Recommended news sources to keep your farming strategies current

I admire the creativity of farmers who manage the avalanche of information cascading into their ken every moment, every day, every season. As a career journalist, I have some ideas on how to enhance your "news efficiency" — just as you enhance your production efficiency.

January 16, 2020   By Jerry Carlson — When I joined Farm Journal as a farm business editor in 1964, farmers often told me they piled up incoming farm magazines (without taking time to read them) all spring, summer and fall. Over the winter, they thumbed through the stack to scan for ideas that might be useful. Radio was the primary mobile source of ag market news.

The farming pace was simpler then. NPK analysis was close to formula farming. Farmers didn't have to comprehend GPS field maps or the myriad microbes of soil biology.  Turmoil in globalized trade hadn't erupted. The regulatory and farm program maze was not so convoluted and critical.

But as the 1970s opened, Farm Journal began studying the idea of editors writing on computer screens and sending information instantly to farmers via electronic networks. I did a Master's thesis on that subject. We didn't foresee the internet. We did explore a private phone-line network we dubbed "Pan Ag." When I joined Merrill Oster to launch Professional Farmers of America in 1972, we were the only ag newsletter sent weekly by first-class mail. Gradually, Pro Farmer developed an electronic news service delivered via Radio Shack text transmission sets. That was "Instant Update." A harbinger of the worldwide web.

Today, I'm often astonished how farmers manage the myriad flow of data you can generate from your own GPS soil tests, combine models, layered field maps and the surge of new "soil health" biologicals. Our website can offer a bit of help updating you on the more promising biological and crop-nutrition innovations.

But it's often more difficult to discern "megatrends" in the global economy, as trade disruptions and bitter partisan politics muddy your marketing and financial strategies. 

Here are some insightful news sources which I check almost daily to gain greater perspective for long-term planning and peace of mind).

I don't watch any commercial TV such as ABC, NBC and CBS, or any cable news channels. A Media Research Center analysis showed that from June 1 to Sept. 30, 2019, 92% of these networks' coverage on President Trump was negative. Major news events were ignored in favor of five political topics such as the Mueller investigation of Russian political collusion. Nor do I use Google to "customize" news feeds for me, as Google's search algorithms skew search results. So here's my No. 1 timesaving suggestion: Pull the plug on cable and network television. I consider it largely cultural sewage via hundreds of channels. 

I've bookmarked just a few reliable news websites, and scan them regularly. I've found that most of the best news streams require paid subscriptions. Here are my "regulars." The first two sites are obvious; the others you may never have heard of.

1. The Wall Street Journal (https://www.wsj.com). Especially the editorial section, entirely staffed by experienced and dedicated adults. Their logic is clear, and the writing often brilliant. I look for favorites: James Freeman,  William A. GalstonDaniel HenningerHolman W. JenkinsWilliam McGurnKimberley A. Strassel.

WSJ's news pages flow from reporters who were probably schooled in the same higher-indoctrination universities as reporters who inhabit the New York Times and Washington Post. However, the conservative/liberal bias is somewhat more balanced than in most major daily papers. It takes a well-financed news organization like WSJ to allow a reporter weeks of research and travel to dig out the underlying facts of major trending stories, such as how U.S. oil independence has enabled a wider range of Mideast strategic options. At Pro Farmer seminars back in the 1970s, ag market analyst Jim Gill always advised, "Read the Wall Street Journal for the big picture of what's ahead." Today, that's easy, as WSJ has a highly readable app for your smartphone. 

2. Pro Farmer online (https://www.profarmer.com) This website has steadily improved since I pieced together the first primitive version using Dreamweaver with the help of Pro Farmer's staff decades ago.  I especially recommend clicking through to Washington analyst Jim Wiesemeyer for up-to-date reports on legislation and trade negotiations. For broader browsing, Farm Journal's site (https://www.farmjournal.com) now includes a stable of many specialized publications. 

3. South China Morning Post (https://www.scmp.com) opens your viewpoint to remarkably objective news covering Chinese and Southeast Asian economics and politics. Since China is often foreseen as the world's leading economy in a decade or so, having a window into that part of the globe is essential. The paper offers fairly balanced coverage of U.S./China trade negotiations — from the Chinese viewpoint. An example of in-depth coverage relevant to US/China trade is "Has the U.S. lost the battle for the South China Sea?"

4. Debka File (https://www.debka.com) is an Israel-based news and analysis service focusing on Mideast geopolitical events, which impact U.S. national attention and military involvement. I usually monitor the day-by-day reports, but you can also subscribe to a more in-depth weekly analysis. The staff is closely connected to Israeli and other Mideast intelligence sources. For example, after the U.S. eliminated Iran's General Soleimani, Debka was the only news source that reported how all key Iranian militia chiefs in Iran (who've cowed Iraq into a docile Iranian colony) scattered into refuges in Syria and Iran. Debka's analysts reasoned that they feared followup attacks, but also were regrouping for fresh assaults across Iraq in coming weeks. Now, Debka reports convoys of fresh arms, munitions and roadside mines are flowing into Iraq for expanded retaliation.

5. Israeli columnist Caroline Glick (http://carolineglick.com) Probably the most insightful commentator on Mideast geopolitics. Her weekly analysis helps understand the entire region and its shifting-sands political forces.  Caroline's analysis is also featured in JNS, another Israel-based news source which covers a wide variety of Mideast developments — often before U.S. mainline media outlets express an interest.

6. To the Point News (https://www.tothepointnews.com) every Friday carries a revealing-to-read analysis of news and economic trends by my favorite adventurer and commentator, Jack Wheeler. On weekdays, a wide array of columnists and economic analysts offer perceptive looks ahead at world events. Hard-core conservative, wry humor, but there's often information available nowhere else. I just noticed that the site has tightened access unless you're a paid client. Formerly, freebie viewers could see some of the opening content, but now it's $8.98 per month or $95 per year.