Rob Tate of Cannon Falls recently completed a two-week international study tour to China.
He went with the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) Program. The group spent time in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong.
"We were part of a Minnesota group that had some contacts in China and there were some who had a connection with the University of Minnesota," Rob explained. "Those connections helped set up opportunities to meet farmers and Sichuan Department of Ag officials."
This gave Rob's group a close up look at agriculture in China. "First of all, they're very small farms," he explained. "The average farm size is 1/6 of an acre, and the average farmer makes $400 US dollars a year."
One of the highlights for Rob was the time he spent in the Sichuan Province of central China. "We toured some of their farms," he recalled. "We also went to the Sichuan Wheat Institute and saw their test plots and their research center. Going out to local farms and meeting the local farmers was a high point as well.
"They're very dedicated people and very friendly," he continued. "I'd say visiting with them, I found they're almost envious of farmers and people in the United States...just the lifestyle we have.
"It's all hand labor there. They don't have an understanding of machine farming whatsoever, and a lot of areas aren't conducive to machine farming."
In the Yangtze River Valley, the area of the 3 Gorges, it is very mountainous. "We were on a boat and could see the farms going up the mountainside," Rob recalled. "All the work is done by hand because there is no way to get a tractor on that terrain."
(The 3 Gorges Dam is a massive project and is supposed to be the world's largest dam, creating the largest reservoir in the world. It is two-thirds done and will be completed in 2008 or 09.)
"The 3-day boat trip down the river to the dam gave us a wonderful opportunity to see the country.
"We were able to get off the boat in certain locations - it's not easy to get to some parts of the country any other way."
Rob thought the study tour gave him a better understanding of what's going on in China. "If you look at the amount of construction and growth - their economy grew by almost 10% last year!" he said. "But that comes with a price, I think, to their environment. It's good for the people, their income is growing, but it's causing a lot of stress on their environment.
"Pollution is a big problem, from the air quality and water quality standpoint."
Rob made an interesting observation about the political system in China. "At first glance it's not real noticeable that they're Communist," he said. "But one day I was watching the news on Asia CNN out of Hong Kong when a story came on about Tiananmen Square and the screen went blank! They cut it out! Then I realized that - 'Yes, we were in a Communist country.' Up until then I didn't notice it, but a lot of things are still controlled by the government.
"The freedom of speech and freedom of the press is not something they have in China.
"It was a trip of a lifetime," he added. "It gave me a better appreciation of what ag is like in a different part of the world. It makes you value what we have here much more."
Rob works with Crop Revenue Consultants and raises corn and soybeans on his farm near Cannon Falls.
The MARL program is a leadership development program for active adult agricultural and rural leaders across Minnesota. Its mission is to maximize their effectiveness in local, state, national and international arenas.