From Watershed to Confluence
The 2007 Field Reporting Institute explores environmental, agricultural and natural resource connections along the Missouri River

They rode boats on the Missouri River, hiked along wetlands and harvested floodplain corn in a John Deere combine.

These events and more were part of an intensive, three-day field trip Sept. 14-16 in which 14 University of Missouri Agricultural Journalism and Journalism students learned about issues in agriculture and the environment by reporting from the field.

The trip was named the 2007 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute.

"On the Sunday night ride back to Columbia after all was said and done, pretty much everyone agreed that we were exhausted but had had the time of our lives," said Bill Allen, teaching assistant professor and coordinator of the Agricultural Journalism Program. Allen, assisted by John Schneller, assistant professor of Journalism and Columbia Missourian Metro Editor, organized the trip as part of the course, "Field Reporting on Food and the Environment."

The course and Institute explore the scientific, economic, political, environmental, social and ethical dimensions of the food system and the environment. The aim is to help students gain confidence in their ability to complete complicated, independent field reporting projects.

The primary funder of this year's course was Farm Journal, which made a gift to the Science and Agricultural Journalism Program in memory of MU alumna Sonja Hillgren. Hillgren died in December 2006 after serving for decades as the nation's premier farm writer. She covered farm policy for Farm Journal, United Press International and Knight-Ridder Newspapers.

Over three days from dawn till well past dusk, the students traveled 693 miles by bus and made 14 field stops. They were accompanied by Allen; Schneller; Dan Engemann, Special Assistant to the Missouri Secretary of Agriculture; David Galat, MU river ecologist; Pamela Henderson, Crops and Issues Editor, Farm Journal; Repps Hudson, agriculture and business reporter, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Laura McCann, MU agricultural economist; and Teak Phillips, photo editor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

At the stops they were guided and instructed by a wide range of experts from AmerenUE, the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, as well as farmers, private conservationists and owners of natural resource businesses.

Among the stops:

  • Fisheries field sites on the Missouri River near Waverly to learn about the role of the endangered pallid sturgeon and other river life.
  • Pershing State Park near Laclede and a farm near Meadville to understand how stream-flow changes are affecting farm flooding and nature protection upstream in the Missouri River watershed.
  • Several wetland restoration projects to learn about the role of wetlands in a productive river ecosystem.
  • A sand and gravel operation in Hermann and coal-fired power plant in Labadie to understand the dependence of natural resource-based industries on the river.
  • A farm in the St. Louis County floodplain to observe the impact of development pressure on farming and experience the corn harvest from the cab of a combine.

The Institute is conducted by the Science and Agricultural Journalism Program in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources in cooperation with the Missouri School of Journalism. If you would like to support the Institute, please contact the Office of Advancement or Bill Allen.

The class, "Field Reporting in Food and the Environment," is currently cross listed at MU as Ag Journalism 3201 and Journalism 8001. It is offered in the fall semester only.

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