By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
Josh Fries of Imperial traveled to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan in January with the Nebraska LEAD Group 31. On the other side of the world he was delighted to find beef from Omaha, nutritional products from Omaha and a Nebraska-based pet food company.
These were all signs of increased trade between the U.S. and foreign countries, Fries noted. In all three countries, he said, if it’s not seafood, it’s imported.
“I was impressed by the amount of dependency those people have for our agriculture goods,” he said.
Fries said that “In the U.S. it’s ‘buy American.’ But there’s a flip side. If we don’t buy from them, they don’t get the money to buy our stuff.”
Hong Kong is a crowded city of constant construction. Fries saw at least 500 tower cranes, building even more 70-story buildings for commerce and government housing.
“The skyline is absolutely impressive,” he stated, while the massive traffic composed of bicycles and motor scooters was astounding.
While touring Hong Kong Disneyland, the LEAD team took a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchens with the Disney chefs. Imagine his delight when Fries spotted boxed beef from Omaha.
The team also met with Pet-Link owner Melanie Fung and her Nebraska associate, John Miller of Oxbow Animal Health Products. Most of the products sold by the specialized pet food company is imported from the United States.
Traveling on to Hanoi, Vietnam, Fries said the city of six million people and 6.5 million motor scooters has no discernible traffic laws. However, he never saw a traffic accident.
Vietnam is a communist country with government-owned farms. Most farms average 2.5 acres and are farmed by people who work at other jobs during the day.
There are an amazing 60 million farmers in Vietnam. One of the U.S. concepts the government is very interested in, Fries said, is the Extension Service.
At present, the government has information and research it needs to get to those six million farmers, but there is no link or agency to pass along that information.
Fries said the Vietnamese understanding of farming and the American understanding are “two polar ideas.” There is also a huge gap in U.S. understanding of communist ownership, and of Vietnamese understanding of private ownership of land.
Most 2.5 acre Vietnamese farms consist of three crops of rice per year, with some fruits and vegetables grown on the side.
Two problems the Vietnamese government face in farming, Fries said, is how to get young people to start farming, and how to get technology to farmers who are economically unable to afford it on 2.5 acres of land they don’t own.
While in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, LEAD 31 toured International Nutrition, a company based in Omaha that provides products to meet the nutritional needs of livestock, poultry and aqua culture.
They also toured the tunnels of Cu Chi, an immense network of connecting underground tunnels near Saigon. The tunnels were a base of operations for the Viet Cong for the Tet Offensive in 1968 during the Vietnam War.
Fries said a “huge portion” of the Vietnamese population was born after the Vietnam War, so they don’t hold a grudge against Americans.
He said they were curious about why the LEAD group was in Vietnam, and admired the white skin of the members, as white skin is supposed to be superior, Fries said.
He added that the group didn’t bring up politics in any of the three countries.
In The People’s Republic of Taiwan Fries learned another concept of “farm.” Taiwan is full of “leisure farms,” where people escape the cities. The farms are essentially ag tourism, and consist of zoos, parks, hotels and family entertainment.
At one “farm,” you could pay $25 for a small bale of alfalfa, and then feed it to goats. You could milk a Jersey cow. The Flying Cow Ranch, which the group visited, is essentially a 120-acre petting zoo, Fries commented.
LEAD 31 also met with the U.S. Meat Export Federation, the U.S. Grains Council, the U.S. Wheat Associates, the U.S. Soybean Export Council and Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture, to “hear their take on American ag products and how they get to the people who need them,” Fries explained.
The 34-year old said the international study/travel seminar was an experience he would definitely repeat. As a LEAD participant he is on the lookout for other people who would benefit from the program.
It is a big time commitment, he noted, with three days per month for two years devoted to LEAD. In addition, the first year includes a national study tour of 10 days.
That trip included visiting the livestock markets, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Kansas City Board of Trade in Kansas City.
In Washington, D.C. they met with senators and congressmen, and learned about the EPA’s overall program, national commodity groups such as the National Corn Growers, and the political action group Heritage Foundation.
In Chicago, topics were the EPA’s city and commercial emphasis, the Chicago High School of Ag Sciences, the Chicago Board of Trade and the John Deere plants.
Fries, who is a financial officer with Farm Credit Services of America in Imperial, said the study has turned him into a spokesman when agriculture “gets a bad rap. My job is to tell the correct story. This elevates you to do it at the next level,” not in the grocery store but in front of groups, he explained.
Fries will attend a recognition banquet in Lincoln this Friday, where the LEAD 31 group will be honored.
LEAD stands for Leadership Education/Action Development.