Rural Reflections: Thanks to S.D. Corn Growers

Farm Forum

As a highlight to my week, I want to thank the South Dakota Corn Growers for honoring me with their Excellence in Public Service Award. I’m truly humbled by this honor as I write stories dedicated to agriculture. Attending the meeting on Saturday provided a wonderful opportunity to learn from the lineup of speakers as well as corn growers from across the state.

Farewell to South America

I filled three notebooks and several files in my iPad during our trip, yet there is so much more to learn about the South American counties of Argentina and Chile. The little slice of agriculture that we viewed only gave us a glimpse of some of the issues that are facing these ag producers.

My column last week got lost in technology, as our internet service was intermittent. The flight home went well. Stark reality greeted us in Sioux Falls with temperatures that reminded us we were not in South America any more.

I heard from my fellow travelers that being able to meet the people in their home environments, seeing their operations and learning about what problems and solutions they have, provided the most important lessons for us.

The Argentine economy is in flux, as the exchange rate of pesos continues to rise and fall wildly. We complain about too many regulations, but in Argentina we heard that the government has access to your bank account and takes the taxes when they believe you need to pay more. That certainly is a frightening proposition to those in North American agriculture. It’s no wonder that the farmers keep their grain on the farm where they have control. Farmers own the land, but the government owns the water.

While some areas of Argentina received rains, the soybeans continue to grow and offer competition to our crops in the United States. The ability to raise two or more crops on the fertile ground was fascinating. While Argentineans chafe at the payment of taxes, there are many underlying issues that impact agriculture in this country. It seemed that most in Argentina would welcome a change in government. But it also seemed that with all of the regulations, laws seldom were enforced. It reminded those in our group that we take many things in this country for granted.

The genuine goodness of the people and the closeness of generational family ties impressed our group. Some of our travelers checked in at home to learn that cattle or horse caterers had frozen or there were problems with feeding cows in the frigid temperatures. Those parents exhibited well-placed trust in the next generation. It was heartwarming to hear, “They are growing a great deal and learning they can handle it. It’s a great learning experience for them.”

While some places offered us a views of operations similar to those in South Dakota, such as soybean, corn, cattle or dairy operations, we also learned some of the ways that those in the Extension service are offering research in collaboration with universities in the United States to understand pests and diseases in crops such as nuts and grapes.

In Santiago, Chile, we learned that mining of copper is driving the economy in that country. Agriculture is Chile’s second largest source of exports and is expected to grow rapidly in 2014-2016. The food industry represents 25% of Chile’s economy and employs more than 1 million people. It is expected that in 2030, the food processing industry will account for one third of the country’s economy.

Chile produces many of the fruits and vegetables that are consumed worldwide. We visited the wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Santiago, where we could smell the sweet basil in the air, mixed with the fragrance of peaches and plums. We were invited to taste the fresh-picked products and have a slice of pepper or a bite of sweet corn in order to understand the necessity of picking the produce at the peak for shipping. Exporting to the other counties is vitally important. We were told that if inspectors find one bad fruit in a box, the whole pallet would be rejected. The vendors were eager to tell us, through an interpreter, about the products and how they were grown. Ears of sweet corn were twice the diameter as U.S. corn.

As I sort through my notes, I plan to share stores about what we learned in the next month. I’ll break it down to include dairy, vineyards, cattle, crops, and overall impressions of the economic situation.