The Dirt 2018
Print collection of FERN's best writing from 2018
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“The Loophole: How American forests fuel the EU’s appetite for ‘green’ energy,” published with The Weather Channel, in which reporter Carson Vaughan and photojournalist George Steinmetz visited North Carolina to see how Europe’s appetite for “renewable” electricity is leading to ferocious demand for wood pellets from American forests. Enviva, a pellet manufacturer, has plants around the Southeast. While they’re better known for fueling backyard smokers and wood-fired stoves, the bulk of wood pellets is shipped to Europe to be burned for electricity. Although advocates claim this is “carbon neutral” because the trees are replanted, the scientific debate over that claim is far from settled. Trees after all take a lot longer to grow than they do to burn, fueling global warming.
Our first story in a series examining large-scale animal agriculture and its impact on local communities and people, “Is the Poultry Industry Cheating its Farmers?,” by FERN’s own Leah Douglas and noted investigative reporter Chris Leonard, published in collaboration with The Guardian, looks at how the poultry industry may be suppressing farmers’ pay by exploiting its access to information from the secretive data-sharing company Agri Stats. Documents leaked to FERN demonstrate how the industry shares information on farmer pay giving companies the potential to collude and suppress prices paid to farmers already struggling to keep themselves afloat on razor thin margins.
With “Scientists warned this weedkiller would destroy crops. EPA approved it anyway.” FERN partnered with Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting to investigate how the EPA for years ignored scientific evidence that the highly toxic pesticide dicamba was prone to drift onto nearby fields and kill non-GMO crops that weren’t designed to resist it. “In the past two years, its use has grown exponentially, and now dicamba is destroying millions of acres of crops worth millions of dollars, pitting farmer against farmer and scientists against manufacturers,” writes Gross. Our investigation won an Excellence in Journalism award for explanatory journalism from the Northern California chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists.