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Reporters, editors across Virginia claim 2012 Farm Bureau Journalism Awards

The Rappahannock Record in Kilmarnock claimed the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s top journalism honor, the Ishee-Quann Award For Media Excellence, as well as being named the winner in the non-daily newspaper category of the organization’s 25th annual Journalism Awards.

Ryan Tipps of The Roanoke Times captured the daily newspaper category, and Harrisonburg’s WHSV-TV won top honors in the television category.

This year’s Members’ Choice Award went to The Gazette-Virginian in South Boston. The Members Choice Award is based on nominations by Farm Bureau members, though winners are selected using the same judging criteria as those in other categories.

The Rappahannock Record marked its eighth consecutive win in the weekly newspaper category. “I’m always amazed at the balance and depth of reporting our media representatives put forth,” said VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor.

The Record wowed the judging panel with its in-depth coverage of extreme weather’s impact on the region’s large corn crop, and a local farm involved in the “Farm to Fork” movement that featured a restaurant serving local products. Record staff also reported numerous times on the evolution of the State Fair of Virginia and focused on the critical issue of eminent domain reform and a related amendment to Virginia’s constitution.

The paper’s entry wasn’t without its colorful features as well, as the news team reported on local farmers’ markets, a farm family who raises the black-and-white, eye-catching Belted Galloway cattle, and others who raise unusual farm animals.

“There is absolutely no doubt that this reporting team takes its job and responsibility of covering the area’s leading industry seriously,” the judges wrote.

Tipps, the daily newspaper category winner, educated readers about the art and science of precision farming, something of a rarity in the mountainous regions of western and Southwest Virginia. He focused on an innovative Rockbridge County farm family who has made the technology work to perfection, and he provided interesting details, including how precision farming saves money by improving yields and reducing inputs—by measuring in inches instead of feet.

He also consulted with a Virginia Tech professor who further explained GPS and precision farming’s 30-year evolution and how it enhances record-keeping, better protects the environment and makes for better distribution of seed and fertilizer.

“He took a potentially dry, technical story and turned it into an entertaining and informative feature on the farm family and their expertise with this incredible technology,” the judges wrote. “This package also included beautiful photography to help pull the reader into the story.”

Tipps also profiled young farmers from Bedford and Giles counties who are working to make their farms financially sustainable in an era of graying farmers.

He pointed out the challenges for young people starting out in farming and unveiled telling facts about the average Virginia farmer and Virginia farm.

“Anyone reading this story would understand the many obstacles facing the younger generation who want to farm today. But it also offered contacts for those interested in a farming career,” the judges wrote.

In addition, readers were educated about young people working on farms. Proposed rules would have invoked limitations for certain youth doing farm work, “but (Tipps’) clear, easy-to-comprehend article laid out how this would negatively affect farm families,” the judges pointed out.

What made The Gazette-Virginian’s Members Choice Award entry stand out, judges said, was a profile of an organic tobacco farm family and the market potential for their unusual crop. The article balanced that aspect with conventional tobacco farming and examined the current tobacco market.

In addition, the newspaper included articles about Farm Bureau’s purchase and subsequent operation of the State Fair, and how a city girl moved to the country and now happily raises cattle, goats and hogs.

Other features included women in farming; a local farm family of several generations who’ve been growing produce for decades; a local vineyard operator; and how alpaca farming is moving from fiber production to entertainment for some farmers.

A team of reporters also tackled the important youth labor issue and sought out Farm Bureau’s stance on the subject. “This was a well-rounded group of farm stories that kept its readers abreast of new innovations, farm life and major issues in Halifax County,” the judges said.

Operating in Virginia’s agriculture center, WHSV-TV 3’s news team didn’t take their responsibility lightly as they visited numerous farms and farm families on a variety of important subjects.

There were stories on the increase in corn prices and how it affected Shenandoah Valley farmers; the annual Daylily Food and Wine Festival; how extreme heat affected the wine grape crop and local wines; and how bears were destroying corn crops.

The team also explained the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s role at local farmers’ markets; how to protect livestock during hurricane season; and the importance of equine vaccinations. “A comprehensive group of farm subjects that keeps Valley viewers informed,” the judges wrote.

Honorable mention went to Erin Kelley and Richard Carter of the Rappahannock Times and Allison Williams of the Daily Press in Newport News.

With nearly 150,000 members in 88 county Farm Bureaus, VFBF is Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group. Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to protecting Virginia’s farms and ensuring a safe, fresh and locally grown food supply.


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