Ag from ND to Brazil: Rural leadership group flies overseas to witness global agri-businessRural Leadership North Dakota started its 10th year in a big way, with a first-ever overseas trip to Brazil to see agri-business and tourist attractions in the South American country.
By: Katherine Grandstrand, The Dickinson Press
Rural Leadership North Dakota started its 10th year in a big way, with a first-ever overseas trip to Brazil to see agri-business and tourist attractions in the South American country.
Previous groups of the North Dakota State University Extension program had been to Canada, and all classes attend sessions in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., but Class V was the first to leave North America.
“We just know that there’s a strong connection with agriculture in particular,” said Marie Hvidsten, RLND program director. “There’s a lot of soy beans grown in Brazil, as is North Dakota, corn, there’s just some things around exports and policies and how they deal with agriculture that we wanted to learn for the future because we know agriculture has a global market.”
Class V participant Anthony Larson, a rancher and ag banker with Dacotah Bank in Hettinger, had been following the program for years but couldn’t make the commitment until this last go-round. He was excited to be a part of the first international group.
They returned from their 10-day journey on Feb. 1.
While gone, they took nine planes and spent at least 75 hours on buses traveling around Brazil, participant Jolene Obrigewitsch of Beach said.
“The countryside itself is just absolutely beautiful,” she said. “It’s something I’ve never seen before.”
This was the first long distance international trip for her, Obrigewitsch said.
“This was my first time overseas where you know, you spend five or six hours over the ocean,” she said. “It’s a little daunting when you watch that on the computer screen going, ‘Oh, we’re only half-way across the ocean.’”
Obrigewitsch is the development director for Home On The Range in Sentinel Butte.
It was Larson’s first overseas trip, as well.
“It was a wonderful experience — possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience — to view a culture and a country far outside of our country borders,” he said.
Obrigewitsch didn’t have any anticipation about what would happen once they landed.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I was a little apprehensive about wondering if I would be able to understand their language, be able to communicate. It’s a totally different currency system, so I was a little apprehensive about that.”
The group had tour guides who helped with interpretation, but Larson saw an opportunity to help the language barrier.
“I believe there’s great value in learning a second language,” he said, “because truly, we are a world society.”
As more languages are being spoken in North Dakota and more direct trade happens from the state, it will be important to communicate with our international partners, Larson said.
Visiting the capitol, Brasília, and second-largest city, Rio de Janeiro, was Obrigewitsch’s first visit to a large city.
“I had no idea what a true city is,” she said. “We’re talking Rio has 6 million people in it. To me, I just can’t fathom that kind of population until you actually kind of see it. North Dakota total has 600,000 people, so try to imagine 6 million coming together.”
The group didn’t spend all of their time in the cities; they visited several farms, ranches and farm agencies throughout their trip.
“Getting to see the things that we did probably not a lot of people saw because it is in a really rural part of Brazil,” Obrigewitsch said. “It also helped us to appreciate the things we have back home, just from learning some of the challenges that we have.”
There was a lack of infrastructure in rural Brazil, Larson said.
“We were told that, at times, there could be a 40-mile or four-day wait to dump grain,” he said. “And certainly that would be unheard of here.”
It amazed him how things can develop quickly, Larson said.
“Brasília, itself, the capitol of Brazil, was not developed until the late ’50s and early ’60s,” he said. “So the capitol of Brazil is less than 60 years old but is a very well developed city with a population of over a million people.”
While Brazilian weather was quite different from that in North Dakota, our two countries share some similarities, Larson said.
“The rural people of Brazil, I felt, were very much like rural North Dakotans,” he said, “They’re very self-reliant people, people that were very conservation oriented and worked hard, they had a good work ethic.”
RLND was started 10 years ago because the State Board of Ag Research and Education wanted to educate community leaders in ag and rural settings to learn more about the state, country and international issues, Hvidsten said.
“(There were) some people in the state saying that we needed a program to help areas of agriculture and rural communities — which we consider all of North Dakota” to help them move forward on projects and initiatives back home, she said.
Any adult has lived in North Dakota for a year or more as of the application deadline is eligible to apply for Class VI, which will begin taking applications shortly, Hvidsten said. Most participants are in their 30s and 40s, but they have had some as young as mid-20s and as old as mid-60s.
“Really, the passion for wanting to help their community and organizations as they move forward is a real important part for someone who applies,” she said.
Class VI will have 10 sessions in 18 months, Hvidsten said. Seven will be in North Dakota and the remaining three will be trips to Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and to a yet-to-be-determined international location.
There is a $3,750 tuition for the course, but that includes all group travel expenses and the cost of the classes, she said. There is some tuition assistance available through local ag and community organizations and many times employers will help employees with tuition.
Participants are expected to transport themselves within North Dakota, but are encouraged to carpool with others in their area.
“Then you have an additional time frame to talk about what you were seeing as you are going home,” Hvidsten said. “As well as when you’re coming, just to have more time to network and learn more about each other in the class.”
Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/rlnd to download or request an application to become a member of Class VI. The deadline to apply is June 15. Classes begin in mid to late November.
“I certainly recommend to anyone interested to apply,” Larson said. “The commitment is significant to attend the various seminars and make the travels, but I found the reward and payoff to be very significant and well worth the investment of time and resources. I believe it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anybody that has the opportunity to participate.”
RLND committee members will be interviewing applicants throughout the summer so the class list can be set before the first class begins.
“I would just encourage people, if they’re interested, to get more information about it,” Hvidsten said. “I think it’s always a good thing is to contact someone who has been in the program and see what it’s all about.”