China trip gives students an agricultural education

Lauren Fosheim

Lauren Fosheim

Agriculture is an industry that affects everyone in South Dakota. Five SDSU students recently got to experience this industry in a place that does not seem so agriculturally orientated: China.

Sara Berg, Brett Monson, Matt Dybedahl, Shane Gross and Brian Gottlob traveled around China for 10 days in early January. They were among 50 students across the United States that participated in the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO) through the National FFA Organization.

Berg, a sophomore agriculture education major, said that the focus of this trip was to witness different agricultural industries and see how other countries support their population. One of the most unique things she saw was their reliance on greenhouses to grow their crops.

“Greenhouses in China are much different than what we see on campus,” said Berg. “They are much more advanced and very focused on growing things like vegetables.”

Dybedahl, a sophomore agronomy major, said that the greenhouses in China did not look like anything he had seen before. They had a brick wall on both sides and the roof was made out of steel poles. There was a plastic sheet over the poles, and at night, wicker sheeting was unrolled over the plastic to serve as insulation.

Technology in modern farming is constantly changing, making things more efficient and sustainable. Dybedahl said that Americans should be thankful for the technology that goes into modern farming practices here in the U.S.

“We visited a feedlot with 4,000 head of cattle, and they were all still fed by hand,” said Dybedahl. “Here we would use several tractors and loaders; they used handcarts.”

Likewise, Berg compared Chinese farms to those of the 1920s. There were no tractors and everything was done by hand.

Dybedahl said the Chinese keep things the same and do not incorporate a lot of technology because of the need to provide jobs to so many people.

Eighty percent of the Chinese population is considered peasants or poor farmers. Only 18 percent live in big cities; therefore, many people rely on agriculture to earn a living.

One unique place the group encountered was a completely self-sufficient rural organic farm. There were about 200 people living in this village, growing produce in the greenhouses and raising chickens. There was even an energy plant, using waste from the chickens to produce electricity. Turnips and cabbage, the most common crops in the area, were grown in the greenhouses.

Monson, a sophomore agriculture education major, said that clean water is the biggest challenge in China. Thirty percent of the water is polluted and cannot be used even for processes like crop irrigation. In some areas, Chinese locals are advised not to drink the water.

“We had to use bottled water for everything, including brushing our teeth,” he said.

Because China is a communist country, citizens of China are not allowed to own any land. Land is owned by the government and allocated based on a special system. Each person is worth approximately one-half of an acre. A Chinese family of three would be able to farm one-and-a-half acres.

ILSSO, an international agriculture experience, is a trip available to current and former state FFA officers. Past trip locations have included Spain and other European countries.