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Field Notes: The year's top stories in agriculture

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

For this edition of Field Notes — our first in 2013 — we decided to take a look back at last year’s biggest stories in agriculture.

To find out which ag and food stories resonated most with our audience, I called up Harvest Public Media’s Peggy Lowe at KCUR in Kansas City, Mo. Lowe reached out to the 1,800 members in our Harvest Network and found that, not surprisingly, weather was the big story of 2012.

“Because, of course, we had the record drought this year,” Lowe said. “What with early planting last spring and then this record drought setting in across the Midwest, that just affected so many stories, whether that was commodity prices, whether that was climate change … it just really affected the entire modern farm economy.”

Lowe said other stories that captured our audience’s attention were the twists and turns around the Farm Bill; record good times in farm country, from sky-high prices of cropland to record-breaking costs of corn; those same corn prices hurting the ethanol market; and Proposition 37 voted down in California.

2012 also marked a good year for social media within the farm community. Lowe said she saw new engagement from farmers, ranchers and even farm wives on Twitter and Facebook.

“Farm Bureau did a study that showed 76 percent of young farmers and ranchers say they use social media,” she said. “So that’s really pretty incredible.”

Like, for example, this viral parody of “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” from the Peterson Brothers of Kansas:

And what agricultural stories will be big in 2013?

“I really think drought is going to continue to be a huge issue,” Lowe said. “I think it’s going to be interesting to look at whether or not these good times will stick around … I think food labeling is an enormous issue. I mean, look at the pink slime issue, that’s the lean beef trimmings, of course. You know, consumers increasingly want to know what’s in their food, so I think food labeling will be really huge."

Lowe said she expects energy will continue to be a big story in farm country.

"I also think that fracking — that controversial energy extraction process — is going to be even more of a popular and mainstream issue this year, particularly with a new mainstream movie coming out starring Matt Damon," Lowe said. "And from what I’ve read so far, it’s pretty anti-fracking.”

Check out the trailer to that film, “Promised Land,” below. And share your own views on these issues by joining the Harvest Network.

Peggy Lowe joined Harvest Public Media in 2011, returning to the Midwest after 22 years as a journalist in Denver and Southern California. Most recently she was at The Orange County Register, where she was a multimedia producer and writer. In Denver she worked for The Associated Press, The Denver Post and the late, great Rocky Mountain News. She was on the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of Columbine. Peggy was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2008-09. She is from O'Neill, the Irish Capital of Nebraska, and now lives in Kansas City. Based at KCUR, Peggy is the analyst for The Harvest Network and often reports for Harvest Public Media.
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