Agricultural Communications I

Course description

Agricultural Communications I (EDRD 3050)

Fall 2014

University of Guelph, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (Ontario Agricultural College)

Class meets Mondays, 7-10 p.m. in Rozanski 108

Instructor: Prof. Owen Roberts


Phone: 519-824-4120 Ext. 58278

Office: Room 445 University Centre

Office hours: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesdays; other times by appointment

About Agricultural Communications I (EDRD 3050)

This course focuses on developing an understanding and ability to apply practical and effective agricultural communication techniques through regular writing exercises and related activities, such as public speaking and blogging. Special emphasis is given to issues important to the agri-food sector.

Course content and delivery reflects the realities of the agricultural news and communications business, especially adherence to deadlines. Students will carry out timely assignments, including citizen journalism exercises, agricultural-based news writing and speech preparation for the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture ( competition.

Why are communication skills important?

We live in a world where strong communication skills are highly valued. For example, corporate recruiters say that they value communications skills ahead of teamwork, technical knowledge, and leadership in their assessment of MBA graduates for mid-level jobs. A survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) found that recruiters rated communication skills above managerial abilities by a 2-to-1 margin. Other research has found similar results: a York University survey of 845 executives identified leadership and communication as the two most important management competencies. This focus on communication skills is the result of changes in the business environment. A more diverse workforce requires clear, accurate language; moreover, leaders at various levels must be able to effectively share information with their peers across the organization. Recruiters also say that students who impress on paper often lack the interpersonal communication skills they need to succeed in business, leaving business schools to develop innovative ways to include communications as part of their curriculum. (source: Globe and Mail, Academia Top 10, August 28, 2014).

What is agricultural communications?

As a field of teaching, research and practice, agricultural communications seeks to support and improve human interaction and decision making related to agriculture, broadly defined. With special traditions and strengths in journalism and mass communications, it partners with other social sciences, including school-based interests of agricultural education and non-formal education endeavours, such as extension services. Communication interests range across all levels, settings and means of communicating – intrapersonal, interpersonal, group and mass. Agricultural interests include all subject areas related to the complex global enterprises of food, feed, fibre, bio-based energy, genomics, natural resources management and rural development. Agricultural dimensions also span all participants in, and stages of, the food enterprise of societies, from agricultural research, policies, finance and production to food safety and security, consumption, nutrition and health and human well-being. The concept of agricultural knowledge management serves as the framework for an integrated, comprehensive research agenda in agricultural communications.  (source: First edition, National Research Agenda, Agricultural Education and Communication , page 9)

Course format and student evaluation

This course has three assignments with several deadlines.

Assignment 1 — Speech writing and delivery, 30 per cent

Assignment 2 — Agricultural news story, 30 per cent

Assignment 3 — Citizen journalism, 40 per cent

Total — 100 per cent

* * *

Course evaluation will be online.

* * *


Assignment 1 — Speech writing and delivery (30 per cent). Students will work independently on a speech 5-7 minutes in length. The speeches will be delivered in class and judged by an expert panel, which will pick the top six speeches. Those students will be offered the opportunity to take part in the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture (CYSA) competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto on November 8, 2014, by having their competition entrance fees ($40) waived, courtesy of the Ontario Agricultural College Alumni Association. All other students who meet the competition requirements are also welcome to take part, but will not have their entrance fees waived.

Students’ speech topics will be those established by the CYSA organizing committee for the 2014 competition:

  • I am a Canadian farmer and this is my success story
  • Why succession planning is crucial to the future of Canadian agriculture
  • As stewards of the land, can Canadian farmers do more?
  • Why social media is an opportunity farmers cannot ignore
  • Why I am choosing a career in agriculture

Marking scheme for speeches:

Content – 20 per cent

Delivery – 10 per cent

See rules (including thanking- and introducing requirements) at  Pay particular attention to the senior competition score sheet.

Assignment 2 — Agricultural news story (30 per cent). Students will write a 350-500 word news story, in journalistic style. Topics will be chosen in consultation with the instructor. Students are welcome to suggest story topics and ideas.

Theme: Leadership and Innovation in Rural Ontario


1. 350-500 word news story

2. Worth 25 per cent

3. Topics chosen in consultation with the instructor; must have some news value and element of immediacy.


To highlight how the agricultural sector is demonstrating leadership and innovation in rural Ontario


Stories can be based on leadership and innovation examples anywhere in rural Ontario…on farms, in communities, in businesses, in institutions, etc.


1. Week of November 10 – story ideas due. Present story ideas in class November 10; full proposals due November 14 (5 marks)

2. Week of November 17 – lead, nut, quote due (5 marks)

3. Week of November 24 – first drafts due (5 marks)

4. Week of December 1 – final drafts due (15 marks; 10 for story, 5 for source approval)


1. Journalistic style (inverted pyramid) using CP-style language

2. Must be based on at least one interview

3. Stories will be published on (read announcement here)


Ontario Standardbreds hoping for major improvement grant

Hard to break into the market with “unknown” vegetables

Beef production poised to expand in the North

New European livestock trailers arrive in Canada

Bugs for humans…and now, for livestock

Milk quota increase could lead to on-farm growth

Continuous baling takes big step forward

Dairy farmers break new ground with proAction

Clovermead Farms leads the nation in dairy sustainability

Developing future leaders for agriculture

Buying Canadian wine shouldn’t be so hard

New Life Mills building five new barns for free run egg production

Farm sector looks to future with electric power

Equine Night Check: A 24/7 horse care monitor

Sheep take flight for overseas connection

Public Planting breeding vital to future of industry

Farmers worried about phragmites impact on Ontario agriculture

Ontario racing commission proposes to ban race-day medications

Dicamba-tolerant soybeans part of the solution to glyphosate resistance

RNAi technology: farmer’s saviour or pipe dream?

Is soil fingerprinting the future way to track soil health?

Assignment 3 — Citizen journalism (40 per cent). Students will use the web logging (i.e. “blogging”) platform WordPress (access at to create a blog designed to promote discussion on agricultural topics. Students are to approach this assignment as citizen journalists, and regard the blogs as a medium for raising relevant agri-food news and issues. Eight 250-300 word entries – one per week, starting the week of October 6, 2014 – are required, along with tweets announcing new posts. Use Canadian Press style for entries.

* Each blog entry should be three paragraphs.

* Each paragraph should be 80-90 words long.

* Each post is to be accompanied by a tweet to drive viewers to your blog. 

Follow this link to learn how to sign up for twitter.

Follow this format for your posts:

  • Paragraph one: introduce the issue, address the “what.” For readers this may be the most important paragraph, especially if you are writing about agri-food technology — a report by the Council of Canadian Academies says only about 40 per cent of Canadians have sufficient knowledge to grasp basic concepts and understand media coverage of science. (source:
  • Paragraph two: explain what’s new with the issue (this is the news, the objective part, the “so what”)
  • Paragraph three: state your opinion about the issue (this is your commentary, the subjective part, the “now what”)

Due dates:

1. Sunday, October 12 (just set up your blog — no post is necessary — and email me the URL and your twitter handle)

2. Sunday, October 19

3. Sunday, October 26

4. Sunday, November 2

5. Sunday, November 9

6. Sunday, November 16

7. Sunday, November 23

8. Sunday, November 30

Marking scheme for citizen journalism exercise:

Content – 40 per cent (blog set-up and seven entries, five per cent each) based on

  • structure
  • newsworthiness
  • originality
  • spelling
  • grammar

Use links liberally. If you need to shorten a URL, here’s a link to a shortener.

Post your entry anytime during the week. Deadline is 6 p.m. on the date the postings are due. Late entries will not be marked.

You are being marked solely on content, but you are welcome to increase interest and readership by enhancing your blog with visuals (photos, graphics, videos, etc.).

Here are blog URLs and twitter handles from Agricultural Communications I students:

Aggie Ali @ali_carpenter

DairyGoatsRus @arleneschaap

PoultryPower1 @haverkamp_sam

Agriculture VIP @karlaschaus

imAGine agriculture @imagineAGblog

EnviroAggie @laurissa_c

SIMPLYSWINE @drewdebruyn

Soil to Sky @organicmatterz

Equine Controversies @leigharomahn

Genuine GMOs @kegoldenhar

PassionForPork @Benjamins456

Andrea’s Agricultural Answers @Andrea_D_Smith

truthinag @kcunningVT

Beefing It Up @lbow456

Young Farmer @tpalen22

A pressing affair @Bacchus_Ontario

Global Thoroughbred @GlobalTBRED

Loco For Local Food @GeoffFarintosh

Ag On The Hot Spot @jdromagnoli

Little Red Riding Truck @LittleBigRed93

Beekeeper Billy @beekeeperbilly

The College On The Hill @LaurenDalyce

Sew Seeds Grow Dreams @carrie_dport

Ag Misconceptions @MeliHigg

A Farming Perspective @harrop_ryan

Recommended reading, viewing and news sources

1. The Globe and Mail (

2. The Toronto Star (

3. Ontario Farmer (

4. Better Farming (

5. Guelph Mercury (

6. CBC radio and television (

7. Agricultural  Communications Documentation Center (

8. ag industry news (

Fundamental writing help:

Writing Services at U of G Library (

Suggested resources


1. Canadian Press Stylebook (

2. Oxford Concise Dictionary (

3. Online Writing Laboratory at Purdue University (


1. Learn from the best: Tips from Toastmasters.

2. A wealth of resources about giving a speech, along with presentation skills.

3. Public speaking tips from MIT’s undergraduate research opportunities program.

4. Tips on developing your speaking voice.

Citizen journalism:

1. A primer on citizen journalism from Wikipedia.

2. A marketer discusses challenges and opportunities about blogging…

3. …and then talks about how to write “killer” blog posts

4. What makes a good blog?

5. From a UK student journalist: How journalism students can get involved in citizen journalism.

6. Assessing your blog traffic

  • log in to wordpress
  • locate the bar at the top and click on ‘my dashboard’
  • scroll down the page a bit and on the right hand side there should be a box titled ‘stats’ and in it a graph
  • move your mouse over the circles on the graph to see how many views you’re getting

News writing:

1. Editing out jargon and creating clarity.

2. One of the best all-around journalism sites anywhere:

* * *

Specific learning outcomes

When the course concludes, students will be able to:

1. Write and deliver a 5-7 minute speech for a general adult audience, on an important agricultural topic.

2. Differentiate by example between subjective journalism (i.e. citizen journalism) and objective news  writing.

3. Write a 300-word news story and understand the inverted pyramid writing style for news.

4. Create a web log (i.e. a “blog”) and engage in citizen journalism on relevant agricultural issues and topics.

5. Apply Canadian Press style to journalistic writing.

Schedule of activities
Agricultural Communications I
(EDRD 3050)
1 September 8 Course introduction
2 September 15
Public speaking workshop. Guest speaker Christina Crowley-Arklie, past in-class finalist and national CYSA senior division winner
3 September 22 Rehearsal:In-class speak-offs for Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture competition
4 September 29
In-class speak-offs for Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture competition
5 October 6
Introduction to blogging
6 October 13 Thanksgiving (no class)
7 October 20 Blogging — first post reviews
8 October 27
Journalistic writing
9 November 3
Assignment #2 introduction
10 November 10
Present story ideas
11 Week of November 17
Lead, nut, quote due
12 Week of November 24
First draft due
13 Week of December 1
Final draft due


Communicating by e-mail and the class listserv

As per university regulations, all students are required to check their <> e-mail account regularly: e-mail is the official route of communication between the University and its students.

Class announcements will be posted on the email listserv AGCOMNET. Class members are subscribed through their email accounts.

To use agcomnet, type in the “to” field, type in your message, send, and all your classmates (as well as your professor) receive your message.

Academic consideration

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons, advise the course instructor (or designated person, such as a teaching assistant) in writing, with your name, ID# and e-mail contact. See the undergraduate calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Consideration:

Academic misconduct

The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community – faculty, staff, and students – to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring.  University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University’s policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that discourages misconduct.  Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection.

Note: Whether a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

The academic misconduct policy is detailed in the undergraduate calendar:


The University of Guelph is committed to creating a barrier-free environment. Providing services for students is a shared responsibility among students, faculty and administrators. This relationship is based on respect of individual rights, the dignity of the individual and the University community’s shared commitment to an open and supportive learning environment. Students requiring service or accommodation, whether due to an identified, ongoing disability or a short-term disability should contact the Centre for Students with Disabilities as soon as possible.

For more information, contact CSD at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208 or email or see the website:

Recording of materials

Presentations which are made in relation to course work—including lectures—cannot be recorded or copied without the written permission of the presenter, whether the instructor, a classmate or guest lecturer. Material recorded with permission is restricted to use for that course unless further permission is granted.

Copies of out-of-class assignments

Keep paper and/or other reliable back-up copies of all out-of-class assignments: you may be asked to resubmit work at any time.