China Connection: Ag Leadership Program Broadens Knowledge

Linda Benedict  |  8/21/2008 7:58:42 PM

Cathleen C. Williams

As a graduate of Class 10 of the LSU AgCenter’s Leadership Development Program, I have gained so many valuable experiences. On the local level, the program provided us with the opportunity to advance our knowledge of the diverse agricultural industries in the great state of Louisiana. We experienced agriculture not only from a production standpoint but from economics and politics as well.

Our leadership experiences didn’t stop at the state’s borders. We traveled to our nation’s capital in 2006 to learn more about domestic agricultural policy. In 2007, we traveled to Santa Barbara County, Calif., to see large-scale agriculture with crops such as lettuce, strawberries, avocados, grapes, flowers and lemons – just to name a few. We also learned about many issues facing the farmers in California, including environmental impact and water-resource limitations.

I learned more than I ever imagined I would from the state and national experiences. However, the international study tour to China, the last trip of the two-year program, was amazing. On Jan. 18, 2008, our class of 25 members – along with spouses, alumni and AgCenter faculty – set out on a two-week adventure to learn about agriculture from a global prospective.

Beijing was our first stop. We toured the major historical sites including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and, of course, the Great Wall. Learning more about the history of China added greatly to the experience. Understanding the cultural diversity among nations is an important component of leadership development. We also toured a swine farm and feed mill, where we saw firsthand the differences in American and Chinese production practices. For example, the Chinese have land-use rights instead of actual ownership.

An impressive part of our time in Beijing was a visit to the U.S. Embassy, where we visited with the Minister-Counselor for Agricultural Affairs along with four other agricultural attachés who work with food safety, horticulture and grain. The panel briefed us on political, economic and agricultural issues in China and U.S. interaction with China and Taiwan.

Our next stop was Xian. There we saw one of the most impressive historical sites in the world – the Terra Cotta Museum with the warrior statues made from terra cotta. Their discovery is rooted in agriculture. A farmer was digging a well and found parts of what appeared to be clay soldiers. The museum is composed of four buildings and houses more than 7,000 terra cotta soldiers. During the trip we also learned about local farm practices and differences in the rights between urban residents and rural farm families. The government requires urban residents to rent apartments while farmers are allowed to build houses. Also, farmers are allowed to have two children, whereas urban couples may have only one child.

Our next stop took us to Suzhou, commonly referred to as the "land of rice and fish" and also "the capital of silk sericulture." This area is rich in agricultural industries, including aquaculture, silk, textiles and gardening. Our tours included a visit to the Wuxi Fisheries College, where we visited with several faculty to learn more about their aquaculture research. We also visited several silk factories and were able to see all stages of silk production including cocoon grading and sorting, silk reeling and production of fabric. This is one of China’s biggest agricultural industries, and being able to experience this firsthand was one of the highlights of the tour.

Also near Suzhou we toured the Heilan Textile Mill. This was an amalgam of clothing manufacturing, employee management and futuristic planning. The facility resembled a corporate business complex outside. Inside there were hundreds of employees stationed at their sewing machines making famous name-brand men’s suits. The design of the administration buildings and textile mill enables the facility to redirect to another type of business should there be a decline in profitability for textile production.

Our final city of the adventure was Shanghai – the most western and progressive city we visited. A city of more than 18 million people, Shanghai has many skyscrapers, and the street scene was frenzied. The city is preparing for the 2010 World Expo, and much construction is taking place. While in Shanghai, our class toured the Shanghi Sunqiao Agricultural Zone, a premier research facility with the latest technology for growing and packaging fruits and vegetables. Greenhouse space is available for lease by companies who can produce and market their produce. The facility is located on 120 acres, with production of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, mushrooms, orchids and many other crops. It was quite an experience seeing such large-scale production in greenhouses on so few acres of land.

We toured a pearl market and were given a demonstration on pearl harvest from oysters. These oysters were huge compared to our Louisiana oysters – probably three or four times larger!

Our final day of technical visits in Shanghai included a trip to the Shanghai Flower Port, a facility with large-scale tulip production as well as other types of flowers. We visited the American Trade Organization office and were given an overview of the Shanghai agricultural markets. After the meeting with the ATO, we toured the Shanghai Dongchen Grain and Oil Company. This company is located on the Huangpu River, where soybeans are brought in on barges for oil extraction and crushing for use in livestock feeds. China imports more than 9 million tons of soybeans per year and is the No. 1 importer of soybeans annually. China is home to the world’s largest poultry, swine and aquaculture industries. This provides strong opportunities for increased soy inclusion rates resulting in growth in commercial feed use there.

The international study tour was an opportunity of a lifetime. Experiencing the history and culture of China combined with learning about the vast agricultural industry in the country made me aware of China’s growing power in international agriculture. The strong work ethic and production efficiencies were impressive, and the facilities we toured were only a small portion of the agricultural production taking place there. It certainly is not surprising that "Made in China" appears on so many goods in the United States and throughout the world.

Cathleen C. Williams, Gerald A. Simmons Professor of Dairy Science and Associate Professor of Dairy Nutrition, School of Animal Sciences, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the summer 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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