Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders look different than other people

Cowboys cheerleaders strike a pose with Texas friends

I just returned from the Agricultural Media Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, which this year was combined with an international congress of ag journalists. Communicators from around the world took tours of Texas agriculture and attended professional improvement sessions, a trade show, and social events.

Here are a few random firings from my Texas-branded brain, which may give some little flavor of the event:

Agricultural journalism is still going strong

A number of attendees talked of their hardships brought about by the global recession. There was only one journalist from the Far East this year, a region that is usually well represented at the Congress. A friend from Ukraine said he could attend only because his trip was subsidized by an agribusiness; that nation’s currency has been severely devalued this year, and the business world there is plagued by corruption at all levels, he said. Despite the current economic crisis, the industry remains strong. The Congress attracted journalists from 28 countries. Revenue and membership for the organizing groups is still growing. And, because agriculture is more complex and specialized, “there are more opportunities than ever in agricultural communications,” said Dr. Jim Evans, at an event to announce an endowed chair in ag communications at the University of Illinois in his name.

Ag technology marches on

Whatever problems exist in the general economy, agriculture continues to evolve in terms of commercial innovation. The trade show attracted a record number of exhibitors, many of which showcased new products. The precision ag companies showed off some compelling innovations—video monitoring and wireless Internet in tractor cab displays, for example. A couple other tidbits: Vermeer has sold all its inventory of corn cob collectors. An Australian company is entering the U.S. market with a system for growing hydroponic livestock feed.

Finnish farmers are good foresters

It’s a great pleasure and learning experience to interact with ag journalists from around the world. Some of my best new friends are from Finland. (When I mentioned to an American acquaintance that I would like to visit there, he commented that, well, it just looks like northern Minnesota. Would that be a bad thing?)

Anyway, one farm writer from Finland was trying to explain to me in rough English (much better than my non-existent Finnish) how most farmers in his country have forests in their operations and that they have developed good practices for managing these lands in a cropping system. I bet we could learn something from the Finns about forestry. It’s my goal to write that story.

Ag needs to tell its story better

Several distinguished speakers at the closing ceremony spoke of the need for agriculture to communicate better with the public about how food is produced. Temple Grandin, the renowned livestock handling expert, said, “we have got to communicate out of our own sphere.” Max Rothschild, a swine geneticist who received a top honor at the event, talked of our “failure to explain science to the world.” Barry Nelson, a John Deere representative, told us: “If you don’t get our story right, who will?”

Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders look different than other people

Two of them were wandering the trade show floor and posing for photos with attendees. Our foreign visitors, as well as many Americans, seemed to enjoy the experience, along with other features of Texas tradition—rodeo, cattle ranching, country-western music and honky-tonks. If you think these American icons are devalued around the world, you would have gotten a different impression from our international visitors.

Our fate is still with the soil

For me, the most dramatic presentation was given by Jim Richardson, a photographer for National Geographic magazine who lives in Lindsborg, Kansas. Richardson’s sharp eye revealed the hidden life of the soil. (Did you know there are 200 billion bacteria in a cup of soil?) In one series of images, he photographed farmers from around the world posing with cut-away soil profiles on their farms. What a world of difference between the black soils and deep rooted crops of a well-managed Iowa farm compared with the rocky, eroded topography of subsistence farming in Syria.

“We can lose soils, soils can die,” Richardson said. “But soil is a living thing, and can be reborn,” he added.

In Richardson’s photography we see a farmer’s final measure of success—how well they have taken care of the land.


Anonymous said...


Nice piece. I learned from your short writing and that's like getting your money's worth for something. I'm really envious of your time with the DC cheerleaders. Since a boy, I've been watching the cheerleaders of my favorite team, but never have been as close to them as you were. Anyway, outside of the cheerleader stuff, I enjoyed reading your blog.


Ed Winkle said...

Now I would like to see those soil profiles!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!