Global Agriculture Comes to Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania faces a mounting challenge to adequately prepare its leaders and citizens to participate in a future characterized by increased, more complex global interrelationships. Nowhere is the need for international expertise more immediate than in agriculture, where global factors influence everything.
Carol Schramm, program assistant, U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service

Carol Schramm, program assistant, U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service

"During job interviews, one of employers' main criteria was the ability to deal with cross-cultural environments. Having the experience and international studies courses to back up my ag degree is one of the things they said helped me get the job. I was able say 'I've been there, I've seen this, and I have a realistic idea of what it's like.'"

Despite rising standards in many parts of the world, 2 billion people suffer from malnutrition, and food demand is projected to double by 2025, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. Coupled with rapid population growth and urbanization in the world's poorest countries, the food and natural resource challenges of the century are critical. Exports of Pennsylvania food, agricultural, and forestry related products are worth more than $1.5 billion annually, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. With government support for research declining around the world, international collaboration helps leverage increasingly scarce resources and gives our scientists access to the best sites, facilities, ideas, technologies, and experiences. Indeed, the number of internationally co-authored papers is increasing, according to a study by the RAND Corporation. Despite recent federal challenges to American colleges and universities to have 20 percent of their graduates participate in an overseas experience, currently only 1 percent of agricultural sciences students study abroad. Moreover, few are taking the time to study a foreign language. As Pennsylvania's rich cultural heritage evolves, cross-cultural awareness is increasingly becoming a domestic issue. U.S. Census data indicate that Pennsylvania's Hispanic population has grown by 70 percent and its Asian population by 60 percent since 1990. Hispanic workers are now the primary source of labor on dairy farms nationally and in the state. Penn State is responding to these new challenges with programs for students, international audiences, and domestic producers.

The Payoff

International ag programs

Understanding the international nuances of agribusiness can help students succeed in a competitive global marketplace. Penn State's international agriculture programs, which date back nearly a century, help students gain an awareness of and an appreciation for international interdependence for food and fiber. In the classroom, Penn State is the only university in the country offering "Spanish for Students in the Field of Agricultural Sciences," a language course designed specifically for ag science students to prepare them for success with a workforce whose first and sometimes only language is Spanish. Because students with Spanish fluency can earn signing bonuses from employers, the class is consistently full. Study-abroad opportunities focus on central/eastern Europe-reflecting the state's ethnic history-and Latin America, which currently accounts for the greatest influx of immigrants and agricultural workers. Since 2000, the number of students graduating with international experience has increased from 0.5 percent of the graduating class to 5 percent-from 10 students in 2000 to 124 students in 2003.


Thanks to Penn State faculty, Hispanic farmers and agricultural producers in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean now have a tool for developing strong agricultural operations. Penn State agricultural economists developed a Spanish-language version of FINPACK, farm management and financial planning software created at the University of Minnesota to help farmers generate balance sheets, assess cash flow needs, make long-range projections, and create reports. Farmers report that the software can result in savings of up to $400 per month, or $3,000-$4,000 per year. With help from Penn State, the software has been introduced successfully in Costa Rica and is slated to be launched in Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Farm financial analysis training in Spanish

Farm financial analysis training has been taught to nearly 6,000 farmers and lenders in almost 30 states since being developed by Penn State faculty in 1994. Now translated into Spanish, the program soon will benefit Latino producers in most regions of the United States. A major focus of the training is Hispanic women, who traditionally maintain household and farm budgets. The course also is available in Spanish via correspondence-the only course of its kind in the nation.

Insect management publications available in Spanish

Spanish-speaking people across the state can get insect pest fact sheets and publications in Spanish from Penn State's entomology department, and from the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, which is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Available either as hard copies or as downloadable files from the Web, the sheets include images of cereal and pantry pests, beetles, bedbugs, spiders, and cockroaches, with description, biology, management tactics, and treatment options. IPM also gives teacher training and Spanish-language lesson plans for in-school use.

Managing Hispanic workforces

A new Penn State Cooperative Extension program helps dairy farm owners and managers with Hispanic employees to improve their Spanish language skills. Through better communication, managers gain an understanding of Hispanic culture that helps them to devise improved management practices that are sensitive to the employees. The initiative includes conferences, workshops, and 13-week Spanish language instruction. The ultimate goals: improved employee morale, productivity, and profitability. More than 40 percent of dairy farm owners and managers participating in the Hispanic Workforce Conference, held in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension and New York's Pro-Dairy program, indicated that they intend to implement specific management practices that recognize the cultural differences of their Hispanic employees. All of the allied dairy industry representatives and extension educators who participated in the "Spanish for the Feed Industry" program indicated that they plan to share information and resources with their dairy-producer clientele.

For more information, contact either Penn State Cooperative Extension at 814-863-3438 or the Office of Research and Graduate Education at 814-865-5410, or search for the topic on the College of Agricultural Sciences' website.