In late July, Caxton Magazines announced that Farmer’s Weekly had a new editor. Not only that, they said, but the editor is a woman. Alita van der Walt took over the reins of the historic and prestigious title last month, after working as deputy editor of the under former editor, Chris Burgess.
Van der Walt holds a B. Business Communication degree from Potchefstroom University and began her career as a designer at Caxton Community Newspapers in 2000. She then joined Farmer’s Weekly’s design team in 2003. Burgess recruited her into the management of the magazine, first as the production editor and then as the managing editor. She eventually ended up as his deputy.
TheMediaOnline caught up with her to find out more about her plans.
Q: A woman editor for a farming magazine. How do you think your readers are going to react? I’m imagining the farming community to be quite conservative!
Hiring a female editor at an agricultural publication is certainly nothing new. The feedback I’ve received has been very positive, and once our readers see that the quality of our content hasn’t changed, those who were sceptical are sure to change their minds.
Q: How much do you know about farming yourself? Do you have family background in agriculture?
I grew up in a farming community. My grandfather, who passed away, used to describe himself as a farmer whose hobby was teaching. My dad, who is a doctor, also farms with Simmentalers. So yes, I’ve driven a tractor, milked a cow and bottle-fed hanslammers!
Q: From recent research I did for a documentary, I discovered that there are many emerging women farmers. Do you see them as a market you want to tap into?
Any farming operation is, in essence, a business – whether its turnover is small or large and its owner male or female, black or white doesn’t matter, because the same principles apply. Our articles aren’t aimed specifically at either women or men. But the emerging farmer market is definitely one that we want to tap into more. Our editorial mix and medium of language definitely lends itself to it.
Q: What lessons did you learn from your previous editor?
Where to start! The most important thing he taught me was that content is all-important. If you have the right content and it’s of the highest possible quality, the rest, such as circulation and advertising revenue, will all fall into place.
Q: Have you got any changes in mind?
At the moment the magazine is in a good place, our circulation and advertising revenue is on an upward curve. However, there is always room for improvement and we also have to ensure that our content stays relevant.
Q: Can you unpack Farmer’s Weekly’s digital strategy?
I’m very excited about the plans we have for the Farmer’s Weekly website but it is still in the planning phase. High on the agenda is a brand new website and more interaction with our readers through social media and newsletters.
We run a story every week on an emerging farmer who is starting to show signs of success. Nine out of ten times this farmer’s success was due to some kind of mentorship under another farmer. There’s a lot of good will out there, farmers want to help. Many agricultural unions and agribusinesses also have their own empowering projects. We hope our new website can play a part in consolidating and communicating all of this knowledge.
Q: How is Farmer’s Weekly surviving the recession. Farming is hard hit. Has that impacted on your circ?
Although the recession had an impact on food prices, its effect on producers was muted as food prices were at an all-time high at the start of the recession. Our circulation actually showed a slight increase during 2009 and our latest monthly circulation figures show a 10% increase when compared with sales for the same month in 2009.