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Editor's Note: Max Armstrong is farm director for WGN/Tribune Radio Networks, Chicago. He was recently named National Association of Farm Broadcasters "2001 Farm Broadcaster of the Year." A panel chosen by the University of Illinois also honored Armstrong with an Oscar in Agriculture, an award for excellence in reporting on food and agriculture issues. He received the Oscar for his radio and television reports on Britain's battle against the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic and the implications for the United States agriculture industry. Armstrong has been with WGN since 1977, and along with his daily reporting, co-hosts the nationally syndicated "U.S. Farm Report."

The farm program - it's the only thing that matters to young farmers these days. There's really nothing else they want to talk about.' It was a comment I overheard in a small town restaurant this winter that made me stop and think. If this gentleman's assessment is accurate, there is cause to worry about the future for many of these young farmers.

The handwriting seems to be on the wall. There will likely be limited success opportunities for the farmer who wants to purely farm the farm program. The check may be there, but will it ever really be enough? And the increasing public scrutiny for Washington's helping hand, as deserved and necessary as the aid may be, is becoming much more uncomfortable for many who earn a check from Uncle Sam.

But those of us who broadcast daily to farmers, are finding encouraging signs of enthusiasm among many young men and women out there, and these bright stars are not just calculating loan rates and loan deficiency payments. They are carving niches, finding real markets and planning to produce for real demand in the future. They intend to meet a need.

While uncertainties of federal farm program support may have clouded the long-term picture for the ag industry as a whole, we have found in nearly every community, bright, young entrepreneurs who study consumer needs and evaluate their ability to fill those needs. Some have begun to serve those non-traditional markets - often pocketing non-traditional income. The excitement in their voices is a good sign. They seem to be genuinely enjoying their new farming businesses.

And just as farm broadcasters were the constant companions for the previous generation of farmers, those of us on the air are continuing to fill the need for these progressive producers. We can bring them new ideas. We can deliver the news from their markets an ocean away. We can make them laugh. And there may be times when we can put a lump in the throat, causing our growers to pause and to put into perspective the things that really do matter.

When non-farm listeners need to be reminded to value and appreciate the people who feed us all, no one has more reach to send that message than farm broadcasters. The members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters, in one community after another, have readily embraced that role, as a conduit from those who grow to those who purely consume.

Farm broadcasters have always had the unique ability to deliver instantaneous news, as constant companions to the most productive farmers in the world, and to bring the message to their homes with emotion that excites and motivates. Never has that role been more important. And never have agricultural broadcasters been better prepared to do it. AM

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