Agweek abroad: Tour of China

BEIJING -- At the end of the spring semester, 25 students from South Dakota State University took their education abroad. After completing a semester-long course, the group traveled May 9 to 22 across China, focusing on the country's agricultural...

Students from South Dakota State University and Iowa State University visited China and learned about the agriculture industry. Photo by Erin Wicker, Special to Agweek

BEIJING - At the end of the spring semester, 25 students from South Dakota State University took their education abroad. After completing a semester-long course, the group traveled May 9 to 22 across China, focusing on the country’s agricultural industry.

The goal of the trip was for students to experience international agriculture, and is just one location of many offered annually to SDSU students.

Agricultural visits included a briefing with the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Ag Trade office, Guangzhou port, a fish and swine farm, fish market, fruit and vegetable market, grocery store, Northwest Agri-University’s beef farms, a dairy farm, a local crop farmer’s house, Yin Qiao Diary Processing Group, a wet market, DuPont Pioneer China headquarters, CP Layer poultry operation, John Deer plant in Tian Jin and Artex Barn Solutions.

“The most impressive part of the trip for me was touring CP Farms’ 3-million-chicken layer operation,” says Kiera Leddy, a sophomore range and agricultural communications student from Milbank, S.D.

“I had never been to a chicken farm, and the extensive use of technology, such as the robot used to check the chickens’ health, was quite amazing.”


Culture and tourism stops varied as much as the country’s agriculture. Students went to the Happy Valley race track and Jockey Club, Ocean Park amusement park, a cruise on the Pearl River, folk dancing show, Terra Cotta Warriors, Silk and Pearl markets, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, acrobatic show, the Great Wall, Olympic Stadium, Femur Head Hospital and took an old city tour of Beijing.

China’s importance Since the inception of the class, SDSU professor and extension specialist Robert Thaler has led students through each spring semester in the classroom and during the two weeks in China.

According to Thaler, China is incredibly important to anyone involved with agriculture. One out of every three rows of soybeans ends up in China, and with 1.3 billion people and growing, they are a huge consumer of American agricultural products.

“Understanding differences in food safety, using people versus technology, how their education system works, and other aspects of their culture makes us understand how blessed we are as Americans,” says Joel Haggard of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. “The impact of two-acre farms and the limitations that puts on productivity, for example. However, China is doing a lot of things very well, including the development of their infrastructure.”

“Unless you actually spend time in small towns of 20 million people, it’s hard for people from the Upper Great Plains to fathom that many people in one place,” Thaler says. “And they all need to eat three times a day, 365 days a year.”

Infrastructure Students observed firsthand the development of the infrastructure.

Farms varied from subsistence level to modern production practices and facilities.

One local farm was just under an acre in size and run entirely by one woman who did all the work by hand. Another farm was a dairy, which had technology similar to modern dairies in the U.S.


On the trip, students saw how similar China and the U.S. are, in many ways.  

“I think this trip is great from the standpoint of understanding that just because people do something different from the way we do it doesn’t make them wrong,” Thaler says. “They have good reasons for what they are doing, and those factors may not be applicable to the U.S. A prime example is using people instead of technology because everyone needs to have a job, and technology can cause people to lose jobs.”

Hailey Waagmeester, a senior animal science major from Sioux Falls, S.D.,  says she learned valuable information about things she had not previously been exposed to.

“My trip to China has broadened my knowledge of agriculture in all areas - from growing fruit to raising fish,” Waagmeester says. “Besides teaching me new information, my trip to China has helped me appreciate agriculture in a whole new light.”

South Dakota State University students visited China and met with various agriculture figures. They were able to view Chinese agricultural practices, as well. Photo by Erin Wicker, Special to Agweek.

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