SDSU student reflects on agriculture trip to China

By Christina Fehrman

Editor’s note: This is a firsthand account of Christina Fehrman’s ag trip to China in May. Fehrman, of Lake Benton, was required to write the piece as part of her studies. She is a junior animal science major at South Dakota State University and secretary/treasurer of the Minnesota Red Angus Association.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to China with the South Dakota State University (in Brookings, S.D.) China Ag Travel Class with 33 peers and three SDSU faculty.We spent 14 days traveling from Hong Kong to Beijing studying various aspects of agriculture and learned a little about the Chinese culture along the way.

Our trip began Monday, May 6, when we departed from Sioux Falls Airport. We traveled to from Sioux Falls to Denver to San Francisco, to Hong Kong where we arrived at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 7. We spent the next day in Hong Kong touring the city.

To our surprise, Hong Kong was a very internationally friendly country where many of the residents spoke English, and we saw many signs with English writing, as well as a lot of American food at the breakfast buffet in the hotel. That night, we crossed the bridge from Hong Kong to Shenzhen where we entered China.

The following morning, we took a four-hour bus ride from Shenzhen to Guangzhou and toured a farm where they raised fish, shrimp and ducks. After the fish farm, we had the opportunity to take a cruise on the Pearl River to see the lights of the city. The next morning, we met with Jorge Sanchez of the Agriculture Trade Office at the U.S. Consulate. In this meeting, we had the privilege to discuss imports, exports and Chinese-U.S. trade.

Following our visit at the Consulate, we toured the largest wet fish market in South China, which runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At these markets, the fish, turtles, frogs and other seafood are sold live. The Chinese people love food, and they especially love fresh food. They go to the fish markets every day, and they can either buy the food and take it home to eat, or they can take it to a restaurant in the upper levels of the buildings surrounding the market to have the food prepared there. We saw many different kinds of fish, shrimp, sea urchins, clams, beetles, larva and other things what we as Americans would not consider normal food that the Chinese people were very fond of.

After the fish market, we toured a fruit and vegetable market. This market sells 400 tons of fruit and 800 tons of vegetables every day. It was very interesting to see the quantities of produce that each vendor sells. We saw everything from imported oranges from California to locally-grown kiwi and lychee nuts.

The next day, we flew to Xi’an where we had a city tour and attended a traditional Chinese dance show and dumpling dinner, and they both were very good!

The following day was the day that many of us were looking forward to the most as it was the day to tour a pig farm, feed mill, dairy farm, beef farm and a feedlot. This was a very eye-opening day as we learned how little technology the Chinese government uses in its agriculture production, especially when it came to feed rations and production efficiency.

That night, we did some shopping at the local silk market. This was a very fun experience as nothing has a set price. We all got some pretty good deals buying everything from silk ties and scarves to luggage.

The next day, we went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, which are considered to be the 8th Wonder of the World. I had seen the Terra Cotta Warriors on TV, but they are so much more awesome in person. The details of their sculpting were amazing. It is estimated that there are about 8,000 warriors spaced out in the 56 square kilometer burial tomb of the first emperor of the Ching Dynasty. However, archeologists have only uncovered 2,000 of them. Emperor Ching enslaved 700,000 workers 40 years to build the warriors and other aspects of his tomb.

After the Terra Cotta Warriors, we visited a local family’s farm where they were allowed two acres of land and they grew kiwi, grapes, cherries and wheat. The yearly income for a high income farm family like the one we visited was 10,000 RMB or about $1,587.

After the farm visit, we toured a soybean crushing plant. The plant was very much like one you would see in the United States; about the only difference was that the soybean meal was ground a lot more coarse than what it would be ground here. Following the soybean plant, we toured Yinqiao Dairy group, which is the largest dairy enterprise in northwest China. It produces 80 products that fall in either the dry or liquid milk categories including shelf stable milk and baby formula.

The next day, we took a high speed train to Beijing. The train ride was definitely an experience as it reached speeds of almost 200 miles per hour. After the 800-mile train ride, we toured a wholesale meat market. This was undeniably the most eye-opening stop of our trip. The meat markets in China are open air markets with no refrigeration and no packaging. All of the carcass halves hung out in shops with no glass in the windows and no door, and the meat after it was cut was placed uncovered on a table in front of the shop. According to our guide, the market heeded government standards, however, they would not tell us what that standard was, and we could tell, it was nowhere near the food safety standard of the United States. The next day we met with Pioneer and the U.S. Soybean Export Council. We learned that the Chinese seed market is very much controlled by counterfeit and pirated seed, and that seed companies, such as Pioneer, only have about 10 percent of the market share.

After meeting with Pioneer and the U.S. Soybean Export Council, we had the unique opportunity to visit with CP Group, which is like a Taiwanese Cargill; it has a hand in everything from hogs to chicken to biogas to fertilizer and pet food. This company is second in the world in hog production behind Smithfield, which ironically just sold out to a Chinese company.

The following day, we climbed a section of the Great Wall of China. The section that we climbed had both an easy and a hard direction to go and being overachievers, we took the hard way which was almost a straight up climb. Contrary to popular belief, the stairs on the Great Wall are not equal. They range from about 2 inches to 3 feet high. It was actually harder going down the wall than up because my depth perception was just a little off and my legs were pretty tired already. We were allowed to climb for an hour and a half, and we were definitely tired by the end of it.

We also toured Femur Head Hospital in Beijing. This hospital has a special connection to South Dakota State University because a former student was a patient at this hospital because of a bone condition. Femur Head Hospital specializes in femur head necrosis and treats people whose bones become very brittle and start to degrade. We were allowed to see treatment rooms and witness traditional Chinese medicine at work – the results were fascinating.

The rest of our day was spent at China Agriculture University where we met with students from both China Ag and North Dakota State University. We discussed agriculture, played some table tennis and shared a banquet provided by the Chinese students.

The next morning, we toured Tian Jin port which is one of the largest shipping ports in the world, and then we toured a new John Deere plant that just started production in 2012 and only produces five engines a day. The cool thing about the John Deere visit was that the manager of the plant hails from Kingsley, Iowa, as did one of the kids on our trip.

The next day, we were just tourists – we were done learning about agriculture for the trip. We toured Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Old Beijing Street. This was our last night in China, and we were treated to a local favorite for supper: Hot Pot. Hot Pot is basically Chinese fondue. We had a pot of boiling water in front of us and were given plates of raw meat to cook in our pots. Let’s just say cross contamination got the best of a few people. We left Beijing for our 11-hour flight at noon on Sunday, May 19. We arrived in San Francisco at 9 a.m. Sunday, May 19. The time differences were really getting to us as we arrived back in the U.S. However, after 16 hours of air time and 10 hours of layover, we were finally home.

This trip is one that I will not soon forget, and I consider it the trip of my lifetime. I strongly recommend traveling abroad to any college student out there. It is an opportunity that you may never get again. Take every chance you are given. You won’t regret it.