Editorial office – Major players in agriculture; FERN wins awards
Over the past week, FERN has published three stories that address a central issue in the food system – how the big players control the industry and get the biggest share of the profits, leaving behind the small players, the rural communities. and marginalized people.
In our first story, produced with National Geographic, Miranda Weiss takes us to the Bering Sea in Alaska where small boats, many owned by native fishermen, battle industrial trawlers that ply these rich waters. It turns out that trawlers are allowed to throw overboard as bycatch is more numerous than smaller boats are allowed to catch. As a result, catches of small boats are reduced. The story of this blatant inequality unfolded even as the Fisheries Council was considering the issue. No word yet on the outcome.
In the second piece, “The Hog Baron”, produced with Vox, Charlie Mitchell and Austin Frerick tell the story of a jet-set businessman who started building Concentrated Animal Feed (CAFO) operations and then went into the pork. Iowa Select Farms is now the state’s largest producer, with 5 million hogs. Residents of rural Iowa have fought for years in a losing battle against the large CAFOs, which are home to thousands of animals and can taint rivers and lakes, making clean water and water recreation a memory picturesque from previous generations. Charlie and Austin also show how the warm relationship between industry, the state political machine, and academic institutions has made Iowa the premier pork producing state.
Finally, Clint Rainey, in “The Vilsack Payment Problem,” dissects the recent troubled history of government sponsored payment programs. These marketing programs, like “Got Milk?” Are funded by farmers’ fees and are meant to benefit all producers, but what Rainey convincingly shows is that they have become a slush fund for farmers. lobbyists and agribusiness. They were beset by a series of scandals when Tom Vilsack was secretary of agriculture under the Obama administration, which has led critics to question whether he will address the issue of agricultural concentration now that he is again. the controls.
News of the FERN Award
It was reports like this that put FERN on the map – and were recognized again last week by North American agricultural journalists. Leah Douglas’ article on racist incident at largest student farm organization won second place for feature writing, and her groundbreaking project to map data on Covid-19 in the food system came third in the category of special projects. Another FERN story, by Gabriel Popkin, on the uncertainties around carbon cultivation, won an honorable mention in the technical category.
With reports like this, it’s no wonder that three of our writers – Leah Douglas, Esther Honig and Carson Vaughan – were recently chosen for the prestigious UC Berkeley-11th Hour Food and Agriculture Journalism Fellowship. Congratulations to all.
As always, we thank you for your continued support, without which this reporting would not be possible.