Montana State University

MSU's Agricultural Globetrotters

August 1, 2012

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In our line of work, "field trip" has always meant something much more involved than a day at the park. But the term takes on a whole new meaning for students and staff who travel 6,000 miles from campus for a first-hand learning experience. In "Follow the Grain" and "Follow the Beef" courses, MSU students travel the world to get a complete view of the interactions between science, technology, economics, politics and the complexity of a major agricultural industry.

MSU's Ag Odyssey
The Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics has offered multi-disciplinary courses with a heavy emphasis on field trip experiences since 1999. In these "Follow the Grain" and "Follow the Beef" courses, international trips focused on global agricultural production and markets. The courses draw upon a wide variety of presenters and visits to laboratories, farms, and processing facilities.

Following the Grain to Chile
The Follow the Grain course (the fourth offered since 1999) began by examining of the roles of genetic research, plant breeding, and field trials in developing economically viable plant varieties. Next, the course examined grain farm production issues (pest management, drought resistance, fertilizer use) with market and agricultural policy conditions. It also investigated grain handling, processing, and marketing channels beyond the farm. Finally, it delved into end user issues in both domestic and overseas markets. The class traveled to Great Falls to visit facilities that process Montana wheat and barley. The visit was simulcast in Plentywood to interested producers.

The international field experience for this class was Chile, a South American country that purchases wheat and barley from the U.S. The trip was scheduled for March, but had to be delayed after Chile suffered the seventh most-powerful earthquake in human-recorded history. The trip was rescheduled for late May when 14 students, four current or retired faculty members, one county agent, and one other traveler arrived in Chile.

The group observed limited winter wheat planting and received a briefing from researchers on their most recent field season. Students visited a malt plant, a flour mill, a fruit orchard, export packing plant, a potato research center, a winery, and Valparaiso, an important agricultural port. Southern Chile is one of two native regions for potatoes.

Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia hosted the group for a day of academic presentations on Chilean agriculture and wheat research. Assistant Professor Tim Fitzgerald noted "Chilean agriculture has a long and varied history. Our trip helped us understand how changing market forces have reshaped agricultural enterprises."

The group also visited Chilean cultural attractions including the Volcán Villarrica and the National Cathedral in Santiago and took a walking tour of Valparaiso.

Beef and Grain in Ukraine
In the spring of 2011, a course that combined key elements of both the Follow the Beef and Follow the Grain courses gave students an integrated view of the science, technology, production practices, product handling, product marketing system, and end uses for cattle, beef, grain and other agricultural enterprises in Ukraine.

The course used faculty lecturers, invited guests from the agricultural and transportation sectors, and student presentations to provide an overview of the dynamics between science, technology, and economics required to understand the impact of an evolution from a command and control economy to a market economy on agriculture. The students prepared presentations on the overall Ukraine economy, its culture, politics and, most especially its agriculture.

As part of the course, a group of thirteen students, three MSU faculty members, and three other travelers packed their bags for Eastern Europe in May 2011. The trip began with a series of presentations by Ukrainian policy experts, economists, and agronomists on Ukrainian agriculture, and included an extended visit to the Ukraine National Agricultural University in Kiev.

"Students were able to openly discuss and share their experiences with those of individuals in Ukraine's agricultural sector, helping both sides improve their understanding of economic and production issues in the United States and the Ukraine," said Assistant Professor Anton Bekkerman, after the trip.

In-country site visits focused on the farm to consumer food chain for wheat, barley, and other grains as well as sugar beets, cattle, dairy products and horticultural products through extensive visits to commercial farms, processing operations, farm machinery production facilities, and grain handling facilities. One highlight of the trip was a breakfast, presentation, and extensive tour of CHS's large-scale grain handling facilities at the port of Odessa on the Black Sea.

The faculty and students are grateful for the financial support of the Montana Wheat & Barley Committee.