Each Friday at 7:30 a.m., listeners tune into 1390 AM in Clinton County for updates on "Current Ag Concerns" by some of the freshest voices in radio.
A group of five high schoolers gather at the KCLN studios, located just outside the city of Clinton, every week to share reports and interviews from their exploration of agricultural issues.
“We started [the show] as a way to expose kids to issues that were going on in agriculture that they weren’t experiencing in other areas of their education,” explained sponsor Jenna Stevens, an Iowa Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom consultant.
Now in its second school year, "Current Ag Concerns" (CAC) is staffed entirely by high school students — four from Northeast Middle/High School in Goose Lake and one from Central DeWitt High School in DeWitt. They research, write and broadcast their own segment live on the ag news station.
Stevens said the weekly segment, which is about three minutes long, grew out of a podcast her students started in the fall of 2017. That show, also called "Current Ag Concerns," lasted only a few months, but the experience translated directly to the radio when the opportunity presented itself.
The 2018-19 CAC students are freshman Megan Clark, sophomore Kesley Holdgrafer, sophomore Beth Lamp, senior Nate Lange and sophomore Robert Schafer. Lange is the only show founder left; the rest of the original staff graduated last year.
Above our pay grade
All five students live on farms, are FFA members and have been around agriculture their whole lives. But, Stevens noted, this practical farming knowledge doesn't necessarily mean they understand trade or ag policy issues.
“This has really gotten them involved with agriculture as an industry. I think one of the valuable things students gain from this is sitting at the table with people that are certainly above our pay grade,” Stevens said, noting interviews with such luminaries as the dean of Texas A&M University and an undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We’ve sat at the table with some very influential and powerful people within the industry. It’s valuable to realize that these people are just people," Stevens said. "They’re high achievers, yes, but the same doors are open to these students.”
For Lange, working on the show has changed his outlook on the future. “Networking has been a huge opportunity for me, especially now as I head off to college next year,” he said. “Finding out what I do like and what I don’t like in the industry. I have really seen every aspect of agriculture the past couple years.”
He originally planned to study business in college, but said he is refocusing on ag-specific business emphasis now. “I really like the marketing and economics side of agriculture. I didn’t know that before working on the show,” Lange said.
Holdgrafer is on every week, while Lamp and Schafer trade off every other week. Additionally, Holdgrafer regularly appears on the Clinton County page of the Spokesman as a columnist, leveraging her passion for ag and quick wit for laughs and thoughtful observations.
A positive response
KCLN General Manager Chris Streets said the response to CAC has been nothing but positive.
“We’ve had a good response from our agricultural listeners. They appreciate the local feel of it. We haven’t heard anything negative at all.”
The segment appears during “Rise and Shine with Robert,” the weekday morning show hosted by Robert Bertram. CAC follows local market news.
“For young people to be interested in broadcasting — at any level, I want to fuel that fire,” Streets said. “When you sit down and talk to [the CAC students], you can tell they’re really excited to be doing the program.”
In addition to writing and reporting experience, CAC students have also had the chance to travel. This school year the whole team traveled to the Denver area for a conference and visited an 80,000-head cattle herd. Last weekend (April 26), they drove to Chicago for a tour of a agriculture-based magnet school.
Stevens said these experiences, in and out of the studio, are preparing the CAC crew to lead in the future.
“All these students are too good not to go into agriculture,” Stevens said. “Our industry would be losing out on a lot of future potential without these guys in it.”
Next up for CAC, it’s time to start recruiting students for the 2019-20 class. Stevens will be reviewing applications in the near future.
For more information on "Current Ag Concerns," visit facebook.com/currentagconcerns.