1. How did you get involved in agri-journalism?
My entry to journalism was completely accidental. When [I was] president of Macra many years ago, I was asked to write a couple of articles for Irish Farmers Monthly.
After I completed my presidential term, David Markey, owner of IFP Media, asked me to write a regular column and that grew over the years, including a stint as machinery editor of IFM after the death of the renowned John Neill Watson, until my present position as editor of IFM.
My journey into radio journalism was equally accidental. After the untimely death of Mike Burke, I was asked to take over his weekly farming programme on KCLR.
I had been a regular interviewee with Mike from my time as Macra president and also as IFA National Dairy Committee vice-chairman. There is a certain black humour in the idea that when people died, I got their jobs.
2. What drew you to it?
I love to see my words in print, though radio is my preference. I find the idea that there is even one person going to the bother of listening to a programme I present, quite encouraging.
3. Who was your mentor and what piece of advice has stuck with you?
David Markey regularly encouraged me. His advice was straightforward: “Don’t bluff it, if in doubt ask.”
4. What was your best work?
A series of articles on a study tour I undertook to New Zealand. It included a dozen interviews with farmers, vets, researchers, advisors and bankers around the sustainability of low-cost versus high-cost NZ dairy farming.
5. How has radio changed over the course of your career?
The option of using a phone to interview people in any situation/location has been a game changer. It provides high quality audio and makes every day and every meeting with people (agri-contractor, vet, advisor, salesman etc) a potential interview opportunity. Then just download, edit and broadcast.
6. Regrettable changes in agriculture?
Unwarranted and uninformed negative commentary is difficult for farmers to deal with.
On the positive side, farmers are more aware than ever of their role in safeguarding their surrounding environment and in improving biodiversity on their farms.
They are becoming more confident in defending their role as food producers.
7. Just one interview and just one question. Who and what?
Larry Goodman. What gets him out of bed every morning?
8. The future for agri journalism on radio?
Very positive. There is still a large audience for radio and I find that a specialised, straightforward, agriculture-based programme with a mix of regular and random contributors is well appreciated.
9. Biggest challenges for agri journalism now?
In a world of very opposing views on agriculture, it is difficult to remain objective. As a food producer as well as an agri-journalist, rightly or wrongly, I regularly find myself in a defensive or promotional interview mode on behalf of the farming community.
10. Biggest challenges for agriculture?
Maintaining economic sustainability and commercial productivity, while managing high regulatory standards and increasing environmental restrictions.
11. How do we keep farming on the airwaves?
Sponsored programmes allow local and national radio stations to justify allocating valuable airtime to farming related programmes.
12. How do we hold the attention of listeners?
Ensure that there are good communicators able and willing to contribute to programmes. Keep the programmes varied, with local voices and topics interspersed with national and international items. Local radio should have plenty of local accents. Listeners identify with them.
13. Are anti-agriculture commentators a better pull?
No. Anti-agriculture commentators tend to be too negative and critical with often extreme views. Most people will engage with positive commentary.
14. Should farmers defend the industry on radio?
Having front line food producers tell their positive stories is critical to ensuring that there is a balanced understanding of what is involved in producing food.
15. Are listeners engaged with agri-journalism?
I regularly get both criticism and positive feed-back on issues discussed on radio. That suggests good engagement by listeners. Surprisingly, I find that there are large numbers of people who have no connection with agriculture, many living in urban areas, who listen to the KCLR Farmshow. I don’t quite know why, except that there may be a natural curiosity about how food producers make a living and also an innate interest in agriculture, food, rural life and the natural environment.
16. Advice for journalism students?
Have the ability to use every media form to communicate with their audience of readers, viewers or listeners. Learn how to research. Basic background agricultural knowledge is vital and methods and means of regularly updating their knowledge base. Be curious and engaged. Be enthusiastic and interested.