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Ag broadcasting icon tells farmers your job will never end, promote it

Orion Samuelson, a radio and television agriculture broadcaster most widely known for hosting “U.S. Farm Report,” spoke at an area meeting for ag producers in Menomonie Dec. 7. (River Falls Journal photo by Judy Wiff)

While farmers need to do a better job of telling others what their occupation means to the country, they shouldn’t harp on the difficulties of their work, warned agriculture radio legend Orion Samuelson, speaking to a farming Economic Outlook meeting in Menomonie Dec. 7.

“Don’t play the sympathy card with city people, they work as hard as you do,” said Samuelson, 81, who has been the head agriculture broadcaster at WGN Radio in Chicago for 55 years and currently co-hosts “This Week in AgriBusiness.”

Samuelson -- who published his autobiography, “You Can’t Dream Big Enough,” in 2012 -- said growing up on a dairy farm 30 miles from La Crosse, he never imagined he would travel to 44 countries with TV crews, know seven U.S. presidents, go to the White House for dinner, travel to China and have a street named for him in Chicago.

The two professions that will never go away are farming and undertaking, said Samuelson, reminding agriculture producers to value their contribution even when it doesn’t seem to pay.

He recalled “the terrible times of the ’80s” when farms were being sold on the courthouse steps and parents hoped their sons and daughters wouldn’t farm and suffer as the older generation had.

Agriculture producers felt times were bad and they would never get good again, said Samuelson, but he urged them to take the long view.

“Prices never go the same way forever. There’s always a correction,” he said. “When times are good, they turn bad. When times are bad, they turn good.”

While American farmers are good on the production side, they aren’t good at marketing, said Samuelson, urging them to improve their marketing plans and know their cost of production so they can judge what a reasonable profit is.

When he began broadcasting, said Samuelson, he talked about how hard farmers work. Now he focuses on what farming contributes to the paychecks of so many people: “To have a strong economy, you need a strong agriculture.”

He added, “We don’t do a very good job of telling what we do.”

Samuelson recalled being accosted by a woman who complained of the dangers of GMO’s without knowing what they are.

It’s a sad state when the public has more confidence in bloggers than science and technology, said Samuelson, insisting that the ag industry needs to find more ways to explain what technology does and what it means to all of us.

About three months ago, Samuelson had two heart valves replaced -- one with a cow valve and one with a pig valve. He walked out of the hospital five days later and was back on the air in two weeks.

“I’m glad I’m living in the time that I do [live in],” said Samuelson, praising what developments in technology have done for the quality of life.

He said there are three definite areas of agriculture opportunity for the next generation: food safety, genetics and production.

The country and world will need more plant geneticists, global marketers who can speak and write in several languages, and large-animal veterinarians, said Samuelson.

He urged young people to find heroes.

The three Samuelson chose include Norman Borlaug, the microbiologist credited with transforming agricultural practices in developing countries and earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

His second hero is Harold Brock, who designed Ford and John Deere tractors that changed farming. But, said Samuelson, he believes Brock’s greatest contribution was his work in developing community colleges: “He said farm kids don’t stand a chance without a college degree.”

Samuelson’s third hero is Abraham Lincoln, who, among many other accomplishments, signed the Homestead Act which distributed 270 million acres of government-owned land in 30 states to small family farmers.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.