Our Favorite Ag Podcasts

What do you listen to in the cab of your tractor or truck? Music, news, for sure, but what about podcasts? We asked agricultural journalist and University of Guelph director of research communications Owen Roberts to review the world of ag podcasts and share some of his favorites.

By Owen Roberts | Photos By Arina Habich

Today’s ag media landscape is well-served by a variety of voices, many of which can be heard through podcasts, those episodic broadcasts delivered via the internet. They’ve become popular companions for farmers, who can listen while behind the steering wheel of their ag machinery or truck. Yet, unlike traditional broadcast radio, listeners can pause the program, then pick back up where they left off when ready to listen again. Podcasts also frequently offer additional resources and media on their associated websites. The technology to deliver them—basically, a cell phone or laptop and a microphone—is about as simple as the technology to receive them. This accessibility opens the doors for farmers, or anyone, to create podcasts. Indeed, podcasts are grassroots Extension at its most fundamental level.

As a journalist, I gravitate towards podcasts that I find particularly listenable. It takes skill to masterfully glide through a 30-60-minute interview, engage guests by listening deeply to what they have to say before responding, and find the nuggets that make their story or perspective interesting, and hopefully unique.

Here are some of the podcasts that are noteworthy to me.

AgWired (Chuck and Cindy Zimmerman). I’ve called ag radio broadcast veteran Chuck Zimmerman the Godfather of agricultural e-media, and no one has ever argued with me. The Zimmermans’ take a news and business approach all the way, digging for applicable take-home messages and bottom lines. Clients sponsor them to cover important events and meetings; they turn on their interviewing savvy and deliver pieces that let their sources get their point across, but they also address and anticipate questions listeners would have of these sources. They call it “event blogging,” a new media specialty. Others wonder why they didn’t think of it first.

Shark Farmer (Rob Sharkey). Irreverent, quick-witted conversational host Rob Sharkey and his wife Emily farm in Illinois on the original homestead that’s been in his family since 1854. That gives him some stripes, and a confident delivery online. He’s a natural behind the microphone; his delivery reminds me of stand-up comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Mike Bullard. Some of his sources, like anyone’s, are better than others at talking. But he masterfully gets them to do so.  “Pretend you are on the top of your farm…do a 360 and tell me what you see,” he tells one guest. The presentation of time stamps for each interview help guide listeners who follow along on the website.

The Ruminant (Jordan Marr). Dubbed “Pondering the best way to agriculture,” this podcast collection spans important, realistic and sometimes challenging interests, including farming with kids, media training for farmers and mental health issues. It’s not all gloom and doom—on the contrary, it’s visually attractive, promoted as a photo blog and podcast. But sometimes mature topics are weighty. Kudos to The Ruminant for addressing them. The Ruminant also prides itself in knowledge transfer; expect to hear lots of how-to episodes: for example, how to make a wheelbarrow into a mobile irrigation cart.

The Urban Farm (Greg Peterson and others). The prolific crew at Urban Farm U are a podcast machine, distinguished by quality. Every other day or so, you can listen to a new podcast, primarily aimed at small farmers, as the name suggests. Through these podcasts, you are invited to “dig deeper into the soil of your local food economy.” Peterson is clear spoken and enthusiastic without being over the top. You actually hear him converse with his guests, rather than ask a question and simply let them speak with no reaction. Recent topics include greenhouse watering systems, wicking beds, growing herbs and food preservation.

Farmer to Farmer (Chris Blanchard). A big strength of this podcast is its visual presentation online. Blanchard, described on the site as a “veteran farmer and educator who draws on over 25 years of experience to get at the big ideas and practical details that go into making a farm work,” talks fast. But on the podcast website, he meticulously offers up an introduction for each show, photos, links to sources he and his guests discuss, quotes from the show, and even a transcript. How’s that for value added for the listener, especially when a podcast costs nothing to begin with (Shaun Haney). Alberta family farmer Haney teams up with Manitoba farmer and former broadcaster Kelvin Heppner to cut a wide swath across Canadian agriculture. To them, “real” agriculture is synonymous with modern commercial agriculture. They are quick to cover political situations like the Alberta farm labor bill, and successful at attracting any important spokesperson in Canadian ag. Lots of interest in what’s going on in the U.S. too—speculation about the ramifications of the presidential election was covered extensively.  Agronomy is a favorite topic, particularly the feature “Agronomy Geeks” and high-energy crop specialist “Wheat Pete” Johnson. Now in SiriusXM, too, with RealAg Radio.