Media’s Ignorance Of Farming [Opinion]
Those of you who read my February editorial know that many years ago I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor. I spent time on the business beat, and because the newspaper was located where a wide range of produce was grown, I naturally wrote a lot of stories about fruits and vegetables.
The majority of the editors at the newspaper were from urban areas, which I think was the reason they often either had a tough time grasping these stories, or thought I was biased toward growers. I’m sure you know what I mean, they thought agriculture used way too much of California’s limited water supply, or that farmers used too many pesticides, etc.
Because of that, I sighed long and hard upon reading a recent Associated Press story that slams the state’s growers. That’s why I felt like standing up and applauding a recent story by Cory Lunde, Director, Strategic Initiatives & Communications for Western Growers.
Lunde’s opening line, or ‘lede’ as it’s called in the business, is classic: “Most news reporters don’t know squat about the business of farming, and thanks to a pervasive bias, they don’t care. That is the obvious conclusion one would reach after reading a recent Associated Press article that opens with this not-so-subtle lede: ‘A new state report shows California farmers reaping record sales despite the epic drought, thriving even as city-dwellers have been forced to conserve water, household wells have run dry and fish have died.’”
I want to quote Lunde extensively because Western Growers represents growers in California and Arizona, so I’m sure many of you didn’t see his excellent piece. It continues (italics are Lunde’s):
“Let’s start with the reported $53.5 billion in sales to farmers in 2014. This is an increase over the prior year. But anyone who has ever run a business knows that revenues are not profits. While the AP writers were fast to report the increased revenue statistic (in the second sentence of the story), they chose to leave out the reduced profit statistic, opting instead to minimize that fact with this cloudy bit of writing (five paragraphs down): ‘Higher costs for water and other expenses of the drought outstripped sales for some farmers, but experts said it is clear many others made strong profits, as evidenced by the rush by growers and corporate investors to get into the almond business and take advantage of a run-up in prices.’”
“This begs the question: If the Associated Press thinks it’s proper to disregard the lower profitability number and fudge its impact on farmers, why didn’t they write the story lede in the same manner? Doing so would have produced something like this:
“A new state report shows California farmers suffered declining profits due to reduced water availability and higher spending to access scarce water, in spite of increasing overall farm revenues.
“The authors could also have examined the reasons why California farmers are making less money than at any point since 2011. They could have dug a little deeper and discovered that the cost of farming in California has risen by 36% over the past five years; inputs like seeds, fertilizer, and electricity have all become significantly more expensive.
“Instead, they seem more focused on creating a false narrative that farmers are water-rich while city-dwellers are suffering great water shortages. While it is true that ‘… city dwellers have been forced to conserve water …’ it is just as true (but ignored by the AP) that Central Valley farmers have seen their federal water providers completely eliminate water deliveries and their state water providers deliver just 5% of their water allocation. As a result, 410,000 acres of good farmland remained unplanted and unproductive in 2014.”
Think of that — nearly half a million acres. ‘Nuff said.