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By: Allison Grainger
February 01, 2011

 
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The sunset

The word “abroad” means many things to many people. To some, it is a picturesque view of old architecture standing proudly against the background of a water-colored sunset. To some, it is an opportunity to mingle with locals, attempting- and miserably failing- to appear as if one is not a foreigner. To others, it is simply an excuse to stuff one’s face with as much food as humanly possible- and to not feel the least bit guilty about it. During my two-week trip to Argentina, I completed not one, not two, but all three of the above options.


Let us back up a bit. It was early September, and I had just started my first semester at Texas A&M University. I had not packed a suitcase in almost two months: a task that was once a part of my daily routine. I was getting anxious. I needed to travel somewhere, anywhere, and the sooner I could do that, the better. It was then I remembered a program called the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers: an educational opportunity for current and past state officers of the National FFA Organization to study international agriculture for two weeks. Best of all it was abroad...and not just any “abroad.” It was in the home of tango dancing, gauchos and grass-fed beef. There were no questions. I was going on that trip. 


Caminito - the area of Buenos Aires where Tango dancing originated
    
With tremendous support from my many sponsors, I crossed off “travel to South America” on my bucket list, packed my suitcase and set out for my new adventure. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a nine-hour flight, chomping furiously on a disgusting piece of airplane chicken and watching our estimated time of arrival tick closer and closer. At that point, I was still unsure of what exactly Argentina had in store for me. I was soon to find out about a culture which would forever change my perspective on agriculture and on life.

Over the next two weeks, I found myself on multi-generation farms, Polo game pony breeding operations, machine sheds, port terminals and even the United States Ambassador’s house. My first reaction was shock. Nothing looked any different than it did in the United States! Then, I looked closer. Though the landscape and the equipment and the crop yields looked exactly the same, the issues that Argentine farmers were faced with were very different.


At the US Ambassador's house

Argentines are much like American agriculturists in that they work, every single day, to produce a quality product. They farm their land with respect to the environment. They strive to become more productive and more efficient. They produce large quantities of soybean, corn and beef (some of the best beef in the world, I might add). “What is the difference?” you may ask. The answer is the government under which they operate.


This is me in front of a field of soybeans. Almost all of Argentina is no-till farming.

    
American agriculture is one of the most highly regulated industries in our country. We have guidelines, restrictions, and most importantly, safety nets. American agriculture will never fail, because it has been designed in a way that it cannot. In Argentina, there is no safety net. There is no set price. There is no insurance. There is nothing keeping that farmer from failing; he simply prays that he can produce a crop and that the crop he produces will sell in a stable market. Once that does occur, almost half of his profits are taxed. Then, taxed again. Farming in Argentina is a risky and, more often than not, costly profession. When asked why one would continue in such a business, one farmer simply replied “Because it’s what I love.”


An Argentine gaucho (traditional cowboy)


At the time, this statement simply warmed my heart. It was not until I stood in the line for United States Customs, reflecting on my two weeks in Argentina, that his statement began to resonate with me. We, as Americans, become frustrated at our government for the policies and the regulations that are sometimes passed. We get annoyed by the efforts of those in office, or the lack thereof. It is not always what we wished for or what we had in mind. I can attest to that. In spite of all of that, though, we have never once listened to our crops be called “weeds” or had to wonder if we will receive any payment. We have something to protect us, to ensure our success...and something is much better than nothing.


As I handed over my passport, I thought of how much I loved Argentina. I loved the people. I loved the language. I loved eating two-hour meals and watching tango. I loved Argentina as much as any person could love another country. What I loved more was knowing that I live in a country where agriculture “can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life.”


So, if you want my advice, go. Pack your suitcase. Explore other cultures. Open your mind to new ways of doing things. Travel the world, but know that if you’re going to be a part of agriculture, you are already in the country that you need to be.


This is me and my new friend Thomas Calderon; he was excited I was from "Tejas!"


Of all the things that they could have said when I returned from my trip abroad, they chose, “Welcome home, Miss Grainger.”


It was funny. I could not have said it better myself.

 

To read more about Allison's travels, visit her blog at: http://www.allisongrainger.blogspot.com/

 


























 
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