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Reporting on science, technology and innovation in Arizona and the Southwest through a collaboration from Arizona NPR member stations. This project is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.Additional stories from the Arizona Science Desk are posted at our collaborating station, KJZZ: http://kjzz.org/science

Media Coverage of Yuma Agriculture: An Interview With Blake Herzog

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University of Arizona
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Reporter Blake Herzog recently wrote an article for the Yuma Sun about media coverage of agriculture, after she attended a town hall forum that focused on water in southwestern Arizona.

Herzog sat down with KAWC's science reporter, Amanda Solliday, to discuss her article.

Solliday: Hi, Blake.

Herzog: Hi, thanks for having me, Amanda.

Solliday: So what sort of things were brought about media coverage of Yuma agriculture at this forum?

Herzog: There was some concern brought up about the use of water to grow crops like almonds or alfalfa or any crop that the writer or commentator tends to think is not a good use of resources.

The lettuce and salad column from the Washington Post was a few weeks before that, and so that came up several times. And obviously that one hit a nerve in Yuma, in particular.

Solliday: Why was it so important to mention the Washington Post piece about salad in your article?

Herzog: Well I think the growers found that article to be particularly problematic, simply because it went after the main crop, the crop that Yuma is known for.

I was surprised at how I was able to get a hold of the Washington Post columnist [Tamar Haspel]. She’s not a staff writer for the paper. She lives up in Cape Cod and farms oysters. I couldn’t find an email address for her or anything, so as a “Hail Mary” I just tweeted at her.

About a couple of hours later, I had an email back from her. I was surprised at how quickly she responded and how interested she was in talking to me about the article and how many comments it had gotten. She said there had been over 800 comments posted to the story, as opposed to seven that had been posted on something else she had written about fixing the Farm Bill that she had hoped would generate more interest.

But everyone was worked up about salad.

Solliday: Why did the Western Growers Association call this article a “hit piece”?

Herzog: I think they were offended by, or at least reacted strongly, to the tone it took. In his [Corey Lunde of the Western Growers Association] view, it was kind of dedicated to taking down lettuce and salad in general. It derided it, not only for its nutritional content, but how salad tends to make people think they’re eating something that’s healthier than it actually is when you think about everything that’s put on top of it.

Solliday: Is this just a question of spin? What kind of data are different organizations providing to support their viewpoint?

Herzog: There were statistics brought up at the meeting about water use when it comes to other crops, like coffee and dairy, and so forth. In general, people said it takes a lot of water to grow anything, whether it’s lettuce or vegetables or meat or grapes or anything else. It’s always a water-intensive activity, so it’s just a matter of degrees.

Solliday: After the discussion at the forum, what’s next for the participants?

Herzog: Well the overall report from the water plenary is going to be submitted to the Arizona Town Hall. That document will present a Yuma perspective.

Solliday: How did it feel to be the journalist in the room?

Herzog: Well I kind of just sat back and just observed. I was surprised at the level of concern out there about media coverage of the industry. But it was kind of eye-opening to realize how much concern there is out there for the negative or the possibly negative or more scrutinizing types of media coverage.

It’s something that I’ll keep in mind moving forward.

In general, when I cover, in my coverage of water issues up to this point, I’ve been surprised how often people really want to talk about this issue. Whether it’s people at the ADWR [Arizona Department of Water Resources] or people locally, it’s like people really want to open the dialogue and talk about the issues that are being presented by the drought and the importance of water resources in general.

Solliday: Have you gotten any feedback about the article?

Herzog: No, I haven’t. I’m kind of surprised that no one’s gotten back to me or nobody’s brought up any concerns since the article ran.

Solliday: Thanks for coming in, Blake.

You can read Blake Herzog's article in the Yuma Sun here: http://www.yumasun.com/news/growers-worry-over-critical-media-coverage-of-food/article_c016807c-6968-11e5-8e2d-a7289e911808.html