As the deadline for the 2019 Alltech/IFAJ Young Leaders Programme draws near, Oonagh O’Mahony reflects on her experience at last year’s event.
The 2018 Alltech/IFAJ Young Leaders Programme was held in Wageningen, The Netherlands. Running alongside the Young Leaders Programme was the Corteva/IFAJ Masterclass.
I was very lucky to represent Ireland among the group of Young Leaders and had a unique opportunity to meet an incredibly impressive and enthusiastic group of journalists working around the world.
As the two groups came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities we face in our work, it was interesting to see the commonalities. In particular, there was a shared sense that agricultural journalism doesn’t command the same respect as other forms of journalism, such as business, sport or crime reporting. Many felt their reports were bumped down the pecking order of broadcasts or pushed to the back pages in favour of these other industries.
However, we were reminded throughout the course of the programme and the subsequent IFAJ congress that we, as agri-food journalists, have a very important role to play. Of all the businesses in the world, there is none more important than agriculture and food, ensuring that people have food on their plates every day. Our challenge, however, is to help consumers better understand just how important the industry and our reporting is.
As well as group discussions, part of the Young Leaders Programme included two farm visits, the first to Leo de Jonge’s horticulture farm, followed by a visit to Toon den Boer’s dairy farm.
In the evening, before dinner, we gathered as a group to reflect on these visits and to discuss what elements of the two visits would interest our various audiences. This was a very simple but effective exercise and it was enlightening to hear other people’s impressions of the farms and the different angles each person saw during the tours. It was particularly interesting to hear from the only photographer among our group who wasn’t concerned with farm inputs and outputs, emissions or quotas. Instead, she had an opportunity to stand back and view the farm, the farmer and his situation with impartial eyes and identified an interesting social story that had been cast aside by the rest of the group. It was an important reminder that, at times, we can approach a story with blinkers on, and there is great value in stepping back from a story and its actors to see all potential angles.
Following the Young Leaders Programme, we participated in the IFAJ Congress, with a series of talks, lectures and tours.
As well as enlightening talks and farm visits, the bootcamp and congress itself were useful opportunities to stand back from our day-to-day work and see how other people do theirs. It provided inspiration and ideas for articles and features, but also new ways of working or presenting information. It was also useful to gain an insight to the key agricultural issues our colleagues across the world are reporting on daily.
This was a hugely beneficial and enjoyable trip and I am very grateful to the IFAJ, Alltech, the Irish Guild and my employers, IFP Media, for enabling me to take part.
I would encourage others in Ireland to avail of this and other travel opportunities that present themselves through your Guild and IFAJ membership.