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Covering fall harvest in a record hot year

By Flickr user Don Hankins

With nearly a month of summer left on the calendar, you might want to consider an agricultural update pretty soon.

So far, 2010 has been the warmest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – and that’s definitely had pros and cons for growers in the United States.

Some crops have benefitted:  The heat has sweetened produce from peaches to corn, according to this CBS News report – but as this AP report points out, early ripening isn’t necessarily a good thing; it’s hard to lure people out to apple orchards when they’re basking in 90-degree temps.

And according to this Bloomberg report, the prolonged high temps are starting to take their toll on corn; I’ve noticed quality of eating corn already has started to whither here in the Midwest due to the heat.  (Wonder what that bodes for butter producers whose wares are usually slathered freely at corn roasts?)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s agricultural statistics service publishes some fascinating reports that should give you fodder for story ideas, including this weekly crop progress report. It gives the condition of certain crops (cotton bolls set or open) expressed in percentages by states, as well as the condition of selected produce and the percentage of crops harvested by state.

For comparison to this year, check out the average planting and harvesting dates for U.S. field crops or delve into the economic reports. Check with your state agricultural agency, farm bureau and growers’ associations about the outlook for the 2010 harvest and the 2011 season.

Here’s a link to a commodities report that says global production hiccups should help record U.S. crops be absorbed overseas.

Economists at your state’s land-grant university and/or extension service can talk to you about how crop prices ripple through the state economy – from international trade to heavy equipment dealers to food distributors to employment of seasonal workers, inspectors, scientists, exporters and marketing experts.  One needn’t till the soil to be employed by the agricultural sector; keep in mind that career profiles and occupational outlooks also will resonate with readers.

Don’t forget about small businesses and family operations that run roadside stands or sell through farmers’ markets, local grocers, regional restaurants and other small venues: Will an early harvest mean they have little to sell later this year?  What’s the economic ripple effect on store promotions, restaurant menus and other end-users?

Technology is another way to spin the fall harvest story. Readers are always up for an interesting explainer on how our food is transformed from tiny seeds to a year-round feast for humans and animals.  It’s also a good way to get to know biotech firms, heavy equipment manufacturers and other private companies that normally aren’t on your radar screen.  FarmEquipment.com and this Yahoo! directory of agriculture-related trade journals are worth combing for local leads.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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