A group of 30 reporters from news outlets across the country spent Monday evening north of Nevada as guests of the Couser Family — Bill, his wife Nancy, and their sons, Tim and Casey.
The Couser farm visit was an evening “field trip” during a three-day boot camp, called Science Essentials for Political Reporters, to teach reporters more about agriculture and the science behind it.
Rick Weiss, director of SciLine — an independent, freely available service that helps educate reporters on science-related issues — said the boot camp was being put on by SciLine in conjunction with the Drake School of Journalism in Des Moines. It started with a lecture on Sunday evening and ran through Wednesday, ending just in time for the start of the Iowa State Fair on Thursday.
Weiss said participants were sitting through lots of lectures, mixed with a few field trips, like the one Monday evening, all designed to help them better understand ag issues they may be covering as related to politics and political campaigns.
“We selected 30 reporters, and everything’s free (for them to participate). We want to teach them science (and the science behind agriculture), so when they’re covering the candidates…they can do their jobs better,” Weiss said.
From the three Couser men, the reporters learned about a number of Iowa farming matters, like soil health, water quality, cover crops, growing corn and soybeans, ethanol and more. The Cousers put on a detailed program with props like soil samples and corn stalks, and they used a drone to show their land and farming operation in real-time as they spoke about it.
The reporters and others traveling with the group Monday were treated, as all Couser guests are, to a great Iowa meal during the program. Frank Rydl of Gilbert, who Bill Couser often refers to as Couser Cattle Company’s corporate chef, prepared barbecued brisket, which was served with fresh fruit, corn on the cob, coleslaw and baked beans, plus a variety of refreshments. The meal was ready for the guests when they arrived at one of the Cousers’ pasture areas after touring the cattle-yard first. They gathered on land that Bill Couser calls “The Day Farm,” because it was the farm of his great-grandfather, George W. Day.
Weiss said the boot camp participants listened to lectures all day Monday before the field trip to Nevada. On Tuesday, their field trip was to Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny to learn about the college’s wind turbine program. “We’ll see how they’re training engineers and what the future of wind power is.” On Wednesday, Weiss said they’d visit a research farm in the Ames area as their final field trip.
Matt Loffman, 31, originally of Knoxville, Tenn., and now living in Washington, D.C., where he is deputy senior politics producer for PBS NewsHour, said he was glad to be taking part in the boot camp in Iowa. He’d made his first trip to the state just a couple of months ago, he said, for coverage on the Democrat presidential race.
“This (science and agriculture) is something we’re spending a lot of time talking about,” said Loffman, who said he covers everything from the White House to Congress to campaigns and trade. “It’s nice to get outside our (Washington) D.C. bubble… and talk to people who are feeding the rest of us.”
Loffman said he would be staying in Iowa after the boot camp to cover stories on all the candidates coming to the Iowa State Fair.
Weiss said it was important to hold a boot camp on science and agriculture in Iowa, especially with all the candidates coming to this state ahead of the caucuses.
“You are the center of the universe for the next few months,” he said.