Member Profiles

This week, NAAJ lost its vice president, Marcia Zarley Taylor. She was a mainstay and a leader in our organization for decades. But she was so much more. Here’s a little more about her by colleague and DTN’s Editor-in-Chief Greg D. Horstmeier:

In Memoriam: Marcia Zarley Taylor

Taylor Minded Ag’s Business

This week, farmers lost one of their most intelligent, steadfast journalist supporters. Agriculture journalism lost one of its true giants.

Marcia Zarley Taylor, DTN/The Progressive Farmer Executive Editor and 40-year agricultural reporter, passed away Feb. 19 after a brief illness.

Taylor’s importance to the DTN/PF team, and to agriculture, is best summed in the title of her online blog, “Minding Ag’s Business.” That is what she did throughout a four-decade career: Taylor tended to, wrote about, worried about, and led others’ thinking about, the business of agriculture.

“She changed DTN,” said DTN Editor Emeritus Urban Lehner, who hired Taylor in February 2007. She came to this staff with a large resume, most recently as chief editor of Top Producer Magazine. Taylor was instrumental in Lehner’s efforts to expand the DTN/Progressive Farmer operation into the most powerful, most award-winning newsroom in agriculture.

This week would have been her 10th anniversary at DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

Taylor helped set the tone for news and feature coverage that focused on the information farm business owners needed to make some of their most important decisions on land, capital investments, banking and navigating complex farm programs.

Throughout her career, she championed the business of modern commercial-scale agriculture not with hollow platitudes, but with solid business knowledge that challenged the industry to be better.

While she did not grow up on a farm, the native Iowan took to the industry quickly, and saw in it a fitting match for her business reporting skills. After graduating summa cum laude with a degree in journalism and agronomy from Iowa State University, her byline was soon a familiar one on the pages of Successful Farming, Farm Journal and Top Producer, the latter where she became editor-in-chief in 1990.

Taylor was always reporting and listening, and those skills kept her constantly on the cutting edge of agricultural trends. She was among the first to begin referring to the group of bold, professional, rapidly expanding farmers as “young tigers,” in the early 1990s. She brought the stories of their aggressive, sometimes risky, farm business successes and failures to her audience without apology.

Taylor was tenacious, yet tender. Hers was perhaps the most difficult beat in business-to-business journalism: Getting farmers, bankers, economists and politicians to open up and share their most intimate business knowledge, their strategies, their wins and their losses.

These were the type of articles where even a slightly less-sensitive approach would get the story, but burn the source. Yet Taylor had the innate ability to get her subjects to open up their ledgers and their minds to the world, and left them eager to share again.

She also was among the first to realize the path to being a successful “tiger” was a lonely one. Her story subjects, especially the most successful, were often shunned in their local communities. Coffee shop talk was often about them, it rarely included them.

Her stories were the impetus for some of the most influential professional farmer networking groups in modern times. The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP) and its related group, APEX, the Top Producer seminars, and DTN’s own Ag Summit, were either created by, inspired by, or furthered by Taylor’s constant drive to help professional farmers help themselves.

“Our mission and objectives couldn’t have been better matched,” said Danny Klinefelter, who started TEPAP. “We were both targeting the very business oriented; continuous improvement agricultural producers that we knew were going to be the future of U.S. agriculture.

“Marcia and I both recognized that the traditional ‘one size fits all’ type of education was a thing of the past for this group of producers,” Klinefelter said. “I’m going to miss her and so is agriculture.”

She also personally moderated a peer group of farmers from across the U.S. who met to share, critique and support each other’s enterprises. She was working with that group in late January when she fell ill.

Taylor didn’t only focus inside this country. She was the first U.S. agricultural journalist to venture into the wilds of Brazil in the 1990s, and introduced U.S. farmers to the “cerrado,” and places such as Mato Grosso, people such as Blairo Maggi. She told the stories of the farmers, both Brazilian and U.S. born, who were challenging America’s position as the world leader in commodity grain production.

More recently, she led the nation covering the looming financial and personal pitfalls of farm families working to create workable estate plans for their farms. She was the first to recognize the issues the current Affordable Care Act caused for many rural farm families, and she navigated the constantly changing waters of crop insurance programs. Many a crop insurance adviser has said, “I first want to see what Marcia Taylor writes, then I know how to advise my customers.”

“Marcia was the ultimate professional, a tough editor who demanded the best from everyone,” said Gregg Hillyer, friend, colleague and editor-in-chief of The Progressive Farmer. “She was a person you didn’t want to disappoint.”

One of those people, Jeanne Bernick, now with K-Coe Isom, began her career as Taylor’s news intern, then became a writer and eventually followed Taylor’s footsteps as chief editor of Top Producer.

“Oh, the red ink that marked my copy,” Bernick said of her early days. “I remember getting into a taxi one night outside the headquarters in Philadelphia and crying on my way home as I stared at the amount of red on the pages of my story. Every editing mark, however, was made with intent to improve my writing for the reader.”

Taylor was both a great mentor to agricultural journalists and a leader in the profession. She was a former president of the American Agricultural Editors’ Association and was set to become North American Agricultural Journalists Association’s new president this spring. Either individually, or as leader of reporting teams, she won nearly every award there was to win for news, feature and editorial writing, including the AAEA Oscar in Agriculture, AAEA Writer of the Year, and two-time NAAJ Glen Cunningham Writer of the Year.

In 1988, she took an editorial sabbatical to be the “Professional in the Classroom,” teaching agricultural journalism courses at the University of Missouri. It was a time she often reflected on throughout her career.

She is survived by her husband, John; a sister, Debbie; brother, Craig, and sister-in-law, Debra, and a niece and nephew.

“Marcia was one of the preeminent ag journalists of her generation,” said Lehner. “Her contributions to DTN/The Progressive Farmer — as a writer, an editor, and the editorial leader of the Ag Summit — were enormous. And she was a wonderful friend and a wonderful person. To say she will be missed is a massive understatement.”

She changed DTN. She changed agricultural journalism. She changed modern agriculture.


  • Check out this book by member David Hendee
  • Congrats to member Laura Rance. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists collaborated to create an annual award recognizing excellence in global food security reporting. The prize includes financial support to attend an IFAJ conference as well as an FAO event. As the first recipient, FBC editorial director Laura Rance recently attended the International Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy. Here’s her story:


In his column, “A Farmer’s Briefcase,” which appeared in Agweek on June 8, member Jonathan Knutson writes about how attending the NAAJ annual meeting in Washington, D.C. demonstrated the connection between the farmers and policymakers. Read all about it at

While at the 62nd annual meeting in Washington, D.C., members took in agriculture and food art at the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of American Art. Member Ed White, The Western Producer, Winnipeg, produced an excellent video that depicts what we saw. Take a look:


In August 2014, NAAJ members shared an email thread about how they were led into agriculture journalism. Find out who got into agriculture on purpose and who were, well, lucky to discover the beat.

I bounced around a couple ag majors at South Dakota State University before settling on agronomy in the early 1980s—the start of the farm crisis.

Gil Gullickson

Gil Gullickson

One of the things I remember about that time was that then-USDA Secretary John Block kept repeating over and over that “The cure for low prices is low prices”. That got pretty old after a few years—the low prices didn’t do anything to lessen acreage and deter production. Nearly perfect growing years just kept building stockpiles and plunging prices until the 1988 drought finally brought price relief.

Not surprisingly, the cure for jobs in agriculture back then was not low prices either! I took a news writing class as a junior, figuring it might be something to separate me from the rest of ag majors. I always liked writing, too, so it was pretty easy for me.

I think the thing that spurred me on in journalism was my news writing teacher saying to me in front of everyone in the class, “Wow, that is really good—you aren’t even a journalism major, are you?”

That didn’t really help boost my popularity with all the journalism majors in the class! On the other hand, it did spur me on to take some other journalism classes and get a journalism minor, along with an agronomy major.

This coincided with an opening in Brookings, SD (where SDSU is located) for an associate editor with The Farmer/Dakota Farmer to cover South Dakota agriculture. I interviewed for the job and got it just 6 weeks after I graduated. I liked it—who wouldn’t like a job where you just visited and wrote about farmers and took pictures of farmers all day? In 1987, I moved onto the Minnesota and Dakota versions of Farm Progress magazines. Later in my career, I freelanced in the ag market for a while before taking a job with Successful Farming in 2005.

I’ve occasionally thought about different paths I could have taken , but I think I would have picked the same career again if I had it to do over again. I think that’s mainly because of the people I’ve worked with and written about and photographed.

I can only recall one jerk I ever interviewed. It was ironic this guy was not even a farmer—just a former South Dakota governor who a few years later killed a farmer I knew in a traffic accident. Everyone else—regardless of whether they are a farmer, industry person, or university person—has just been a class act.  Gil Gullickson,  Successful Farming, Des Moines, Iowa

I have a journalism degree from U. of Missouri with photojournalism emphasis…minor in philosophy.  I did a stint in the Peace Corp putting out newsletters for the Fiji Public Works Department (okay work if you can stand living in the gorgeous South Pacific), came back home to a corporate journalism job, then did the newspaper thing for a while (which was my goal when I entered J-school). By happy accident I fell into ag journalism and have been at it for more than 30 years. An observation: I didn’t grow up on a farm (both of my grandfathers farmed) and I think my non-farm background was actually an asset because I didn’t bring to the job preconceptions of how Dad did things. It was all new to me…and still is. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer,  Plattsburg, Missouri

A kid born and raised on the Flying M Ranch in Rainy Butte Township in the least populated county of North Dakota is likely to end up working some agricultural angle no matter where he tries to wonder in the course of life. When I was finishing my BA in English at ND State Univ. and planning to marry soon thereafter, my father-in-law implied I should be employed if marrying his daughter. I liked news writing, so began my career in

Ed Maixner

Ed Maixner

Mandan, N.D., then Fargo, where I covered every beat in the general news area in 13 years. But I was the farm kid and, whether in the spot news, business coverage, features, state legislatures or even sports (horse races) was constantly chased to ag stories. Finally I hired on to start Knight-Ridder’s AgWeek at the Grand Forks Herald in the ‘80s. And in ‘89, I joined Byron Dorgan (D-ND) in the House, later in the Senate, doing ag legislative work, then moved to doing his staff work on trade, then on the Senate Energy Com., etc., but was called back into doing the ag job there every time the agriculture staffer left (which happened a lot). So I returned to ag reporting when I left the Hill in ’98. Moral of the story: Bloom where you are planted. Ed Maixner, Kiplinger Agriculture Letter,  Washington, D.C.

Phil Brasher

Phil Brasher

I majored in journalism at the University of Texas. Ag journalism wasn’t an option there, given that in Austin “cash crop” had a different meaning than it did in College Station or in Lubbock, my home town. In retrospect, I would have majored in economics or biology, either of which would have been more useful and taken a select number of J-school classes on the side; media law turned out to be the most useful. Best writing class I took was an expository writing class in the English department my last semester. I learned reporting from the school newspaper, which employed the likes of Mark McKinnon, Beth Frerking and Berke Breathed. Mark would have been a great journalist if he had just been satisfied with making a little less money … Enough with the name dropping. I fell in love with farm and food policy during a 20-year stint with the AP that took me from Dallas to Bismarck (during the ’88 drought) and then to DC, first as the regional reporter for the upper Midwest and then as national ag writer. In those days, ag was considered a backwater beat that most other journalists avoided like the plague – with very notable exceptions like Chuck (Abbott) and Jerry (Hagstrom) – but that just ensured it was fertile ground for investigative reporting and a sure way to get newspaper play. My parents had farm interests in the Texas panhandle, but I was a city kid. Philip Brasher,  CQ on Agriculture & Food, Washington, D.C.

Jim Massey

Jim Massey

I am a UW-Madison journalism graduate, but not ag journalism. I wanted to be a sports writer, so went to work for my hometown weekly newspaper where I got a chance to write about every high school sport there is, plus doing city council, school board, county board, traffic stops, you name it. I joined The Country Today as a regional writer in 1983 and have been with the publication ever since – the last 21 years as editor. We have four full-time writers at our newspaper (including me), that we call regional editors. Each is responsible for a territory, or “region,” in the state. All have an agricultural background and journalism degrees. None are specifically ag journalism. Jim Massey, The Country Today, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Nixon gets the credit in my case, but not like you may think. I was a freshman at Texas Tech and knew I wanted to be a journalist. But I also knew I did not want to cover “boring” things like city council. I saw myself as a

Kathleen Phillips

Kathleen Phillips

foreign correspondent, so I had started working toward that by taking French and Spanish in high school and Czech in college. I thought languages, coupled with a journalism degree, would be my ticket. But one day I passed the row of newspaper stands at the Student Union Building and noticed a prevalent headline in them all – something about Nixon and a grain deal with Russia. The notion clicked with me that agriculture, of all things, was making international news. I picked up The University Daily student paper and headed to class. There I read an article about “little known” majors on campus, one of which was the new agriculture journalism degree. After class, I marched myself unannounced to the associate dean’s office and, after a chat with him, made plans to change my major to specialize in covering agriculture. First job was the farm beat at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and, being in the midst of the farm crisis of the late 70s, they readily let me cover agriculture as I saw fit for 11 years. I’m still covering agriculture via our state’s Extension and Research agencies. As for the foreign correspondent dream, I have travelled extensively throughout my career, but only once had to use Spanish and never French or Czech. Agriculture is the universal language. Kathleen Phillips, Texas A&M AgriLife  Today, College Station, Texas

I went to Kansas State, not really knowing what to major in – I was general agriculture. My advisor, Larry Erpelding, suggested I try the agriculture journalism major. I took my first reporting class for the K-State Collegian on the “other side” of Kansas and loved it. I loved writing for a newspaper, so while my ag journalism classmates went other directions, I found a job at a daily newspaper. And here I am, many years later. I’ve tried to leave, and I’m never able to give it up! Amy Bickel, Kansas Agland/The Hutchinson News, Hutchinson, Kansas

I’m a freelance writer in South Dakota. I have always enjoyed writing, started freelancing in 1986 and by virtue of my location in southeast SD I write often and primarily about ag. I started writing freelance newspaper features before I completed my education. Finished a BA in 2003 and MS/Journalism in 2005. My goal wasn’t necessarily to write about ag but I greatly enjoy learning about all the agricultural activities, science, technology etc in this region. If I had opportunity to complete more education I would certainly delve more deeply into ag journalism and gain more understanding of agriculture on a global scale. Loretta Sorensen, Freelancer, Yanton, South Dakota

I have no degree. So that makes me a complete imposter. I attended the University of Nebraska four years, majoring first in history then switching to English. My wife and I went into the Peace Corps before I had enough credits to graduate. After returning from Colombia, I worked for a year in Minneapolis with other conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War in a nonprofit home repair service called the Solid Oak Carpentry Collective. When our first daughter was born, I had to get a real job—writing for the Northfield News, edited by a kind, dedicated weekly editor, Maggie Lee. My graduate school was working for Jim Driscoll, the editor of the Omaha Sun newspapers, and working on a one-year grant as publications editor at the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, Nebraska. Driscoll had reported for the National Observer and was a great mentor for me, as were Marty Strange and Don Ralston at the Center. With a background like that, I will always be amazed that Loren Kruse and Gene Johnston hired me to write for Successful Farming, and I will always be grateful. My story, and all of yours, shows that there really isn’t one single path to agricultural journalism. Nor should there be. Dan Looker, Successful Farming, Des Moines, Iowa

Phyllis Griekspoor

Phyllis Griekspoor

I majored in English at Truman State. Got a BS in Mass Communications at Minnesota State. Major hours in American History, biology, political science, minor in performing arts and chemistry. You don’t want to know how much money I spent getting a BS. Worked for daily newspaper from my second month of my freshman year. Going to college was my hobby, so I avoided graduating. Still take a class now and then…meteorology, photography, agronomy… Still fun. Phyllis Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer, Wichita, Kansas

My degree is in journalism with a minor in political science from the world’s greatest journalism school, “The” University of Missouri.  I also have an honorary doctorate in B.S. I didn’t expect to move into agricultural journalism, but fell into it. If I had to do it all over again, I would have placed more emphasis on science in college. Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, Omaha, Nebraska

I have a political science degree and thought I wanted to go to Washington to work for my congressman. After a short stint doing that, I then worked for a small town (300 people) newspaper. I bought the small town paper and was the publisher/editor for 12 years. I loved telling the stories of rural America. In 1993, I went back to get my journalism degree from South Dakota State University in Brookings. I worked as a copy editor/assistant news editor for the Aberdeen American News for 10 years. In 2004, I became the editor of the daily newspaper’s weekly agricultural publication called the Farm Forum. Last fall I backed off from those duties to focus on writing stories about the people as well as issues in agriculture. I grew up on a farm and we still own the land where my great-grandparents homesteaded. My husband and I farm in northern South Dakota, raising corn and soybeans, and we have a daughter who plans to move back to help with the farm. I am a graduate of the South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership program which provides me with a rich network of resources. Connie Sieh Groop, Aberdeen, South Dakota

I was born in Saskatchewan and was a farm girl. However throughout most of my youth while I milked cows, picked rocks and bottle fed young animals, I wondered how the hell I was ever going to get off the farm. I loved to read and write and got off the farm to attend journalism school in Alberta. My ambition was to be a political reporter until I discovered in the days before sexual harassment laws that I really did not like politicians. Don’t ask. I worked at various weeklies and was offered a job at a beef magazine. I always figured the publisher hired me because he knew my uncle and father who had raised purebred Herefords. That was in 1977. Once there, I realized you could never remove the farm from the girl, and I have been a farm writer ever since. I started having babies and in order to keep my brain from turning to pablum, I went to the University of Calgary where I obtained a BA in communications. I freelanced at beef magazines and the now defunct Free Press Weekly to pay my tuition. In 1988 I  saw a career ad in the Calgary Herald looking for someone to start a bureau for the Western Producer in southern Alberta.  I applied and I figured I got the job because the editor’s wife had worked at the same beef magazine as me a few years before. Thanks to this newspaper I have traveled the world, largely ignored politicians and I don’t have to milk cows anymore. Barbara Duckworth,  The Western Producer, Calgary, Alberta

Mark Moore

Mark Moore

I had been exposed to writing and photography while in high school, working on the local weekly paper covering high school sports. I entered college as a computer science major, but it just didn’t “feel” right (plus, I stink at higher-level math). I was heavily involved in 4-H, and had won several regional and state public speaking events. A letter from an advisor at the University of Kentucky’s Public Information Department describing an ag communications degree grabbed my attention, and one meeting had me changing majors (and schools). Yes, THE University of Kentucky was developing an agricultural communications program. Only a few others had pursued the program (making me the odd duck in most of my classes), and it was classified as an agricultural individualized curriculum. I was able to map out the courses I took, which was a combination of classes in the College of Agriculture and the College of Journalism. A couple of additional classes allowed me to graduate with a degree in both colleges, with a minor in Ag Economics. During the school year, I worked in the College of Agriculture’s Public Information Department, and was an Extension intern one summer. I had fully intended to apply for an Extension position, since the job market in 1986 for ag journalists was not very bright. I sent out dozens of resumes, and the running joke from my roommates was how many rejection letters I would receive that day. However, I did land a job at a daily newspaper in Illinois…covering agriculture and business (and yes, it was from an ad in Editor and Publisher). That’s when my journalism education was shifted into high gear. Since then, I have worked in several areas, including time in advertising and public relations. Now, I freelance (very remotely…I’m currently living in Germany with my family). I have thoroughly enjoyed my career path, although at times it was difficult. Being called to the carpet, in a crowded newsroom in front of your peers, the first week you are at your “real” job, is a very humbling experience. I guess that’s why I have a very thick skin when it comes to working with editors. And I’ve been given the “come into my office, we’re making some changes” talk more than once. But each step was a learning process. Mark Moore, Moore Communications, Germany

Since it’s bio in one graf time: A farm boy, I have a BA in political science and a MA in public affairs reporting; the education track of the Watergate era. I became UPI national farm editor when the Washington bureau chief out-waited me on the question of who would succeed Sonja Hillgren in the job. Sonja later told me many people are drafted for the job but few leave the beat voluntarily. Chuck Abbott, Ag Insider, Washington, D.C.

We (in Canada) don’t have much in the way of ag comm, I don’t think, but a growing number of journalism schools. Here’s my circuitous route into ag journalism: I’m from Regina, Saskatchewan, which makes anyone from outside Saskatchewan assume I’m a a farm boy. But I’m actually from the city and have no farm connection in North America. (I have some relatives who farm in the UK, but my family there is London-based and extremely urban.) I got a history degree from the University of Regina and an MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. When I graduated in the recession of 1991, there were no jobs at big city dailies or small dailies for people like me, so I worked for a string of weeklies in Ontario and Saskatchewan and got used to working independently and in rural areas. It got so difficult finding any employment in journalism paying above minimum wage that three and a half years after graduating I declared defeat and went back to university to try to get an MA in history. Which is precisely when I was offered the job at The Western Producer. So I immediately chucked grad school and leapt into a journalism job that offered me both the chance to do what I’d trained for and allow me to load my fridge with food. I had no farm background or any real ag knowledge, but I’d studied international trade in my J MA, liked business reporting, found markets fascinating, loved working independently and actually found rural areas and farming beautiful. So it all worked out. I’d recommend ag journo to non-aggies, because it truly is fascinating and an endless source of stories and ideas. Ed White, The Western Producer, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Jacqui Fatka

Jacqui Fatka

I’m an Iowa State grad post ag journalism days. As I grew up on a farm and participated in different 4-H and agricultural groups in high school, I was pretty certain I wanted to do ag journalism from the start. However, because Iowa State only offered a Journalism and Mass Communications degree, I minored in ag education which allowed me to dabble in the agricultural classes that I wanted. My advisor always thought I should go on to be an ag lawyer which is somewhat ironic since now I write about political stuff which is written by lawyers! Over my summers I was very intentional in my internships – did one at a local newspaper which also allowed for some ag writing, one at Wallaces Farmer magazine (which laid the foundation for my now job) and my last summer split between Capitol Hill and the Iowa Pork Producers Association doing more PR work. During the school I also did several work study and projects for PR as well as freelanced for a few publications. In the end, I wanted to write for farmers. I may have made more money doing a number of things whether it was for an agency or company. But my heart is to decipher the sometimes convoluted policies that now dictate farmers into terms they can better understand themselves. One thing about writing for agriculture is that I’m always learning. There’s always something new that needs to be shared or understood. And growing up on a farm that is something so special about sharing others’ stories – especially when in so many ways I as a writer can relate and appreciate their story. Jacqui Fatka, Feedstuffs – Farm Futures, Delaware, Ohio

Kathy Casteel

Kathy Casteel

I have an undergraduate degree in communication from Stanford University (department covered print & broadcast journalism plus film) and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri (news-editorial sequence in the Washington Reporting Program). I write & edit a business magazine in Columbia, Mo., and include agriculture as an industry we cover. When I taught in the journalism & mass communication department at Iowa State (mid-1980s), one of my courses was a PR class — most of the students were ag majors looking to become Extension agents or work in industry (it was a required course for their degree track & most did not want to be there — quite the teaching challenge). The journalism majors I taught at ISU were a delight — best students I’ve ever had, surely a reflection of Iowa’s excellent schools. On the other hand, my teaching days in the journalism school at MU (late ’70s) were spent with a collection of kids who wanted to be journalists or athletes looking for a backup plan in broadcast (they all had to get through my beginning reporting class, though). Kathy S. Casteel, CEO magazine, Columbia, Missouri

I’m the only University of Tennessee journalism graduate I’ve encountered in the business. As a sophomore in college, I was fortunate enough to get a part-time job with a weekly farm paper. The boss was a very good ag journalist who had worked for a major farm magazine. He trained me in the ag part of the business and gave me a full-time job when I graduated. Other job offers soon came along, and I had a career going before I knew what happened. What concerns me when I speak with ag communications majors or ACT members now is that most of them want to go into PR. Ag journalism remains a good, fun and vital profession. Charles Johnson, Townsend, Tennessee

Here is the Readers Digest version of my story: I am the grandson of a hard-working Pennsylvania hay farmer (all farmers are hard working, of course). I spent every summer of my youth working on my grandfather’s hay farm, sometimes riding along in a tractor trailer as we delivered hay to the D.C. Park Police, with which my grandfather had a contract. I had absolutely no interest in continuing in any form of farming after college. Shout out if you have ever worked in a hay mow, throwing or stacking alfalfa bales as they come off an elevator. Hot as hades and the air is full of dust. So journalism appealed to me at a young age. I joined the high school newspaper as soon as I could. I loved writing. I loved sports, too, but was no athlete. My reporting career took me from newspaper to newspaper, and ultimately to some regulatory beats for a few newsletter publishers. About six years ago I was hired to edit Food Chemical News. I loved it! Then, a year ago, I jumped at the chance to pilot POLITICO’s new agriculture and trade verticals and went about assembling an all-star cast of reporters. What is great about ag journalism: Everybody eats and/or has an opinion about food policy. Biggest industry in the world. It’s global, so lots of trade issues. There are multi-billion dollar businesses, regularly doing battle with consumer advocates. What could be more fascinating than this? Jason Huffman, POLITICOPro, Washington, D.C.

This is pretty good reading—and very distracting. So let me just give in. I have a journalism-mass communication degree from Iowa State with a minor in English. I had an emphasis in print journalism. I never planned on a career in agriculture but when you start out as a newspaper reporter in Iowa you had to write about about ag occasionally. A handful of those clips led me, happily, to Progressive Farmer. Des Keller, Progressive Farmer, Charlotte, North Carolina

Mikkel Pates

Mikkel Pates

I am the son of an agricultural journalist. My degree is in agricultural journalism, and I wanted to ply this trade in a Midwestern daily, so I could be near my family. That’s what I’ve done. I also produce primarily for Agweek, a newsprint “trade” magazine, but also for Forum Communications Co., which has about 25 dailies and weeklies in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Agricultural journalism is kind of technical at times, involving farm policy and technology. It is also business with a strong human element. It’s fascinating and changes with the weather and the climate. Mikkel Pates, Agweek Fargo, North Dakota

I have a bachelor’s degree in Journalism (and English) from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. Every student that graduates from the journalism dept. receives a degree in “journalism/mass communication,” but students choose a track of print media, broadcast or advertising/PR. While there were a good number of students in the print track with me, only a handful are working in some type of print medium (daily news, magazine, book publishing) today. I knew I wanted to be in print media when I completed undergrad, and I think the students who are working in some type of print had their sights set on that track, maybe even before college. By far the most journo students took the PR/Advert track, or even did two tracks. Typically the two-track students did PR/Advert plus either print or broadcast. Virginia Harris, The Progressive FarmerBirmingham, Alabama

I have a psych degree from UC San Diego. Completely fell into journalism by working at the college newspaper in an effort to pay for books and beer – and then fell in love with the job. PJ Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, Chicago, Illinois

My only family connection to the farm is my father grew up on a farm in the Nebraska City area.

Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley

I started out as a business major at the University of Nebraska and after one day of college calculus class, I decided to change my major to journalism, strictly based on a great experience I had with high school creative writing class. Switching majors led me take a chance on other course work including taking four semesters of French and even venturing into astronomy courses for a science requirement. After graduating from the Nebraska in 1994 I worked at a weekly small town newspaper in the farm town of Milford, Neb., for nearly nine years, though the paper covered little or nothing to do with agriculture. But I learned every aspect of the newspaper business and did it all: from darkroom work, to layout, to headline writing, to covering high school sports to city council, to school board, cops and courts, and everything in between. I then went to work as a government reporter at the Hastings Tribune in central Nebraska covering county and city government, courts and cops, the Nebraska legislature and even Nebraska football. It was in Hastings where I caught the attention of DTN Editor in Chief Urban Lehner as a result of a large, in-depth series of stories I wrote about a cattle antibiotic that is dangerous to ranchers, and resulted in the death of a Sutton, Neb., cattleman. That was my first real exposure to agriculture journalism and the start of a new career path. I’ve had no regrets since. Todd Neely, DTN, Omaha, Nebraska

I come to it with a degree in Dairy Science- production/business management option with a minor in communication studies from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!!).   I actually got my “start” as a 4-H club news reporter at the age of 10, where I started to learn some basic skills and had an editor willing to take my carefully typed event notices. Grew up on a dairy farm, now married to a dairy farmer and can milk cows with the best of them. I also have a couple of unusual items in my background — I’m certified to breed cows and write nutrient management plans. One of the best classes I took was environmental law — I took the class because I liked the professor I had for ag law. It’s become a real handy education base in Pa. with the water quality debate. As for journalism, I picked up a newswriting class at Elizabethtown college taught by an adjunct professor who was a journalist. It was a well-taught class with lots of practical learning. Now, I just pick up opportunities for writing refinement through the Pa. Newspaper Association. My next goal is to become a better photog. Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, Lancaster Farming, Ephrata, Pennsylvania

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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...