The Rappahannock Record in Kilmarnock captured Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Ishee-Quann Award, the top honor in Farm Bureau’s annual Journalism Awards program. The newspaper, which serves readers in part of the state’s Northern Neck, also won the non-daily newspaper category for the third consecutive year and for the 12th year in the past 14.
The award is named in part for Jeff Ishee, the near-legendary host of Virginia Farming, which airs across Virginia and nationwide. Ishee also operates On the Farm, a daily, Web-based farm news service. The late Homer Quann was WSVA radio’s farm news director for several decades and was known as the most dedicated agricultural reporter in Virginia.
VFBF Journalism Awards recognize exemplary ongoing coverage of agriculture issues, practices and events by print and broadcast news operations. Winners were honored Nov. 27 during the VFBF Annual Convention in Hot Springs.
For the first time, Roanoke’s Fox affiliate, WFXB-TV, won first place in the television category. The daily newspaper category winners were reporters Rachael Smith and Carrie Dungan at The News & Advance in Lynchburg, while the Members’ Choice Award was claimed by The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star reporters Cathy Dyson and Adele Uphaus-Conner.
Robert Hodge, a morning host at Williamsburg’s WMBG, took home honors in the radio category, and Jane Graham of The Delmarva Farmer claimed the new Friend of the Farm Award for agricultural media.
There were a whopping six honorable mentions due to the record number of quality entries in the awards’ 31st year. Those honors went to Nolan Stout at the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg; Joe Tennis of the Bristol Herald Courier; Vicky Moon and Leonard Shapiro of the Fauquier Times; the news team at The Greene County Record; the news team at WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg; and Neesey Payne of WDBJ-TV in Roanoke.
The Rappahannock Record reported on an array of local, state and national farm issues. They covered the agricultural tariffs issue and its implications for farmers multiple times. They reported on the region’s record soybean yields of 2017 and published a series titled “Farmers of the Northern Neck” that introduced readers to the faces behind the fields. The newspaper reported on the rise of produce farming, ag economics and other educational issues. They also covered the summer Mid-Atlantic Wheat Tour, featured a manure-to-energy operation, and covered Farm Bureau’s 2017 Annual Convention and the 2017 State Fair of Virginia. Additionally, they generated features on the direct marketing programs of VA FAIRS, gleaning efforts for hunger relief, and the conservation benefits provided by the local soil and water conservation district.
“They knocked it out of the park,” one judge remarked. “There was an incredible array of farm stories, reports and features that any reader in the Northern Neck would learn from. This ag coverage powerhouse never lets readers forget that farming is a mainstay on the Northern Neck.”
The Free Lance-Star reporters’ entry included a poignant feature about a retiring Culpeper County dairy farmer who no longer could weather low milk prices. It included troubling statistics on the dwindling number of dairy farms remaining in the Fredericksburg region. The newspaper reported on hunger in the area and how farmers donated; cold, wet spring weather’s impact on local farms; the tariff issue; a zebra farm; a homesteader family; and horses. It brought attention to the importance of honeybees for pollination, cleverly noting that one of every three bites of Americans’ food is a result of honeybee activity.
“This newspaper just gets agriculture coverage,” the judges said. “We were so impressed with their coverage of the dairy. Just superior, really.”
The News & Advance featured a Bedford County Fall Festival that mixed entertainment with ag education; Farm Bureau’s Lady Leader Amy Johnson; farm safety; a buying club for produce; and a beef farmer who traveled to China to build trade relationships for Virginia beef. The newspaper also featured a cidery and a local farmstay; a horse farm for healing; Appomattox students who were learning farming skills; and resource management plans and how they compliment other environmental achievements in the area.
“Good, solid reporting with a mix of agricultural news,” the judges said of the paper’s entry. “A strong, varied coverage of ag in a region where it’s still very viable, yet unfamiliar to many readers.”
WFXR featured wineries, orchards and the importance of broadband access in rural areas. They showed the impact weather had on local farmers, and they visited beekeepers and reported on a grant program for beekeeping start-ups. They showed viewers applications for drones in farming; a high-tech, grape-picking robot; and the latest on industrial hemp research.
“It appears the station provides regular agriculture coverage to keep the community apprised of farming issues, trends and feel-good stories,” the judges wrote.
WMBG radio’s Hodge hosted a series of casual, compelling conversations about ag-related topics that would resonate with any listener. “There was a lot to be learned from listening,” the judges said. His topics included use of the Farmers’ Almanac in planting, Pollinator Week, women in farming and Farmers Market Week. “It is admirable that he produces an ongoing From The Ground Up segment on a regular basis,” the judges said.
Jane Graham, who writes for The Delmarva Farmer, based in Easton, Md., entertained and educated readers with topics like a veteran farmer who is in “sheep shape;” a determined Tazewell county beef and dairy operator who suffered a near-fatal brain injury but recovered and continued to farm; cross-breeding Charolais cattle with black Angus to complement the herd; growing apples on trellises; and Virginia Tech’s 6-acre vegetable farm that helps feed students.
“This reporter has a long history of in-depth agricultural insights,” the judges noted.