Harvest Public Media
8:12 am
Fri December 27, 2013

The Top Agriculture Stories Of 2013

A screen grab from "So God Made A Farmer," an ad for Ram Trucks run by Dodge during the Super Bowl.

Big companies made big news. Muddy fields made for major headaches. And a Farm Bill delay makes the list for the second consecutive year.

If you follow Harvest Public Media, you’ll be familiar with the top stories of 2013. Seems this year brought lots of national and international news – a far cry from our first days when we wrote mostly about issues in agriculture and food production.

This year, big food companies dominated headlines with stories about Smithfield Foods being sold to the Chinese and the four top U.S. beef companies pulling back on buying animals treated with a controversial growth promoter.

But perhaps even larger than the moves of big business, was the fight for something more subtle – your attention. As the politics of food grew hotter, large companies and commodity advocacy groups are publically fighting – with millions and media -- with those who want more organic and sustainable production systems.

Luke Runyon, who joined us this year from partner station KUNC in Greeley, Colo., said he feels that he's watched big public relations wars. A good example: the “God Made A Farmer” video, launched during the Super Bowl and featuring the old-school radio talker Paul Harvey, was met with Chipotle’s second viral video, “The Scarecrow,” criticizing the use of so-called factory farms.

“Coming into Harvest with a fresh pair of eyes, it became very clear the amount of emotion that pulses through food discussions,” Luke told me. “Things get heated really quickly. And there’s a lot of money to be had when you make somebody else look like the bad guy, and yourself look like the good guy. That’s ultimately what drives this battle to win over public opinion about food.”

Public perception is a story that will travel into next year, Luke said, and we’ll be covering a slew of new documentaries including, “OMG GMO” and “Farmland.”

Abbie Swanson, our reporter at partner station KBIA in Columbia, Mo., spent much of 2013 reporting on food labels – an issue she thinks she will also focus on in 2014.. As more and more polls show that consumers want to know what’s in their food, Washington took note and required meat companies to place “country-of-origin,” or COOL, labelson their products.

Even so, Washington voters failed to pass a measure that would have required the labeling of genetically-modified food in that state. That mirrors one of our big stories from last year, when a similar effort failed in California. Both stories reflect the perception theme – backed up by the billions large food companies ponied up in promotions to fight plans.

Amy Mayer, based at partner Iowa Public Radio, said two of the larger stories of this year were two that also landed on last year’s list. Congress once again filed to get a Farm Bill passed and weird weather altered farmers’ season, with a super wet spring delaying planting and then a dry summer burning some crops.

What would you vote as this year’s top ag and food production stories? Click here to tell the Harvest Network what you think.