogel, American Agriculturist
2014 – Phyllis J. Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer
2015 – Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming

* When the organization changed from the Newspaper Farm Editors of America to the
National Association of Agricultural Journalists.

** When the organization changed from the National Association of Agricultural
Journalists to North American Agricultural Journalists.

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