Berkeley Talks: Art Cullen on journalism and politics in the Corn Belt

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Art Cullen and Michael Pollan in conversation on stage

Art Cullen, editor of a family-run newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa, joined Berkeley Journalism professor and author Michael Pollan on Jan. 29, 2020, to discuss journalism and politics in rural America. (Berkeley Journalism photo)

Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, a family-run newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa, joined Berkeley Journalism professor and author Michael Pollan on Jan. 29, 2020, to discuss journalism in rural America, Trump and the farm vote, immigration, regenerative agriculture and the potential for farmers to sequester carbon to help curb climate change. In 2017, Cullen won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on polluted water, fertilizer runoff and powerful corporate agricultural interests.

“Even the Farm Bureau, at one time, was advocating the idea of carbon sequestration and paying farmers for environmental services,” said Cullen. “It’s pretty hard to say to a Farm Bureau member [when they ask], ‘Would you like a check for $300 an acre?’ That’s $100 more than you’d make anyway just to do nothing but plant grass. I think every farmer would say, ‘I’ll take that check.’

“…Most farmers want to do the right thing if they only could, but they’re locked into this ag supply chain. The bankers are in there, the landlords are in there, Monsanto is in there, Farm Bureau, all the farm publications. You got to have 200 bushel corn. The only way to get there is with Roundup and nitrogen, anhydrous ammonia, which is a byproduct of petroleum, the petroleum industry.

“Most farmers want to do the right thing and they’re miscast as these enemies of sound stewardship. The fact is that they don’t own the land.”

The event was sponsored by the UC Berkeley-11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship.

Listen to the full discussion above in Berkeley Talks episode #79: “Art Cullen on journalism and politics in the Corn Belt.” Watch a video of the conversation below.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Art Cullen joined Berkeley Journalism professor and author Michael Pollan on Jan. 29, 2020, to discuss journalism and politics in rural America. (Berkeley Journalism video)