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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I-CAL participants say 'farewell' to Columbia and Panama

As we board our flight back to the States we take one more time to reflect on the past two weeks and what an amazing adventure they have been!

Our journey began in Orlando when twelve college students from across the United States came together excited to learn and experience new ways of life and different agricultural practices.

In Panama we got our first glimpse into Tropical Agriculture. Panamanians were very friendly and welcoming people and anxious to teach us about their way of life. We toured many different aspects of the agricultural industry, including a coffee farm, shrimp production facility, agricultural education and experienced global trade first hand when we visited the Panama Canal. We learned how they dealt with issues like deforestation of the rainforest, having a small population (only 3 million in the whole country) and competing with larger nations.

After spending an amazing week in Panama full of new experiences and a new knowledge of agriculture the I-CAL team and Grains Council Staff made our way to Colombia. In Colombia we found ourselves amazed at the modernization, use of cooperatives and vertical integration found in production agriculture. With several busy days in the cities of Cali and Medellian we experienced open air markets, a dairy cooperative, swine and poultry vertical integration, floral production, fruit production and experienced a culture that offered more than we had expected.

Over the past two weeks friendships have been made, a new view on agriculture developed and a broader perspective of global agriculture have made for an experience that each of us will remember for a lifetime.

We would like to take one final time to say “Thank You” to the US Grains Council and the Grains Foundation and the National FFA Organization for making this program possible.

As the twelve members of the I-CAL Team, The Grains Council and National FFA Staff return to our respective locations we know that we have a common thread among us as well as with many other people in this small world. No matter where you go one thing is for sure you can always find someone involved in agriculture. Despite all of the differences in agriculture around the world one thing stays the same, in the words of a Colombian farmer, “Trabajamos con el sol y servimos con el Corazon”. We work with the sun and we serve with the heart.

For our final time from Colombia, Panama and Orlando, Florida, Gracias and Ciao!

Matt Barnhill, North Carolina State University

Chelsy Coen, Kansas State University

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Friday, May 27, 2011

I-CAL participants head home

Today we started our final day in Colombia and our final day of programming for the 2011 I-CAL trip. Our day started early so that we could make the most of our final day in South America. Our plan included stops at a chicken and pork processing plant, an avocado cooperative, some small furniture buildings, a flower farm and finally a small corn arepa production facility. With five stops and one day to complete them we had a crammed packed schedule. None the less we did have the help of a local woman Catalina who would be showing us a lot of the local agriculture. We began the day with breakfast at a little shop on the corner of a business street.

Immediately after breakfast we headed to tour a swine and chicken processing and packing plant. The group split up into two groups and chose either the pork or chicken tour. We started our tour from the packaging process and worked our way to the harvesting to prevent contamination.

The plant was surprisingly compact for all that goes on within the plant. Supercerdo; the name of the pork company we were touring slaughters and processes 400 pigs daily. We were able to visually see the entire process from finish to start, as well as we were able to learn a lot about the process in South America.

After the tour we asked a few questions about the chicken facility and were able to get a very quick tour through that facility. Unfortunately there was a break down in the plant and no chickens were being process, but we were still able to walk through the facility and see the infrastructure. In the process we learned they are capable of slaughtering and processing 5,000 chickens every day. Supercerdo and Superpollo are somewhat vertically integrated as well, the processing plant owns the farms that the animals come from.

After our early morning tour of the packing plants we were introduced to Catalina, a 28-year-old Colombian native. She works for Genesis Enterprises, a nonprofit organization working to help small farmers market their products as well as provide them access to processing facilities.

Our first tour with Catalina was at an avocado processing plant. We were able to see how the avocados entered, were cleaned and then sorted. We even stepped in the cooler used to elongate the life of the avocado. It was interesting to learn that 400 growers make up this group harvesting over 1,000 hectares of avocados. The avocado farmers are growing a Hass variety and harvest two crops a year. These are chosen because of their long shelf life and resistance to diseases. Currently, this plant is only exporting to Holland because they don't have the volume to provide to European or U.S. markets.

Immediately following our avocado adventures, we headed to a few furniture stores to view the forestry part of agriculture. Furniture in Colombia is significantly less expensive than the United States. The carpenters were using a wood from the Pacific Forest south of Panama; these woods were also known to be a very hard wood and are high in quality. It was refreshing to see something so varied than our few previous stops.

After a very quick lunch stop at a local restaurant, we visited a local farm. This is a flower farm which produces five types of flowers. We were able to view the growing process, the harvesting process, as well as the post-harvest process. Eighty-five percent of the farms exports go to the United States under the Sunburst Farms label. The flower industry is very important to the country of Colombia. Currently Colombia is the second largest exporter of flowers in the world, second only to the Netherlands.

Upon completion of the flower farm visit we saw a small arepas operation. Arepas are hard to describe. Imagine something that looks like a pancake and tastes like a sweet corn biscuit. This operation is run by a mother, father, and daughter. They produce 1,600 arepas weekly for restaurants and stores that place orders. They begin with corn, grind it cook it, cool it off as well as seal and package the product. The ingredients are as simple as combining corn, sugar, and water. It was pretty neat to see all of this happening in the same room and of course the best part was being able to test the product.

After our long day full or exciting adventures, we dropped off Catalina and headed to a craft market to purchase our Colombian souvenirs and then ate our last dinner together at a steak restaurant. The day was jammed packed with a diverse array of visits and allowed for a successful last day in Colombia. Reflecting on today most of us saw a side of agriculture we are not used to and saw from the perspective of a foreign producer. Perspective is one of the biggest things we learned today and that has been a theme for our whole program. Overall I think we will all miss Medellin a lot. The moderate weather, beautiful scenery, and twisting and turning roads provided for a great few days in a great Colombian City.

Sarah Marten – Kansas State University
Dakota Hoben – Iowa State University

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Former FFA Member Spotlight: NHRA driver Brian Thiel

By Geoffrey Miller

You can complement the FFA emblem in numerous ways, from traditional to timeless. Combined with the trademark national blue corduoroy jackets, the emblem is just that -- emblematic of the storied National FFA Organization.

But what about fast? Do you really associate agricultural education's most-recognized symbol with speed?

That's just what former FFA member Brian Thiel is doing these days -- and he's not talking about simply breaking your local highway speed limit. Instead, Thiel is racing in the top ranks of drag racing as a 300-mph funny car pilot in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. He's got the FFA emblem on board as a way to pay tribute to an organization that helped him get where is he today.

Last week, I got a chance to catch up with Thiel and his drag racing outfit at the Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga. The NHRA's premier series was in town for the annual Southern Nationals and Thiel, competing in first full season, was trying to put his Lucas Cattle Company/FFA Dodge Charger in the field.

But before we get to the racing side of it, here's a bit more on the driver that can cover a quarter mile in just over four seconds. Thiel, as I said, is a former FFA member currently living Pleasant Grove, Calif. There, he and his wife Randi own R&B Farms, a 3,000 acre rice operation -- far from just a simple hobby farmer.

The 36-year-old's 2011 season has seen its ups and downs that any start-up team can expect. The NHRA format affords two days of qualifications in a three-day event, with the top 16 teams advancing to eliminations on the final day. So far, Thiel has made two of the six elimination rounds -- including a first round matchup in Houston, Tex., against legendary NHRA funny car champion John Force.

Thiel looked ready to firmly make the field in Atlanta last weekend after a solid, career-best run in the first round of qualifications. Standing near the start line with his crew, we watched as Thiel's 8,000-hp machine blasted down the 1000-foot track in 4.19 seconds at 296.96 mph. The run put Thiel seventh overall after the round.

Following the round, I followed Thiel and his Brian Thiel Racing team back to his pit area where they thrashed to get the Charger's engine torn down and built back up -- a 45-minute marvel in mechanic work -- in time for the next run. In the mean time? Thiel made a call back to California to order more rice seed for some spare acres he was able to plant.

Thiel dropped down the standings a bit in the remaining qualifying rounds, and the team had trouble getting the car traction for another quick run and the BTR team missed the field by a slim three-thousandths of a second. Thiel was actually faster than three other drivers in the field, but NHRA qualifying rules left him on the outside looking in.

BTR is back in actionJune 2-5 for the NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J. As always, every ticket into an NHRA event is a pit pass and Thiel and his BTR pit is extremely accessible for fans to meet Brian and get an autograph.

Be sure to stop by and say hello, and check out Brian as he races on ESPN2!


Geoffrey Miller is a former state FFA officer from Indiana. He currently works at the National FFA Organization as a Communication Specialist.

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I-CAL: Meat and Dairy Processing in Columbia

Collegiate agriculture students who were selected to take part in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program are currently traveling in Columbia and Panama and blogging about their adventures.

Getting up before 4 a.m. is not usually a college student’s cup of tea, but today we had just such a morning, and were richly rewarded with an aerial view of magnificent mountaintops as our plane landed in Medellin, Colombia. After breakfast at our new hotel, our tours today started off like none other: dressing up like Michelin Men to stay warm as we took a tour of a swine, cattle, and veal processing plant.

When we arrived at the plant, we were greeted with kind handshakes and Colanta branded souvenirs. Colanta, our host for the day, is a Colombian cooperative that handles meat and dairy.

Like many of our experiences as part of this program, there was more than meets the eye with their mission including education, collecting milk from the farms, operating stores, and marketing. Overall, they provide a highly integrated service for farmers from three to 450+ cow operations.

At their processing facility, we dressed in our “Michelin Man” apparel and went through several rounds of decontamination. This sanitization is just one part of their impressive biosecurity measures that are strict enough to achieve approval from the USDA and the Mexican government for exports. We toured the plant backwards: starting with the finished product and working back to the beginning of the process.

After leaving the processing plant, once again in our normal clothes, we headed out to a small dairy farm featuring the familiar Holstein breed of dairy cattle. The cows were treated to lush grass and a nutrient dense feed ration. We observed how some farmers still manage to be profitable milking by hand while others use more modern milking units. To better understand the full dairy production aspect encompassed by the member-owned Colanta, we stopped by one of the cooperative’s Agro-Colanta stores which offers everything from medicines and feed to shoes and fertilizers.

Then, we headed on to the Colanta cheese processing plant just up the road. Once again, we donned some new apparel for biosecurity and after the now familiar scrubbing of the boots and hands, we entered the cheese plant. We were able to watch various varieties in production and even sampled some fresh “queso”. The plant also makes yogurt and powdered milk. (Some types of Colanta cheese are available at Publix and Winn-Dixie stores in south United States and are very tasty!)

We were all tired after our long and educational day, but as we headed back to the hotel, the team realized just how beneficial a cooperative can be to both small and large producers. We also appreciated the processes and efforts that go into putting protein in a diet. Retiring after a full day, we all look forward to a busy tomorrow, our last day touring this beautiful Colombian mountain town.

Lauren Geiger – Kansas State University
Thomas Marten – Southern Illinois University

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Columbia's pork producers and exotic fruits

Collegiate agriculture students who were selected to take part in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program are currently traveling in Columbia and Panama and blogging about their adventures.


Que dice el cerdo (What does a pig say)? Oink Oink. (ha ha).

Today we visited a local swine producer who raises hogs from farrow to finish outside of Cali, Colombia. Everyone was delighted when we were each handed a pair of blue coveralls, plastic booties and a hair net before entering the facility.

Paradise Farms, the swine operation, is locally owned and operated. A featured technology of the operation is the process used to convert animal waste into compost and heat.

The owner is a member of the Colombian Pork Checkoff and a past president of the Colombian Pork Producers Association. The checkoff program was started in 1994 and now helps members by offering trainings to producers and spending time lobbying to the government.

It was interesting to be able to see the entire process from farrow to the final marketed product in a tropical environment. Paradise Farms is a very profitable and productive business, some production highlights include:

• 5% mortality rate
• 90% conception rate
• Average of 11 piglets/litter
• Each sow will average 28 piglets/year

Upon leaving the swine operation, we made our way to an open-air Colombian produce and meat market. All fresh foods are domestically produced. Did you know that Colombia is home to 1100 different fruits? Many of these fruits were exotic to us, and we even were able to sample a few.

It was a different experience for us to see the fresh meat market as well with meat hanging in the open air. The market allowed us to experience how the majority of local, small scale producers sell their products.

After a quick outdoor lunch and the opportunity to take a look at the neighboring nursery, we visited a local tropical fruit orchard. The most unique fruit we learned about was the Atamoya fruit, which is a new hybrid fruit created from the Naon and the Chirimoya fruits.

Atamoya is a very sweet and expensive fruit because the tree doesn’t begin producing fruit until three to four years of age. This orchard is the only Atamoya producer in the world, giving them competitive advantage in Colombian markets.

Mangos, macadamia nuts and guanabanas are also found in the orchard. The guanabana fruit is about the size of a football, green and covered in spikes. We ended the tour by seeing how macadamia nuts are cleaned, sorted and dried on location.

We finished the day with a relaxing BBQ dinner as tomorrow will be a very early wake-up call when we fly to Medellin, Colombia.

Jarvis Pace – Utah State University
Gracie Weinzierl – Illinois State University

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I-CAL's 2nd day in Panama

For the next two weeks, collegiate agriculture students who were selected to take part in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program will be traveling in Columbia and Panama and blogging about their adventures.
Buenos Dias everyone! This is the 2011 I-CAL Team reporting Day 2 in Panama City, Panama. We began our day by conducting a short meeting about the U.S. Grain Council efforts abroad, with Mr. Kurt Schultz, Regional Director for U.S. Grains Council in the Panama City, Panama office. The U.S. Grains Council promotes U.S. grains in four different areas. These different areas being; market intelligence, market development, market defense and access. After our informative meeting with Mr. Schultz we were off to see the Panama Canal!

Completed in 1914 the Panama Canal is America’s only trans-oceanic waterway. The Canal is the main transformational hub for International trade in North America. The canal is welcomed each morning by one of the approximately thirty five ships that will pass through the canal each day. This transit generates revenue of approximately five million dollars per day for the country of Panama.

Logistics play a key role in the success of the Panama Canal, large freight ships are able to cross the America’s cheaper and more efficiently, than if they were to travel around the tip of South America. Fright transportation is all about volume economics. Each Panamax ship can contain up to five thousand individual containers, weighing up to twenty two tons each, thus creating high volume low cost freight.

The nationalization of the Panama Canal has led to the emergence of many Panamaian owned freight terminals. Today, we had the opportunity to visit Manzanillo International Terminal (MIT). Logistics, logistics, logistics, is the name of the game for MIT, a highly integrated computer system tracks and documents each individual container that arrives and departs the terminal. MIT has the capability of handling thirty-two containers an hour and eighty-five thousand containers a month.

The workforce is made up of mainly union workers, of which they have an excellent working relationship. MIT charges two hundred and sixty five dollars per container that is removed and put back on a ship. A container never sits more than twenty one days in MIT’s fright yard. The mass of product that is moved within this company was simply amazing to all of us.

Last stop of today was the Desarollo Posicional Elevator, through this company all of Panama’s feed corn and soybean meal is delivered and picked up at this location. We toured the new grain quality lab, to gain a better understanding on why it is important to test grain shipment qualities. We also toured the grain bins and horizontal grain storage facilities. All followed up by a very cultural Panamaian dinner in downtown.

Amazing day here in Panama, until we meet again,
Caleb Wurth- Kanas State University
Kelli Fulkerson- South Dakota State University

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The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

For the next two weeks, collegiate agriculture students who were selected to take part in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program will be traveling in Columbia and Panama and blogging about their adventures.

Buenos Dias, Otra Dez from the 2011 I-CAL Team in Columbia!!

This morning we departed from our beautiful hotel here in the city of Cali, Columbia for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). CIAT is an international organization sponsored by the United Nations, Rockefeller Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, as well as many others.

Fun fact about an I-CAL team member and the W.K Kellogg Corporation, Miss Kelli Fulkerson’s hometown is twenty minutes from the corporate headquarters which is located in Battle Creek, MI.

The foundation of CIAT mission is to, “Produce Eco-Efficient Agriculture for the Poor.” They fulfill this mission by contributing household and global food security in a way that is eco-efficient, and adds value nutritionally and economically.

Today, while at the Central CIAT office we were able to see four different sectors of the CIAT programs. These included; cassava research and production, bean genomics, the economic analysis program referred to as DAPA, and rice genomics improvement.

Cassava is a starchy tuberous root that is the major source of starch here in South America and all over tropical regions. This starchy tuberous root can be compared in the United States to a potato. Cassava production in South America is vital to their food, fuel and animal feed source production.

Bean and rice genomics are a very large part of CIAT’s research and development. CIAT host’s one of the largest bean DNA libraries in the world. This library comprises over 36,000 different bean varieties. CIAT is the site of the development of several varieties of rice that are utilized worldwide today. We were taught about how these varieties were developed.

DAPA is a large part of CIAT’s perspective on International agriculture. They must look at what the world’s market trends are, and how they are occurring, in order to utilize and develop a strategic method for what new or existing crops they will research. There are five team members that assist with the DAPA program.

The night was ended with a cultural dinner and Salsa dancing. The entire team enjoyed showing our American two left feet. There were many dance instructors that offered their numbers to us for lessons. Great way to spend our first full day in Columbia!

Until we meet again,

Caleb Wurth- Kanas State University
Kelli Fulkerson- South Dakota State University

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National FFA officers honored as guest lecturers

The National FFA Officer Team spent the last two weeks in College Station, Texas getting ready for this summer’s National Leadership Conferences for State Officers (NLCSO).

They presented the conference to 64 undergraduate students at Texas A&M University who earned credit for their participation in the conference.

The University honored the national officers as guest lecturers.

Seen here with the officers are (left) Ms. Summer Odom, Advisor and Assistant Lecturer and Dr. Lori Moore, Assistant Professor, both faculty in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communication.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Estamos en Cali, Colombia!

Compared to the population of three million people in Panama, we are excited to experience the different culture of Colombia, a country with a population of 45 million and known for its unique salsa dancing, plantain-based food, ideal climate, beautiful mountains, and world-renowned coffee. International travel tip #1: Arrive at least three hours early for your flight. Although a slow morning in the airport, we all arrived safely in Cali, Colombia, where we were escorted to our very modern and trendy hotel overlooking the entire city of Cali. Today we began the Colombia portion of the program by learning all about the city and therefore established a background about the country’s distinctive culture and rich history. Understanding Colombian culture will prepare us for the week ahead as we dive into the country’s agricultural production practices and commodities. We are excited to be submerged in yet another culture and compare Colombia’s agriculture to that of the United States and Panama. Some of the highlights of today were visiting historical national monuments and statues, traveling up the tallest mountain in the city to overlook Cali, and experiencing some of the diverse cultural food at a restaurant where all meals were plantain-based (a plantain is a mix between a banana and a potato cooked in various ways). Tomorrow we are off to spend the day at the Center for Tropical Research, where we will learn about tropical agricultural production, a sector of the industry that we do not see in the United States.

Wow, Our Last Day in Panama!

The program is flying by, and it is hard to believe that we depart for Colombia tomorrow. Many of us stepped outside of our comfort zone as we embarked on our first journey of the day, ziplining through the Panamanian rainforest. Today we had the honor of meeting Kurt’s two young children as the joined us on today’s activities. We enjoyed learning from them about their experiences living in Panama. They were very excited to be the first to begin the tour as they had previously ziplined. It was a fun morning full of pictures by our famous photographer Kurt, rainforest and new experiences.

Next we were off to have lunch at an authentic Panamanian diner located on the Caribbean Sea. During our time in Panama we have had many opportunities to indulge in Panamanian Seafood, which was the specialty of today’s menu. During this time we debriefed and created our own analysis of agriculture in Panama with Kurt.

Then we became the characters of the Pirates of the Caribbean as we visited the historic city of Portobello. During our visit our tour guide Christopher gave us an amazing tour of the city and many details of its history. We learned the ports were strategically placed at the mouth of the Caribbean Sea to protect the city from pirates. However, Henry Morgan was a sly pirate who used small boats to come on to the land and attack the city without any warning. We enjoyed touring and exploring the remains of the forts overlooking the Caribbean.

From this historic city we headed off to a genuine Panamanian market where we had the opportunity to buy some souvenirs and memorabilia from our time in Panama. We had a great last night in Panama. We attended a cultural dinner and show, highlighted by traditional Panamanian dancing and costumes. We have learned a lot about agriculture and the culture of Panama and look forward to our time in Colombia. For the last time, Good Night Panama!

Matthew Barnhill – North Carolina State University

Chelsy Coen – Kansas State University

More from Panama

Our final full day of programming in Panama was full of surprises that few of us expected. Don’t worry they were all great surprises and interesting learning experiences, no doubt. We started our day having breakfast with Jose, a regional director for the Ministry of Agriculture in Panama. Jose was to be our host for the day while also sharing his wealth of knowledge of Panamanian agriculture with us. It was fun to learn that Jose was educated at “unarguably” the best land grant institution in the United States, that’s Iowa State if you hadn’t figured it out yet. One of us being a student at Iowa State, it was fun to talk about our college experiences and common acquaintances we had back at Iowa State. Attending college and meeting alumni has always been something that many of us students enjoy, but being able to see an alumni of your school in another country providing leadership in the agriculture community was neat to see firsthand.

After enjoying our somewhat familiar American breakfast at the restaurant (orders ranged from French toast to shrimp omelets) Jose took the time to prep us for our visits for the day. Our first stop would be a local secondary school that provided an agriculture curriculum to its students. We were welcomed at the school by many students, local farmers, as well as the media, which was our first surprise of the day. It was almost overwhelming the amount of welcoming faces surrounding us. From this point on our day would be full of media interviews on local radio and TV. Throughout the day we joined by the media groups as well as some local famous baseball players. We attended a presentation that presented local farmers with enriched rice. Each I-CAL participant had a chance to present a bag of rice to a local farmer as part of the ceremony. Lots of pictures and video were taken at this event that was well cover by the media. Then, we were given a tour of the school. The setup of the school is similar to a land grant institution in America in that they are incorporating the working the classroom learning with research and hands on learning outside on the farm. The school owned about 200 hectares of land and had 120 students in their agriculture program. The students ranged from 12 to 18 years old and each student had to apply to be a part of this school. After completing school, they are able to work for the Ministry of Agriculture in Panama to earn enough money and potentially go to post-secondary school. The school costs $40 a semester and school is in session from April to December, which is the wet season in Panama. At the school students make decisions regarding the health, management, and feeding of the animals. While in school, students maintain individual projects, similar to an FFA supervised agriculture experience (SAE). On our farm tour, we learned about the genetics program they were undertaking to improve the genetics of their dual purpose cattle herd. This included modern practices like embryo transfers. Also on our tour we were able to see their pig, sheep, and chicken operations. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the buffalo they had in the nearby mountain region.

Upon completion of our tour, we ate lunch in the school cafeteria. We were served spaghetti noodles, chicken, and sweet plantains. The students visited us and gave us mementos to take home with us that included the official hat of Panama. After our lunch, we attended a presentation by COPEG, which is a government funded partnership between the U.S. and Panama dedicated to creating a barrier against foot and mouth disease and screw worms within livestock. This program is funded 90% by the U.S. and the rest by the Panamanian government.

After completing our visit to the school we loaded the bus and headed off to our next destination. Originally we had planned on visiting a coffee processing plant and then a citrus processing plant but plans changed when there was a miscommunication between our local representatives and the owner of the coffee plant. At the citrus plant we met Alex, the manager of the plant who was born and raised in Arkansas. Alex was stationed in Panama when with the Navy and liked it so much he stayed. He came from a cattle farm in Arkansas and was also an FFA member while in school. The citrus plant was in the process of squeezing oranges for orange juice, but we learned that the business included so much more. The business owned about 1,700 acres of lemons, oranges, livestock, and specialty vegetables. The processing plant has 120 employees during the busy season and harvests oranges from October to June. At full capacity the plant has the ability to produce 12,000 gallons a day, but Alex informed us that the market is only bearing about 12,000 gallons a week. While at the processing plant we had the opportunity to sample some of their 100% fresh orange juice which was truly an enjoyable experience for the group.

Our final destination was potentially one of the most memorable of our trip and also a surprise to many of us. We visited a small iguana producer. The iguanas were produced to sell as pets and for breeding stock. As a group we learned that iguanas lay up to 90 eggs in January and their life span is up to twelve years. We also learned they eat chicken feed, which is why they tasted so much like chicken. Just kidding we really didn’t get to eat any of the iguana’s, but instead had to settle for holding them in our hands. It was a short but memorable experience for the group, and provided many of us with an excellent photo opportunity with the iguanas.

Overall it was an excellent day that provided us with a look at the young agriculturists that will make up Panama’s future as well as the breadth of the unique and diverse agriculture that make up the country of Panama. The media coverage made this a far more interesting day than many of us had expected, but hey Mom and Dad you can’t say we never made it big now, it just wasn’t in the states. At this point you need to quit reading so you can tune into your local Panamanian TV station this tumultuous twelve all over the telly.

Dakota Hoben – Iowa State University

Sarah Marten – Kansas State University

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hacienda la Estrella

McDonald’s? It is a common breakfast in the United States, but upon arrival in Panama, fast food was not expected. Nonetheless, we got to enjoy it this morning! McMuffins, McCafes, and pancakes filled our trays.

Our second stop took us to Hacienda la Estrella in Coclé. Marquette University educated Hans Hammerschlag, executive vice president, greeted us and gave a presentation throughout the morning about the company model. The enterprise produces shrimp, sugar cane, rice, various fruits, sheep, animal feed, and seed and does seafood processing, all on 60,000 acres of land.

The business brings in $92 million each year through the efforts of 3,000 permanent employees.

Next, we jumped on the bus and rode to the shrimp pond location. The roads were reminiscent of American red dirt with lots of sugar cane fields and a few rice paddies along the way. Before entering the shrimp area, our bus was required pass through a checkpoint with a disinfectant dip for the bus tires to prevent contaminants that might harm the shrimp.

When we arrived, we met in the conference room to talk about their shrimp production which extends to 265 - 1 hectare ponds just over 4 feet deep pumped full by two pump stations including 13 pumps each moving 3,000 gallons per minute.

The ponds are stocked to approximately 10 shrimp per square meter. Their breed of shrimp matures from 150-220 days, reaching almost 1 ounce. The shrimp produced at the farm obtain a 65 percent survival rate and are marketed to the European Union, Taiwan, and the U.S.

A problem for shrimp production in general has been White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) which can wipe out large populations of shrimp. Camaco, the shrimp division of Hacienda la Estrella has invested large sums into developing shrimp that are resistant to WSSV and other common diseases. This flourishing endeavor has been successful in being able to find profitable new marketing strategies.

As we left the shrimp farm, we headed to the rice milling facility where they dehull rice seed, leaving brown rice. Like Americans in the U.S., Panamanians prefer a white (polished) rice. White rice is simply the brown rice that has had the bran and germ removed which is, coincidentally, is the most nutrient dense portion of the rice grain. This bran is then used as a feed additive for their livestock operations, including beef and sheep operations.

Our final destination was their livestock facilities which had a sight familiar to those in the U.S.--biosecurity procedures! At multiple stops throughout the tour, we dipped our shoes into a decontaminating solution to reduce risk of introducing diseases to their farm. They focused their operation on genetics and meat production for marketing locally. To reduce the incidence of recurring diseases, they utilize rotational grazing on a 21 day rotation.

The day ended with a pleasant visit to El Galeόn for dinner and a celebration for Marty’s birthday. A debriefing with the sound of waves crashing on the shore was the perfect end to our time on the beach in Las Sirenas.

Lauren Geiger – Kansas State University
Thomas Marten – Southern Illinois University

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coffee beans, beaches and broilers

For the next two weeks, collegiate agriculture students who were selected to take part in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program will be traveling in Columbia and Panama and blogging about their adventures.

Les enviamos una hola de Santa Clara, Panama! (We send you our greetings from Santa Clara, Panama!)

Today we had the amazing opportunity to tour some small scale agricultural producers here in inland Panama. Our first visit was to a small-scale coffee producer. We had the chance to see firsthand how coffee is produced and processed. Did you know that the coffee bean isn’t actually a bean? It is the seed from a coffee cherry!

In this region coffee is the main cash crop. This particular farm markets their finished product to locals as natural and organic. A struggle that they have is marketing their product outside of their local community.

One of the issues that they have is getting their product to the city to market due to the transportation restraints and distance from the concentrated population. They have, however, expanded their operations to de-hull, grind, and toast their coffee and offer these same services to other local coffee producers. By doing so they are able to sell their product for a higher premium and make a 400 percent greater profit.

Farming organically is important to this farm because they are interested in protecting the environmental conditions of the Panamanian Watershed, and their soil. It was interesting to see how they are self-sustainable because they mix their own organic fertilizer using what is available to them. Their mixture contains rice husks, coffee hulls, chicken/cow/horse manure, yeast, kitchen compost and molasses to feed the yeast for the fermentation process. It amazed all of us that they mixed this fertilizer by hand. It took them almost three weeks to completely mix it--and we thought our chores on the farm were tough!

They also harvest all of their coffee by hand and then dry it on large tarps in the sun, which is no easy task in this humid climate! The way to tell if the coffee bean his been sufficiently dried is that the coffee bean turns from white to brown.

In 1990, a group of small producers joined together and formed the UCC. The UCC is a local coffee growers association which is made up of twelve communities that share ideas and resources. One of the producers that we visited today is the current vice president of the UCC.

We were also able to meet the area Peace Corps Volunteer, Jim O’Neil. Jim grew up in the United States and has been in Panama since last July. He helps out local farmers by teaching them new sustainable methods of agriculture. He also showed us his humble living conditions and his own personal sustainable garden. His best friend Canella, was overjoyed to have new friends to play fetch with.

After several hours on a bus, we ended up in Santa Clara, Panama where we had the chance to meet with Jesus Armenteros. Jesus is a UC Davis graduate and owns a small poultry operation.

Even though his primary focus is pasture feed broilers, Jesus also farms other commodities as well. He has 150 laying hens, 3 acres of yams, 1 acre of tomatoes, a few beets and beans, hogs, African sheep, and a lot of different varieties of fruit trees. He markets all of his products to local restaurants and the Jewish community as organic and humane to receive a higher premium.

Most of us had the opportunity to sample the infamous cashew fruit, and local mango. The cashew fruit is highly deceiving, because before the cashew nut is properly processed it is toxic to humans. Upon eating the fruit itself, which is non-toxic, you found that your mouth immediately goes dry even though juice gushes everywhere when you bite into it!

We finished our day by walking across the beach to make it to our dinner reservations where we were able to eat some authentic Panamanian food. Our hotel for the next two nights resides on the beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We give you permission to be jealous!

Stay tuned for what adventures the I-CAL team will experience tomorrow!

Gracie Weinzierl – Illinois State University
Jarvis Pace – Utah State University

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The I-CAL Adventure has Begun!

For the next two weeks, collegiate agriculture students who were selected to take part in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program will be traveling in Columbia and Panama and blogging about their adventures.


Upon arrival in Orlando, Florida, we began our orientation and training process in which each I-CAL participant was charged to present on a topic pertaining to Colombian and Panamanian agriculture. After spending a day preparing, we were ready to begin our adventure to Panama bright and early the next morning. Aside from the unexpected flight delay and a turbulent and steep landing, the morning went extremely smoothly. We even made it through customs in record time.

We made a new friend today. His name is Christopher and he will be helping us in our travels- guiding, translating, and answering any and all questions we might have. Today we were lucky enough to see first-hand Panama City and learn briefly about its history.

Since Panama City never experiences earthquakes or hurricanes, it is home to gorgeous skyscrapers reaching 85+ stories high. After checking into our hotel which is shore of the Panama Canal, we met with our U.S. Grains Council representative, Kurt Schultz, over lunch.

Kurt briefed us on our itinerary for the coming week in Panama, beginning with an educational day tomorrow at the Panama Canal and the world’s second largest grain container port. Both of which will allow us to witness international trade first-hand.

It is hot and humid here in Panama, raining off and on, with lightning illuminating the sky for moments at a time. Perhaps the most interesting part of the day was the fish market, both a culturally shocking and eye opening experience for all of us. The newly built facilities provided an excellent opportunity for small vendors to sell their products, which make up the largest sector of their agricultural industry.

We then toured downtown Panama City, where we visited some notable historical sites: monuments, a cathedral filled with gold icons, a seawall once used to guard the city from pirates, and much more.

We are extremely excited to learn about Panamanian and Colombian agriculture over the next few weeks!

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Does climate affect global food prices?

A new study featured in the Washington Post says that global warming has stunted the growth of corn and wheat crops in Russia, China, Mexico and elsewhere, contributing to a long-term rise in food prices:

Report: Global warming already crimping crop production, pushing prices higher

But, a University of Nebraska professor contends that it’s not clear that the study captured how well farmers can respond to changing temperatures.

Some experts say that studies like these should motivate governments and seed companies to develop heat and drought-resistant crops.

What do you think? How can farmers around the world adapt to changing temperatures while keeping food costs down?

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