Recently, I spoke at the Agricultural Leadership Conference in Lexington, KY; a very enjoyable event and group. This year’s attendees were a combination of the current graduating class, who had just returned from a tour of Eastern Europe; and alumni from past classes, some of which graduated during the farm crisis years of the 1980s. The discussions and interactions between the attendees were indeed entertaining.
In our session, I asked the students who had just returned from their European tour, to share some points and perspectives they gained on the trip.The following are some of those they shared.
First, several in the group were surprised to see that many of the farms on their tour had been the original, planned operations under the Communist control. They also observed that the producers were thankful for the freedom and ability to operate their own farms.
Next, the group was quick to point out that the Eastern European producers they visited were not wasteful. Every inch of ground was farmed including the yards. There was certainly no need for lawnmowers in this region of the world!
Several mentioned that until the tour, they were unaware that producers in this region of the world breed dairy animals both for milk and beef. They discovered that these practices are used as a type of risk management because farmers in Eastern Europe face tremendous market volatility. This diversification is essential to the ability to shift with the market demands.
One interesting observation from the group was that European farms seemed more environmentally focused. These students observed manure being utilized for energy production as well as an increasing pressure to use natural resources more efficiently. Of course, these are practices happening in the States as well, but from conversations with the Eastern European producers, the students observed that lessening the environmental impact sometimes outranked other business priorities including profitability.
Another interesting point shared by the group was that as a society, this region of the world regarded time without electronics. Specifically, when hosting a meal or network session, the European producers politely discouraged the use of cell phones and tablets. In fact, some of the producers took the opportunity to share that they feel electronics detract from one’s focus and productivity. While technology is vital to the continued progression of agriculture, I agree that time off from devices is necessary, helpful, and perhaps too rare.
To the students’ surprise, the Eastern European producers did not inquire about American farming operations, nor were they inquisitive about the agricultural leadership program. Joined by an alumnus of the program, I wondered if this was because these producers grew up under the Communist system where management was from the top down, and independent input and creative thinking were not encouraged.
This leadership group provided interesting observations of production in the competing Eastern European nations. In addition, these leadership programs are among the best investments made in agriculture today. As harvest begins to wind down in America and we enter the holiday season, I am grateful to be part of various leadership programs provided by visionary institutions that strive to educate those that will serve on the industry’s front lines.
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