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Ukrainian Farmers Visit Pennsylvania

Posted: November 3, 2009

Six Ukrainian agribusinessmen made their first trip to the U.S. this week, with Pennsylvania farms as the focal point. The six men arrived last Saturday in Washington and made their way to several farms and farm businesses throughout the Keystone State. Along with that, they attended meetings at Penn State and actually stayed with farmers in the State College area. Yurij Bihun, director of Shelterwood Systems in Vermont, a company that specializes in sustainable forest resource analysis and development, was instrumental in bringing the group to Pennsylvania.

The group, he said, was brought here as part of the Open World Leadership Program. The program brings small delegations of people, many of whom come from the Eastern Bloc countries of Europe, to the U.S. to see American-style democracy in action, and to help forge a better understanding between nations. Bihun organized the program to focus on no-till farming techniques and biofuel production, both of which are of growing interest in former Soviet countries. “We’re trying to give them a different perspective on things,” Bihun said.

On Wednesday, the group arrived at Steve Groff’s farm in southern Lancaster County to attend a cover crop field day. After that, they visited the farm of Gideon Stoltzfus, where they saw horse drawn no-till implements. The six visitors stayed in State College, where they attended meetings and also saw demonstrations on biofuel production. Ivan Gavran, a senior inspector of organic standards in Ukraine, said organic farming is gaining interest in his country, but less than 1 percent of farmers there actually practice it. He was excited to come on the trip and was interested in how no-till farming can be implemented in an organic system.

Traveling through the state, though, he was surprised by one particular thing he saw. “I didn’t expect to see that much GMO (genetically modified) corn and soybeans,” he said through his interpreter, Elena Bobko. Yurii Karabadjak, commercial director of a farm that manages 30,000 acres in the Ukraine, said he also was interested in learning more about no-till and minimum tillage systems. “It’s no-till knowledge I would like to go back with,” he said through the interpreter. “I want to see and learn how effective it is.” Volodymir Siriy, who works for a farm that manages about 280,000 acres in the Ukraine, was interested in learning more about farming technologies and the way farmers manage their businesses. “I would like to learn about new technologies. The way they manage farms here, it is intriguing to learn,” he said. Glen Cauffman, manager of farm operations and services at Penn State, visited the Ukraine two years ago. He was impressed by the quality of the land, much of which is similar to the fertile black soils found in the Midwest. But farmers are still trying to adapt to a new reality. When the country was a member of the Soviet Union, the land was owned by the government and much of it was well kept. When the communist regime fell, farmers were left with thousands of acres that eventually fell into neglect.

Penn State, Cauffman said, has formed several “memorandums of understandings” with universities in the Ukraine to share knowledge with educators over there. But farmers are still playing catch-up. Much of that is because political turmoil has eroded farming knowledge passed down through many generations of farmers. “They have lost the indigenous knowledge of farming,” Cauffman said. So he was pleased to see the visitors were so interested in learning. “I almost had to ... pull them away because they are asking so many questions. But that’s a good thing.”