Slayton grad travels thousands of miles on Argentina agronomics trip
SLAYTON -- Most college students spend Christmas break visiting family and enjoying the homework-free time between fall and spring semester.
For Chris Opdahl, a 2009 graduate of Murray County Central and a senior agronomics major at South Dakota State University, Christmas break this year included an educational, agronomics trip to Argentina.
Surprisingly, international travel wasn't a life-long goal for Opdahl.
"If you would have told me when I was a freshman in college that I was going to be going on an international trip, I would have told you -- no. I just didn't think that was something I would ever do," Opdahl said.
However, after three people who went on the trip last year recommended Opdahl go, and when he saw there was one spot still open, he signed up.
Opdahl's parents were both supportive of the trip and told him he may never have another opportunity like this again.
The SDSU group of 24, including 21 students, two professors and one translator, left Sioux Falls, S.D. on Dec. 28 and arrived in Buenos Aires the following day. They returned Jan. 13 after touring various farming operations in South America.
SDSU has taken similar trips to Argentina for the past seven or eight years, said Stacy Scramlin, an SDSU assistant professor of animal science, because of the similarities in Argentinian and North American agriculture.
Of course, there are plenty of differences too.
When the group landed in Buenos Aires, the capital, and began driving across the countryside, Opdahl said one of the first things he noticed was the differences in the roads in Argentina.
The roads that they would consider a highway are sometimes not any better than our township roads, he said.
Opdahl said they visited many farms during their trip and were surprised at some of the differences.
At a farm near Santa Rosa, a town in Argentina, the group went out to see the herd of cattle being raised by a farmer and was shocked to see the cattle grazing in a thigh-high, green soybean field.
"That's some pretty expensive beef!" said Opdahl.
However, because of the difference in market soybean prices in Argentina, for a lot of farmers there, grazing cattle on soybeans makes much more economical sense than trying to haul in another form of feed.
The group visited one farm owned by a French woman. The group did some calculating and unit conversions and realized she owned more than 142,000 acres, or the equivalent of 6.43 townships throughout Argentina, Opdahl said.
Opdahl also noticed the ingenuity of the Argentinean farmers. Because cattle prices tend to be highly volatile, many cattle producers are hesitant to invest in the infrastructure of their cattle lots.
Seeing cement feeders was unusual, said Opdahl. Most farmers instead used plastic barrels cut in half and bolted together, he explained.
The group also took an hour-long ferry trip to Uruguay for a short overnight trip and to see another country in the region.
Opdahl expected the food of Argentina to be spicy but was surprised to find it rather bland. The group ate a lot of beef, sausage, ice cream and empanadas, a fried pastry filled with cheese or a meat mixture.
One of the most unusual meals ordered was pizza. In addition to the toppings common to North America, each of the pizza slices had an over-easy fried egg too.
"Overall, though, I can't complain," he said, referring to the food.
Culturally, Opdahl said the way people said goodbye took a while to get used to.
"They say goodbye with a kiss on the cheek. That was a little weird at first," he said.
Both Opdahl and Scramlin cited education as the main reason for the trip.
"It is unbelievably important for students to have an understanding of global issues. You never have a full understanding of your culture until you see another one," said Scramlin, who took a similarly impactful trip when she was in college.
Scramlin said some of the students who went on the trip had never been on a plane before and that "this is a valuable experience that will last them a life time."
To encourage future students to participate in this trip or other international learning trips and to complete one last requirement of the course, Opdahl said he will put together a PowerPoint and share it with another class on campus.