The word “abroad” means many things to many people. To some, it is a picturesque view of old architecture standing proudly against the background of a water-colored sunset. To some, it is an opportunity to mingle with locals, attempting- and miserably failing- to appear as if one is not a foreigner. To others, it is simply an excuse to stuff one’s face with as much food as humanly possible- and to not feel the least bit guilty about it. During my two-week trip to Argentina, I completed not one, not two, but all three of the above options.
Let us back up a bit. It was early September, and I had just started my first semester at Texas A&M University. I had not packed a suitcase in almost two months: a task that was once a part of my daily routine. I was getting anxious. I needed to travel somewhere, anywhere, and the sooner I could do that, the better. It was then that I remembered a program called the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers: an educational opportunity for current and past state officers of the National FFA Organization to study international agriculture for two weeks. Best of all it was abroad...and not just any “abroad.” It was in the home of tango dancing, gauchos, and grass-fed beef. There were no questions. I was going on that trip.
With tremendous support from my many sponsors, I crossed off “travel to South America” on my bucket list, packed my suitcase, and set out for my new adventure. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a nine-hour flight, chomping furiously on a disgusting piece of airplane chicken, and watching our estimated time of arrival tick closer and closer. At that point, I was still unsure of what exactly Argentina had in store for me. I was soon to find out about a culture that would forever change my perspective on agriculture and on life.
Over the next two weeks, I found myself on multi-generation farms, Polo game pony breeding operations, machine sheds, port terminals, and even the United States Ambassador’s house. My first reaction was shock. Nothing looked any different than it did in the United States! Then, I looked closer. Though the landscape and the equipment and the crop yields looked exactly the same, the issues that Argentine farmers were faced with were very different.
Argentines are much like American agriculturists in that they work, every single day, to produce a quality product. They farm their land with respect to the environment. They strive to become more productive and more efficient. They produce large quantities of soybean, corn, and beef (some of the best beef in the world, I might add). “What is the difference?” you may ask. The answer is the government under which they operate.
American agriculture is one of the most highly regulated industries in our country. We have guidelines, restrictions, and most importantly, safety nets. American agriculture will never fail, because it has been designed in a way that it cannot. In Argentina, there is no safety net. There is no set price. There is no insurance. There is nothing keeping that farmer from failing; he simply prays that he can produce a crop and that the crop he produces will sell in a stable market. Once that does occur, almost half of his profits are taxed. Then, taxed again. Farming in Argentina is a risky and, more often than not, costly profession. When asked why one would continue in such a business, one farmer simply replied “Because it’s what I love.”
At the time, this statement simply warmed my heart. It was not until I stood in the line for United States Customs, reflecting on my two weeks in Argentina, that his statement began to resonate with me. We, as Americans, become frustrated at our government for the policies and the regulations that are sometimes passed. We get annoyed by the efforts of those in office, or the lack thereof. It is not always what we wished for or what we had in mind. I can attest to that. In spite of all of that, though, we have never once listened to our crops be called “weeds” or had to wonder if we will receive any payment. We have something to protect us, to ensure our success...and something is much better than nothing.
As I handed over my passport, I thought of how much I loved Argentina. I loved the people. I loved the language. I loved eating two hour meals and watching tango. I loved Argentina as much as any person could love another country. What I loved more was knowing that I live in a country where agriculture has the opportunity to thrive.
So, if you get the chance, go. Pack your suitcase. Explore other cultures. Open your mind to new ways of doing things. Travel the world, but know that if you are going to be in agriculture, this is the place to do it in.
Of all the things that they could have said when I returned from my trip abroad, they chose, “Welcome home, Miss Grainger.”
It was funny. I could not have said it better myself.