Lakefield woman sees ag up close in China
LAKEFIELD -- When Kelli Daberkow of Lakefield was accepted into the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) program 18 months ago, she had no idea the experience would take her to China.
Daberkow, one of 31 participants in MARL III, returned home Wednesday from the 14-day international trip. The experience included visits to small- and large-scale farming operations and ag-related businesses, as well as opportunities to experience the sights in one of the most populated countries in the world.
The MARL program, led by Tim Alcorn through Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, is open to those in production agriculture, agribusiness and rural leadership.
Daberkow is a GIS specialist with Red Rock Rural Water, at Jeffers, and also serves as a technician for the Heron Lake Watershed District. She also works part-time for the North Heron Lake Game Producers Association.
She learned of the MARL program through a couple of colleagues who took part in previous MARL trips. Participants in the first MARL program traveled to Argentina and Chile, while MARL II's international trip was to Costa Rica and Mexico.
"I thought that it was an interesting program and a lot of neat experiences could come out of the program," Daberkow said.
The group left Minnesota Feb. 15 for Beijing, China, where they toured the Beijing Dairy Cattle Center, a facility that works on improving genetics and has 160 bulls on site.
"It looked like a mansion -- it didn't look like a farm at all," Daberkow said. The center also owns about 30,000 cows.
"It was a non-typical (farm) because it was so big, but it was neat that the Chinese are advancing in some of their technology and want to work with the U.S.," she added.
Also in Beijing, the group met with Foreign Agricultural Service staff members, where they received an overview of Chinese agriculture, and met with members of the U.S. Grains Council in China.
"They talked about the amount of corn and soybeans produced, the import and export markets and the future and what that bodes for China," Daberkow said.
While on the trip, she and fellow MARL participants learned that the Chinese diet includes a lot of rice, and very little dairy. The food item they missed most -- cheese.
After leaving Beijing, which is under extensive of construction in preparation of the 2008 Olympics, the MARL group traveled to Shanghai, where they met with representatives from Cargill's China operations.
From there, it was on to Chengdu in the Sichuan Province of central China to meet more officials in China's ag industry. Daberkow said they toured a wheat research facility that is doing work with plant genetics, and also visited a small farm where a methane digester was used to produce electricity for the family's home.
"They had five or six pigs, and the manure went into a pit," Daberkow said. "A contraption converted that manure to use as a fuel source. They were very, very proud of that. China is very conservative on its electrical needs."
Other highlights of the trip included traveling the Yangtze River by boat for three days, where they learned about the impacts of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
"They have basically three reasons for putting the dam in -- flood control, hydroelectricity and better navigation," Daberkow said. The dam is about two-thirds complete, with construction slated to be finished in 2009.
The final portion of the trip included a visit to a wholesale vegetable and fruit market in southern China, an aquaculture operation that raised tilapia and catfish on a soy-based diet, and a stop in Hong Kong, which is referred to as the Gateway to China.
Among the tourist attractions MARL members visited were the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
Daberkow said she didn't really have any expectations before her trip to China.
"I knew that the population of China was 1.3 billion," she said. "From the pictures you see on TV, you just see masses of people. To see those (pictures) and then experience them are two very different things."
After making the trip, however, Daberkow said her perspective has changed -- and she has become more aware.
"The Chinese say that America needs to learn that China doesn't care about quantity, they care about quality," she said. "I think education is a big thing."
Daberkow added that numerous ag groups have traveled to China to learn how they can better serve China's large market. Those trips have resulted in many relationships, which are hoped to be a win-win for both countries.
MARL III participants will have one final meeting as a group, a graduation of sorts planned for later this month or early April. At that meeting, each of the participants will give a report on one specific area of their study tour of China.
MARL Participants take part in nine, three-day in-state seminars, a one-week national study tour to Washington and a two-week international study tour. Applications for the next MARL class are available at www.MARLprogram.org. The application deadline is March 31, with classes slated to begin in November.