Trip to Russia an eye-opener

Mary Mertz

By A Contributor

Last month, while the combines of Kansas were harvesting soybean fields, my husband packed and left the country. This was unusual, to say the least, but Bob was extended an invitation from Kansas State University to go to Moscow with a team from the Agronomy Department. He accepted the once-in-a-lifetime proposition and felt humbled and a bit anxious about being an agricultural diplomat in a country like Russia, even if it was for a very short amount of time. 

It was a long trip, taking him more than 24 hours to get from home to Moscow. Our son, David, was able to accompany my husband, and I stayed home with the donkey. For almost two days, I anxiously awaited word of their safe arrival.

The first indication that everyone was OK came by way of an emailed picture.  There were Bob, David and a K-State agronomist forming the “K-S-U” in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. Willie would have been proud of these Wildcats in front of those multi-colored Hershey Kiss-shaped domes. I was equally relieved and amused.

The main purpose of my husband’s inclusion on this trip was to give a presentation on no-tillage farming practices to a group of academics and selected farmers from various regions of Russia.

Simply put, “no-till” is when a field is not plowed after harvest, but rather is left with the crop stubble standing through the winter until another planting season arrives. To not plow saves a great deal of fuel, as well as wear and tear on equipment. In the spring, a drill punches holes in the ground to insert the proper number of seeds together with the correct proportion of fertilizer. It is an efficient and economical method of farming.

Russia has some major issues with its land. In 1991 the economy collapsed and the old collective farm system was dismantled. Today there is a concerted effort to increase agricultural production, although little infrastructure exists. Wheat, corn and barley are the major crops. The terrain is similar to parts of our Midwest, where low rolling hills and wide open spaces exist. My husband was impressed by the beautiful farm ground and shocked that 30 percent or more remains abandoned. Russia is now experiencing a new frontier in agriculture.

The farmers who were invited to the presentation were more than skeptical about the concept of no-till. Actually, they flat out didn’t believe it was an option for their soil. But after one soft-spoken farmer stood up to proclaim in his own language that he was successfully using no-till, the rest of the audience became more interested in what Bob’s interpreter was relaying.

Farmers are farmers, whether they work the land here in the States or in a distant country. They all share concerns with regard to the weather, equipment and grain markets. There is a kinship among those whose livelihoods depend on how well they produce food and fiber. It is wonderful that Kansas State University is assisting the Russian Academy in Moscow to re-establish Russia’s agricultural industry. We should all interact with one another on a global level in such a way.

While in Moscow, my husband and son were able to attend the Russian national farm show. That was the subject of the second email picture I received. In it, my guys are standing at one of the many vodka exhibit booths, with free samples lined up on the counter in front of them. And to think I’ve been telling Bob for years that the farm shows he takes me to in Kansas would be more enjoyable if wine was served.

They both thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to travel with the K-State team led, by agronomy Professor Dan Devlin, and they learned a great deal about a fascinating culture.

The reality of our farm awaited Bob upon his return, but his horizons had been expanded well beyond the soybean acres cut while he was gone. I hope those in Russia benefited as much from his being there as he did.

Mary Mertz lives east of Manhattan and is a family member of River Creek Farms.

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