The Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program or MARL is a two-year educational experience for farmers and other ag professionals. The goal of the program is to develop the skills of Minnesota’s agricultural and rural leaders geared towards helping them maximize their impact at the local, state, national, and international levels. The culmination of the MARL program is a 10-day foreign trip -- this year, 23 MARL participants traveled to Cambodia and Taiwan.
We were very excited to visit Cambodia, as we were granted an opportunity to discuss agriculture with Cambodia’s second in command, the Deputy Prime Minister, and with cabinet members. Many of our questions centered around foreign ownership and the ability to make on-farm decisions. The primary hurdle for Cambodian farmers is access to capital. Banks do not lend money to farmers for land or essential inputs. Seed, fertilizer and other essentials are financed through local suppliers, at a 24% interest rate. We were treated as potential investors. While it might seem adventurous to buy a farm in Cambodia with U.S. capital, there are a few obstacles to overcome. Currently, the Cambodian government only allows foreigners to own up to 49% of farm in Cambodia. Americans investors are encouraged to match U.S. capital with funds from local Cambodian farmers in order to help raise the Cambodian standard of living. As an additional incentive, Cambodia has a favorable tax bracket of 0% for farmers.
After 9 days in Cambodia (including tours of cashew, rice, orange, banana, and coconut fields), we flew to Taiwan. By this time, fear of COVID-19 had significantly influenced the large population on the small island of Taiwan. Upon arrival, we were shocked to see an empty airport. The eeriness continued throughout unoccupied streets and vacant restaurants. Our temperatures were taken numerous times each day, and we were sprayed with mystery antibacterial treatments every time we exited and entered our bus. Most restaurants and stores hired people to spray-down our hands. At the entrance of tourist attractions, infrared cameras and large screens were set-up with security guards who looked for high temperatures as people walked by. We were also instructed to be more vigilant on wearing our medical masks. To me, it was very clear that Taiwan was familiar with these procedures from previous threats.
Our tours in Taiwan included trips to an organic tea plantation and to mushroom farms. We also visited an indoor lettuce hydroponic farm, where we were amazed with their research. We learned that playing specific music for different plants increased visual aesthetics and enhanced taste. The plants were fed water infused with ultra-fine bubbles, and different colors of LED lights were paired with different crops.
Overall, our MARL tour provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about agriculture and leadership. I whole-heartedly encourage every farmer to visit www.marlprogram.org for more insight into our trip and to learn how to join class XI – farmers have invaluable knowledge and insight, and this is an experience that should not be passed-up!
*Rodd Beyer grows soybeans, wheat, sugarbeets, alfalfa and corn in West Central Minnesota. He is a member of MARL’s 10th class. MARL is a member of AgriGrowth.