Covering Big Agribusiness in the Heartland

Dozens of multinational agribusiness companies are headquartered across the Midwest and across the nation. Their importance has grown as their impact on our food supply has grown. Issues such as droughts, corporate funding of research, government subsidies, insurance and commodities trading figure heavily in media coverage of agribusiness.

Covering multinational agribusiness corporations and their impact on our food supply knowledgeably and professionally is not a simple task. Reporters need to be able to evaluate sources, issues and data to find and report on stories that are often overlooked. Agribusiness stories touch several traditional beats from business to community to food, health and living. Reporters must crunch numbers, understand complex data sets and be able to see the big picture — and connect it with readers' concerns. They will receive hands-on training on how to use data in their reporting. Resources on this page will help journalists do all of that and more.

These resources are provided as part of the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute, “Covering Big Agribusiness in the Heartland,", May 30-June 2 in Champaign, Illinois, hosted by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. The SRI was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Find an Expert

Craig Cox, Midwest vice president of the Environmental Working Group,, 515-598-2358

Dr. Craig Gundersen, professor, department of agricultural and consumer economics, University of Illinois and executive director, National Soybean Research Laboratory,, 217-333-2857

Dr. Madhu Khanna, professor, department of agricultural and consumer economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,, 217-333-5176

Dr. Doug Powell, food scientist, creator of an online repository of food-safety related information and associate professor, Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine,, 785-317-0560

Dr. Bruce J. Sherrick, Marjorie and Jerry Fruin Professor of Land Economics and director of the TIAA-CREF Center for Farmland Research, department of agricultural and consumer economics, University of Illinois,, 217-244-2637

Dr. Patrick Westhoff, director, Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), University of Missouri–Columbia and professor, MU department of agricultural and applied economics,, 573-882-4647

Twitter Handles to Follow

@HarvestPM: Harvest Public Media cultivates stories of food, fuel and field for its NPR partner stations and all public media

@IMidwest: Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting (or InvestigateMidwest) is an independent, nonprofit newsroom with a special focus on agribusiness and related topics

@IRE_NICAR: Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., is a grassroots nonprofit investigative reporting organization

@barfblog: Dr. Doug Powell, professor of food safety, Kansas State University

Blogs Worth Reading

AgMag blog: The agricultural issues blog of the Environmental Working Group

barfblog: Drs. Powell, Chapman, Hubbell and assorted food safety friends offer evidence-based opinions on current food safety issues

Field Notes: Harvest Public Media's blog about covering food stories and the agricultural landscape

What Others Are Doing

Beef's Raw Edges, a special report written by Mike McGraw for the Kansas City Star, December 11, 2012

Key Resources

Resources from the SRI

Craig Cox, Covering Big Agribusiness in the Heartland, an introduction to the environmental issues raised by big agribusiness

Miguel C. Keberlein Gutiérrez's presentation on the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project talks about abuses in farm labor

Dr. Madju Khanna's presentation, Opportunities and Challenges for Biofuels, information about biofuels, including corn ethanol

Dr. Douglas Powell presents an Overview of USDA Inspection, a key issue in covering issues related to our food supply

Dr. Bruce Sherrick presents Understanding Crop Insurance, helping journalists make sense of the numbers in this complex topic that is at the heart of reporting on agribusiness

Dr. Patrick Westhoff's presentation, Tracking the Farm Bill and its Potential Impact, background on farm policy and an overview of the current farm bill

Key Web Resources

Environmental Working Group: an environmental health research and advocacy organization; look at Losing Ground, the EWG's report on soil erosion and runoff from cropland, for an example of their agricultural work Daily updates and farm policy news by Keith Good

The FDA's Food Section: Information about government regulations, food safety, compliance, foodborne illness and more

Food Safety News: Original in-depth reporting and curated content on food safety issues

Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration based at KCUR in Kansas City that covers agriculture-related topics

How Safe Is Your Food?: A News21 project on food safety

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on issues that impact the Midwest, particularly issues related to Agribusiness

USDA Fact Sheets: State fact sheets with information on population, income, education, employment, federal funds, organic agriculture, farm characteristics, farm financial indicators, top commodities and exports

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

U.S. House Committee on Agriculture

U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry


Webinar Replays

Digging into Agribusiness: How to cover the business of agribusiness, presented by Brant Houston, the Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, on September 18, 2013.

Getting Ahead of the Food Price Story: Food supply impacts everyone; rising prices can result from a number of causes. Learn how to read the numbers and dig up local and regional data that help you tell the stories that are relevant to your audience.

Self-Directed Courses

Covering Water Quality: What You Need to Know: We may take clean water for granted, but there are many things that can go wrong with our water supply — pollution, drought, contamination and more. Gain background knowledge and learn how to cover this complex and crucial issue.

Environmental Reporting: An Introduction: Covering the environment is about far more than climate change; environmental issues affect food supply and food safety and impact every aspect of agribusiness. Learn the basics of covering environmental issues in this course.

Financial Literacy Basics: Producing Better Business Stories: Covering big agribusiness will have you drowning in numbers and statistics. This course will improve your financial literacy by teaching you terms and concepts critical to understanding how a business works.