Midwest farmers have the opportunity to explore Bolivian agriculture
April 15, 2012
Three Midwest boys were offered the opportunity of a lifetime – to travel to Bolivia and explore the country’s agriculture industry. Jason and Jamie Van Kooten, along with Matt Engbers, traveled to Bolivia Jan. 9-19, 2012 on a business trip to help expand the Bolivian crop and feeding industry.
All three are involved in American agriculture. Jason runs a hay grinding and silage cutting business out of Volga, SD, and Jamie operates a cattle and hog operation in Iowa. Jamie also sells silage cutters and other machinery through his business. The silage business is booming here and abroad, and Van Kooten sold more than 75 silage cutters in 2011 alone. Engbers is a family friend who works to help in the fall silage cutting season.
So, when Bolivian farmer Juan Carlos Roca Chavez approached the Van Kooten family about purchasing some machinery, the opportunity to blend U.S. and Bolivian agriculture came to fruition. Chavez purchased two silage choppers and a push tractor. Because this business is new in Bolivia, a deal was struck that Chavez would purchase the equipment, only if the brothers would travel to his country and show him how it’s done.
“Bolivian farmers want to learn from us here in America,” said Jason Van Kooten. “Chavez agreed to buy the equipment, as long as we showed him the ropes.”
The trio quickly rounded up their passports, received the required vaccinations and packed their bags to head to Bolivia. Chavez’ farm was located 50 miles North of Santa Cruz, Boliva.
“Their agriculture down there is hard to describe,” added Van Kooten. “In my opinion, their agriculture is probably 75 years behind us. The farms are small, with many properties broken down into two-three acre pastures. Those with more land are trying to expand their herds and become better cattle feeders. They feed mostly Brahma because it’s so hot down there. The challenge is it takes three years to finish one of these steers. That’s why Chavez is so interested in learning about silage cutting and how to more efficiently feed these cattle.”
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Chavez started studying American agriculture in 1991, when he worked on a dairy farm in Wisconsin for six months and spent another six months in DeSmet, SD on a cattle ranch.
“From his time in the U.S., he was absolutely amazed at how we feed cattle up here, so when he went home, he tried to implement some of the things he learned in the U.S.” added Van Kooten. “It took him 15 years to save up enough money to get the equipment. There is so much poverty and hunger in that country, and they hope to become more efficient at raising crops and feeding cattle. They are now able to get cattle finished a lot sooner; it’s changing the availability of meat. He plans to cut 15,000 acres of silage this year.”
Van Kooten explained that fertilizer, chemicals and advanced technology are brand new in Bolivia, and the gap between rich and poor is quite noticeable. The ability to implement some of these agriculture technologies could greatly help meet the needs of the poverty-stricken, hunger population in Bolivia.
“On one side of the road, you see people living in grass huts and across the street, you might see a million-dollar mansion,” said Van Kooten. “The cost of living down there is nothing, and agriculture is still very labor-intensive. Chavez has 25 men working for him, and they are very well-paid down there, receiving $400 per month; that’s more than most locals make in several months!”
The Americans learned that two-hour lunch breaks with siestas during the work day were a must, and they were exposed to many new cultural traditions, including food. They sampled pig intestines and even a dairy cow’s mammary system. While the trio had a great opportunity to teach Chavez and his neighbors about American agriculture, they took a lot of life lessons home, as well.
“Without a doubt, the U.S. is the best place in the world to be,” said Van Kooten. “We are becoming a world economy. In these third-world countries, there are so many untapped resources that aren’t being taken advantage of. One hundred years ago in the U.S., it took a lot of people to get the work down. Today, one farmer feeds 150 people, whereas the labor intensity in Bolivia is still great. American agriculture needs to continue to be on the cutting edge, or we will fall behind some of these developing countries in the years to come. Once these nations are able to adopt some of our technologies, they are going to have great opportunities to grow their agriculture infrastructure.”
With a greater appreciation for the opportunities here in the U.S., Van Kooten said it all comes back to the family farm. “The family farm is still the core of America, but what the farm does for the world is now more important than it ever has been before.”