A lesson in Chinese: SDSU contingent experiences world’s largest marketplace

News
Jul 9, 2012
by WLJ
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With 1.3 billion people, China represents the number one market for U.S. agricultural goods—and that market is projected to continue growing. By 2025, China is anticipated to have 225 cities each with a population of at least 1 million people.

To experience the global opportunities that exist for U.S. agriculture firsthand, a group of 28 South Dakota State University (SDSU) students journeyed to China March 3-16. The contingent was led by SDSU animal science professor and Extension swine specialist Bob Thaler and SDSU alumni Jared and Katie Knock from Willow Lake, SD.

Plans for the three-credit, international travel course, ABS 482-582, began last summer, with students enrolling last fall. Thaler explains that the focus for the course is on exposing students to agriculture on an international scale, and specifically China because of the booming market potential. The course is open to all majors and will now be offered annually.

Bullish outlook

For Jon Kleinjan, a PhD candidate in plant genetics, the visit to China gave him a more bullish outlook for U.S. agriculture. The Bruce, SD, native says, “I have considered the good times in agriculture the past few years to be a temporary bubble soon to burst. However, seeing the sheer amount of demand in China and hearing Chinese livestock producers say, ‘Send us as much grain as you can,’ I have realized that if this agricultural bubble does burst, it will probably be a soft landing.”

David Becker, a Hinton, IA, native and animal science major who graduated in May, says his take-home lesson from the experience was recognizing the fact that the U.S. and China are huge players in the agricultural economy. Becker says, “I think the U.S. needs to ensure they have a strong relationship with China so we can work together to be successful in the future.”

Personally, Becker intends to use his global experiences to help him in better marketing commodities when he returns to his family’s feedlot and farming operation.

Cultural contrasts

Another lesson that stands out from the trip was the contrast between cutting edge and antiquated conditions among China’s people. Maria Skoglund, who graduated with a degree in agricultural economics in May, explains that Beijing was a strange mix of glass-covered skyscrapers, yet millions of families, usually of five, lived in twobedroom homes and shared the public restroom down the street.

The Canova, SD, native was also surprised by the differences in meat products. She says, “U.S. consumers are willing to pay for premium cuts of beef, while most beef consumed in China is thinly sliced and boiled. Because of this, typical steak cuts are not viewed as more valuable by the Chinese.” She adds, “This difference helped explain the differences we saw in cattle production, as they are raised for a different purpose.”

“Also surprising and overwhelming is the sheer number of people in China,” adds Kleinjan. “It is hard to fathom the numbers until you actually see the choked streets of Chinese cities and the clusters of farmhouses and settlements seemingly everywhere in rural China.

There is simply nowhere you can go to be alone.”

Greater understanding

Of her experiences abroad, Emily Jungemann from Wolsey SD, says, “I gained a greater understanding of how agriculture worldwide is connected. Visiting a Pioneer seed office in Beijing and realizing the connection to the seed that we plant in South Dakota made this sink in more for me.”

She adds, “I also gained a better understanding of how much China wants to improve their systems and the opportunity the United States has in helping them achieve that goal.”

Jungemann, who studied dairy production and graduated from SDSU in May, now intends to attend veterinary school at Iowa State University in the fall. She concludes, “With my future goal of being a large animal veterinarian, I can see being in contact with beef and dairy producers in China to help improve their supply for the increasing demand.”

Kleinjan also came away with a greater appreciation for other cultures and a deeper appreciation for living in the U.S. He is grateful for the experience and says, “After seeing the welcoming attitudes of the Chinese people, I am going to strive to make students from other countries feel more welcome here at SD- SU.” — WLJ

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