Ian Petrie

Each year I get a chance to judge stories for awards given out by the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists.

It’s an opportunity to see and hear some excellent reporting and documentaries from parts of the world I don’t generally follow. What struck me about this year's entries was how weather had turned against farmers in so many places. The last few years getting fair prices was the dominant theme, now it’s coping with the risk and cost of events totally outside the control of farmers, and the stress and anxiety that comes with that.

The continuing drought in parts of eastern Australia ( https://ab.co/2Jk5diP ) is heartbreaking. The difficult choices livestock producers are having to make would be well understood by Island farmers. Grazing areas are nothing but dirt, and stored feed has long run out. Farmers are travelling for hours to buy and truck feed for their herds. They could sell their stock but that would mean losing generations of breeding, and little chance to get the cattle back if and when the rains come. Many stubbornly insist the rains must come.

Another radio-digital item ( https://ab.co/2JmYvZD ) looks at what happens when a cattle producer used social media to try to help urban Australians understand what she’s going through. Instead the gruesome pictures led to calls for an animal welfare investigation. Nothing unusual was found, just examples of the daily difficult decisions farmers must make when there’s a shortage of feed and really only the strong survive.

There was a radio item from Ireland where there had been too much rain ( http://bit.ly/2JgmzND ). Irish dairy farmers (much like New Zealand) have built their industry on grazing cows outside for most of the year, and feeding stored hay and silage (fodder is the word used in Ireland) for the rest. Rain and cold temperatures extended well into last spring, dairy farmers couldn’t get their cattle out on grazing land, and stored fodder had run out. It was a major crisis, and tons of feed had to be imported from elsewhere.

In New Zealand, the dairy industry was hit hard by a pathogen called mycoplasma bovis (http://bit.ly/2JkGRFw ). Thousands of cows and calves have had to be slaughtered to control its spread. The story tells how helpless farmers feel when it’s found in their herd.

It’s not just the weather that creates risk for farmers. The old standbys, politics and greed, are still in play.

There’s another story from Ireland that shows the uncertainty created by the whole Brexit mess, again something farmers have little control over. England is a huge market for Irish farm products, and the EU has made this trade seamless. Brexit puts all of this in doubt. An excellent documentary.

In Bangladesh, farmers face political violence (transportation strikes, roadblocks) and are often prevented from getting their produce to market. ( http://bit.ly/2JjiSH2 ).

In Ghana, a very strong item showing how cocoa farmers are being pushed off their land, the trees pulled out, for rubber plantations. ( http://bit.ly/2JkW9Kt ).

Fortunately there were entrants with some positive stories as well. One was an effort to help women in Vietnam increase the yield and quality of vegetable production, and the effect this is having on their families ( https://ab.co/2JmZF7r ). And a wonderful story of a farm co-operative in South Africa. Again it’s women who are working together to make this happen (http://bit.ly/2JgfQ6i ).

I’ve written about this before, but I’m always struck by the time and resources devoted to agriculture stories in countries like Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Ghana, Austria, etc compared to what the CBC does (or does not do) in Canada. There were national programs on television and radio (Country Canada, the Food Show for example) that focused on rural stories, but they’re long gone. I know demographics works against this kind of programming, but that’s not much different in these other developed countries. Maybe climate change will threaten food supplies just enough that urban Canadians will become more interested in what’s going on in rural parts of the country, and the CBC will notice

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