Touring the farmland

Chinese ag specialists learn about farming, Virginia Cooperative Extension

By Katie Demeria

MAURERTOWN — Bobby Clark was trying to explain no-till farming to Chinese agricultural specialists. They ran into a speed bump, though, because the interpreter was not familiar with the term.

But it turned out that the idea translated seamlessly. The group of about 20 from the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences immediately knew what the two were attempting to articulate, easily informing the translator, Hector Gao of Triway International Group.

The Sichuan Academy group traveled to the United States in order to find out how the country’s agricultural industry compares to China’s. They spent Thursday with Clark, extension agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, to learn how extensions, in particular, work.

“I think it’s easier for them to come here than to, say, Nebraska, because we’re so close to Washington D.C,” Clark said.

Their trip was organized through Triway International Group, which works closely with the Chinese government in order to enhance a cultural exchange of information, according to coordinator Kevin Zhao.

Clark took the group to Shenandoah County’s County Farm, where he explained how he works with both farmers and experts from Virginia Tech to use research based information to fix any problems those farmers may experience.

He also touched on the farm’s history as a place designated for the local poor when the country was originally founded.

“The United States is only 250 years old — now, I know China is much older,” he said.

The participants’ questions for Clark varied. They waned to know what type of fuel farmers use to power tractors and cook food, and whether their children usually continue working the farm when they get older or if they move away. The children of Chinese farmers, they said, usually want to move to the big cities.

They were also interested in the manner in which farmers work the land, and whether or not they actively pursue information from the cooperative.

They asked, also, who employed Clark, and how many he served in order to find out more about how he interacts with farmers on a regular basis.

The group was especially surprised when they were told only one tenant works the County Farm land.

According to Jenny Gao, a biologist who focuses on rice breeding at the academy, one Chinese farmer will usually only work a fraction of an acre.

“The agriculture industry is very different from our country,” Jenny Gao said. “You use much more machinery.”

It took some time to describe bush hogs, giant rotary mowers, to the group, as well. Chinese farmers largely do their work by hand.

Despite the differences, Clark was able to talk about how he gets effective research from experts to farmers, what works and what does not work, so the group could take that information back to China and possibly employ similarly effective tactics.

“It is all very interesting,” Jenny Gao said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or

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