Monday, June 13, 2011

Seasons of digital change measured in ag growth online

By Gary L. West
Associate editor, Capital Press

I took last week off. But if I had truly wanted a vacation from agriculture news and information, I went about it all wrong.

I spent most of the week visiting family in Oregon's Umatilla County, smack dab in the middle of farming country, where many of the recent headlines we have printed in Capital Press and posted on were affecting my family and a wide swath of the countryside.

For example, the cool, wet spring had crops behind. It was common to see alfalfa fields with windrows of hay on the ground turning brown because the rains wouldn't stop long enough to bale the hay. Some fields had standing water in them from recent flooding of streams like Butter Creek.

There was talk about Hermiston's trademark watermelon crop would be several week's later than the Fourth of July holiday, leaving a short season for growers. And in the dryland areas were large fields of wheat afflicted with stripe rust, giving the grain a golden tint long before it is ripening for harvest.

My dad and cousin work in businesses connected to spraying farm crops for insects, weeds and diseases like stripe rust. My dad attacks the harvest robbing threats from the air. My cousin attacks them on the ground. And conversations with both of them centered on issues like this season's unique challenges, taxes, fees, regulations and just the physically exhausting nature of the work.

Of course, they both took advantage of my presence to get a little work out of me too. For my dad, I shot some photos of his planes at work. For my cousin, I wound up helping him move equipment from job site to job site a few times, and helped him change the massive tires on his ground sprayer one day.

I have to admit, it felt good to be outdoors for several days, enjoying some warmer temperatures than the Willamette Valley had experiences so far this spring. It also felt good to be out taking photos again. It even felt good to be exercising some muscles I don't ordinarily use when sitting at a desk all day in the Capital Press office in Salem.

The timing was interesting too. Because this week marks the anniversary of my start date at the Capital Press. It was 6 years ago today that I came to work here. That vacation vividly illustrated to me how my early life growing up in the country and professional life as a journalist, which once took very divergent paths, have come together.

This anniversary is special, in that it now marks the longest tenure I've spent with any media organization in my 20-plus year career. I've spent some time looking back at my time here too as this anniversary has approached, which led me back to this blog. Nearly 6 years ago, when this blog started, it was a way I could work around some of the shortcomings of our website software. At the time, it was somewhat unusual for an organization connected to production agriculture to be blogging. In one of the earliest posts on this blog, I asked the question: Do farmers blog? In 2005, the answer to that was that a few did, but not many. It was difficult to come up with even a handful of agriculture blogs back then. Now, there are lots of farmers who blog, and/or tweet, and/or have a Facebook page or YouTube account and use a variety of Internet tools to tell their story, connect with business associates or people that eat what they grow. Today, we follow more than 3,000 people on Twitter, the majority of which are posts by or about agriculture topics and we have more than 3,700 following our main Twitter account, plus more than 2,700 fans on our main Facebook page. Today we have several blogs, are about to launch a new podcast, multiple Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, a YouTube channel where we post 5 video news updates a week and other videos related to our stories, and a growing group of websites. And agriculture's use of smart phones and online services have exploded behind the efforts of groups like the AgChat Foundation.

That's pretty dramatic change and growth in just 6 seasons.

Thanks for sharing part of this journey with us. And thank you to the past and current staff of the Capital Press and East Oregonian Publishing Co. for letting me, and others on staff here and at our sister publications, push the edge of that envelope a bit for the last 6 years.


You can follow Capital Press on Twitter @capitalpress or follow Gary's behind-the-scenes tweets at @CapitalPressglw or connect with Capital Press on Facebook or connect with Gary on Facebook.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Podcast: The effect of bank failures on American farms

The rash of bank failures over the past three years has included a number of agricultural lenders and inspired reforms in the Farm Credit System. Will these changes trickle down to farmers?

To listen, click here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Podcast: Could a weaker euro help American agriculture?

Financial woes in several European Union members could have an out-sized influence on American agriculture. A devaluation of the euro could indirectly spur economic growth in major importers of U.S. ag commodities. Reporter Mateusz Perkowski and copy editor Will Koenig discuss the issue.

To listen, click here.

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