Communicators honor Brandon for contributions to agriculture

“Hembree Brandon’s career has been focused on the great agricultural region of the Mississippi Delta, but the impact of his work has gone well beyond those boundaries.”—Bob Ratliff, Mississippi State University

Farm Press Editorial Director Hembree Brandon has been named the 2016 recipient of the Reuben Brigham Award by the Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences (ACE), an international association of communicators, educators, and information technologists.

“This award is reserved for a communicator outside our organization who has made a major contribution in the field of agriculture, natural resources, or life and human sciences at the regional, national, or international level,” said Bob Ratliff, Mississippi State University communications and marketing specialist, who introduced Brandon.

Hembree Brandon, right, is the 2016 recipient of Reuben Brigham Award from the Association for Communication Excellence. Presenting the award is Brad Beckham, ACE president.

The award, established in 1947, was presented at the group’s annual convention, held this year in Memphis, Tenn.

It is given in memory of Reuben Brigham (1887-1946), who served as Extension editor in Maryland and spent most of career in the Federal Extension Service in Washington. He organized the American Association of Agricultural College Editors in 1915, and served as its president, secretary, and treasurer. The name was later changed to its present title.

 “Hembree Brandon’s career has been focused on the great agricultural region of the Mississippi Delta, but the impact of his work has gone well beyond those boundaries,” Ratliff said. “During his 43 years with Farm Press, he has written about virtually every facet of American agriculture, from the successes and challenges faced by those who produce the nation’s food and fiber, to the advances in agricultural research and technology.

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“His editorials tackle relevant issues for agriculture and natural resources, whether they give voice to a single concern, or examine the pro and cons of legislation that guides national farm policy. His journalistic professionalism in support of agriculture and natural resources, and his body of work over the years, speak to his commitment to his chosen profession, and exemplify the spirit of the Reuben Brigham award.”

In his remarks to the Memphis group, Brandon termed the list of award winners going back to 1947 “a Who’s Who of agricultural journalism — so many whose work I have admired and respected, among them, in 2005, my fellow Farm Press writer for many years, Calvin Pigg, who covered the Southwest states for us, and is now retired.

“Your 1976 recipient, the late Bill McNamee, started Delta Farm Press almost 75 years ago as a four-page supplement to the local newspaper, and went on to build it into a 33-state publishing success. It was Bill who hired me 43 years ago, with zero experience in agricultural journalism. He told me, ‘I want people who can write — you can learn agriculture.’ And so I did.”

Importance of Land Grant system

Extension and related ag research programs of the Land Grant system “have very much been a part of the world in which I and my fellow editors have worked,” Brandon said, “and they continue to have a vital role in today’s agriculture.

“Across my decades in this business, the specialists and researchers and communicators at Land Grant institutions have consistently been topnotch — not only discovering more about the crops our farmers grow, but digging into the nitty-gritty of every farming practice to find ways to help farmers be more efficient and more productive, while using less water, fertilizer, and chemicals, and reducing their impact on the environment.

“This knowledge base is proliferating almost exponentially, giving farmers new technologies and more information to help them in their chosen mission of feeding the world.”

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As the population becomes more urbanized, and further divorced from the realities of food and fiber production, Brandon said, “ag journalists will continue to be challenged to make agriculture’s story relevant, to help people understand the importance of American agriculture, not only in their own lives, but as a key component of our nation’s security.

“As journalists, our mission will increasingly be to determine what is factual in an internet and social media world — one in which everyone is a writer or commentator, with an instantaneous soapbox, bombarding us with e-mails and tweets and posts and forwards that purport to be the inside scoop, the absolute truth, but which often as not have no basis in fact or truth.

“How many foaming-at-the-mouth screeds have popped up in my e-mail queue about the supposed dangers of GMO crops and Frankenfoods, the hoax that is climate change, the evils of corporate farming, the conspiracies being hatched by Monsanto, and on and on.

“They spread like digital dandelion seeds. Viewpoints — and people — are targeted and trashed indiscriminately; and honest debate is drowned out by strident voices that espouse only one side of an issue. Julie Borlaug, granddaughter of the late Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, put it succinctly: ‘We have produced a fact-resistant strain of humans.’” 

Good journalists have always been fact-checkers, Brandon said. “Your challenge, I think, is to continue to do what you have done so well for the past 150 years — to disseminate factual, unbiased information, about the still vital, and relevant work of the nation’s Land Grant system in helping to keep U.S. agriculture the most productive in the world.”

In thanking the ACE group for the Brigham Award recognition, he also expressed “heartfelt gratitude to all the farmers who have so graciously welcomed me and allowed me to tell their stories; to the host of Extension and research and communications specialists in the Land Grant system, who have so generously helped us to share their knowledge, expertise, and experience with our readers; to my long-ago publisher, Bill McNamee — who, to my everlasting amazement, didn’t fire me — for the opportunity to learn how rewarding it can be to write about agriculture; to my present employer, Penton Media, and my publisher, Greg Frey, for allowing me to continue doing what I love well past the normal retirement age;  and to my Farm Press co-workers — past and present — who have been, and are, family.” 

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