SDARL students travel to India |

SDARL students travel to India

Shaley Lensegrav
for Tri-State Livestock News
Taj Mahal, photo from Tif Robertson

Class IX of the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership program on Feb. 23 returned from their two-week trip to India.

While visiting the country, the group of 30 was able to tour numerous agricultural operations including multiple crop farms, a flower seed company, a hog farm, a sugar cane factory, a tractor factory, fish market, and so much more.

Along with that, the group also had the opportunity to meet and learn from new people as they visited various organizations including the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Punjab Agricultural University, and the Salaam Baalak Trust which is an organization established to help children who live in the streets.

When asked why the group choose India, Lori Cope, Executive Director for SDARL responded, “Why not India?!”

“The people in India don’t have a lot, but they are so happy.” Matt Dybedahl, SDARL class president

India is a trending country in agriculture right now with the advances that they have made in recent history and their plans to progress within the next 10 years.

Their accomplishments are impressive because India is still a relatively new country.

In 1950 the country became an independent nation from British rule. After creating their own constitution, food production was lacking, which required them to import heavily. Now 68 years later, the country is able to feed its people and export goods.

Currently India is the second largest global producer of wheat, rice, sugar, and cotton and the largest producer in the world of canola, peanuts, milk, cashews, coconuts, and tea.

The SDARL’s class trip began on Feb. 9 when the group flew to Mumbai. There they visited an early morning fish market, and other sites around the city including some religious temples.

One of many highlights of the trips was touring a dairy processing plant. A lot of India’s food is very fresh and not processed; however, this dairy company is working to lengthen the shelf life of their products.

While India leads the world in milk production from both cows and water buffalo, its people do not eat beef. In fact, the group learned that you can actually be sent to jail for years for killing a cow.

The Indian people rely on cattle for milk, transportation, plowing, and they even use their dung mixed with straw as fuel for cooking and heating their homes. Because the cow provides so much for them, they believe that they are so sacred that there is actually a section in their constitution that protects cattle.

While the Indian’s view of cattle is very different from the American perspective, Kyle Schell, a cattle rancher from Wall, S.D., and class member, explained that in a way, the people of India treat their cows “similarly to (how we treat) our horses. Our horses do so much for us and we really don’t butcher and eat them.”

Indian diets consist mainly of chicken, lamb, goat, fish, rice, lentils, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

Only 20 percent of the population purchases food from a grocery store. Most sales are at street markets or directly from the farmers.

Around 60 percent of the population in India works directly in agricultural production and 85 percent of the land in India is owned by farmers.

Although farmers own a majority of the land, their plots are only around one to one and a half acres each. The government has capped how much land each farmer can own at around 5-30 acres depending on the state.

Within these farms, owners typically get up to 2-3 crops per growing season, and because they are in a tropical climate, crops can grow year-round.

While on the trip, the class was able to visit a couple different farms and see their fields of wheat, rice, sugar cane, canola, chickpeas, mustard, and other crops.

All most all of their harvests are done by hand which is very labor intensive. Because of this, crops are planted in stages so that not all of the field is ready to harvest at one time.

Wheat and rice are the farmer’s preferred crops because there is a quicker turn around time. Sugar cane takes 8-10 months to grow, which deters some farmers.

Most of the farms that SDARL visited were small; however, they did tour Bavnget Singh Kalyana’s farm which is made up of 94 acres of leased and personally owned land on which he grows wheat, rice paddy, sunflowers, chickpeas, lentils, mangoes and mustard.

Kalyana proactively uses crop mapping to determine which crops grow the best and incur the greatest profit. His mapping also helps him to make decisions about fertilization.

Unlike soil in the tri-state area, soil in India doesn’t have horizons. It’s soil composition is incredibly sandy, which makes irrigation and heavy fertilization necessary for production.

The group also visited a flower seed farm. According to Tiffani Robertson, class member and cattle rancher outside of Hermosa, S.D., “Beauscape Farms is the largest flower and vegetable seed exporter in the world with over 650 different plant and vegetable seeds.”

They produce 50 percent of the country’s seed and sell wholesale in over 100 countries. One of their major buyers in the United States is Applewood Seed Company in Colorado.

Their harvest is done primarily by hand or by machines that the company has built.

Its owner decided to take a risk and start the company because there are so many rice and wheat productions in his region.

Another one-of-a-kind operation that took a risk was a hog farm located in the northern part of India near China

This farm raises 200 pigs on 1.5 acres of land where they also pack, process, and export the pig products to other countries. They keep the pigs on concrete pads and have a farrowing barn as well.

They raise White Yorkshire, Landrace and Duroc pigs and get their semen from Canada.

In India, pigs, and the people who raise and are around them, are considered to be the lowest of the low. In fact, when this family first began raising pigs 19 years ago it made them social outcasts.

One thing the SDARL group admired the most about India was their hospitality. India is a country full of bustling people and, Robertson and Schell explained that, the busyness and rush of city life was overwhelming at times.

Tractors, cars, and cows could at the same time all be traveling down the same major multi-lane roadway within the city. There were also a plethora of markets and people begging for money or selling stuff along the streets.

Cope recalls that the people of India were “incredibly hospitable and happy to have us be a part of their country.” At each farm, the group was welcomed and invited to share some tea and sweet treats.

Not only did the Indians care about making the SDARL class welcome, they also care for their own people.

One organization, The Salamen Trust, was established to provide food, education, housing, and other resources to children who may have gotten lost, kicked out or abandoned and now live on the streets.

The trust was formed in 1988 after the movie Salaam Bomay inspired the director to found an organization to help children.

One of the boys who is a part of the trust gave the SDARL group a tour and explained how the Trust was impacting the lives of over 10,000 children a year.

The Trust tour, visiting the slums, and interacting with homeless children were an especially touching parts of the trip.

“I would have brought (the children) all home with me if I could have,” Robertson said.

The group also toured with Habitat for Humanity and learned about their efforts to build homes in India.

Along with formal organizations, there are around 135 community generated groups that help each other financially such as the Woman’s Self Help Group.

Everyone in the group puts some money into the pot and then from that amount they give out loans to different people to help pay for marriages, housing, and community projects. This is a good system because everyone knows everyone who is a part of the group and there is no problem with nonpayment.

On a larger scale, The Indian Agricultural Research Institute is also working to better the lives of farmers and production of agriculture in India.

Robertson said that the institute was interesting because it “has 500-1,000 acres right inside Delhi amongst all of the poverty and hustle and bustle of traffic and life.” They focus on improving crops, seed technology, and soil health.

The group also toured Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana. This school is in favor of using GMO’s, are very active in genomic mapping and testing for diseases, and are working to implement better cultural practices.

Schell was impressed with the quality of their labs and stated that their research is “as advanced as anything that we’re doing in the United States.”

Another impressive facility was the Sonalika International Tractor Factory that turns out 600,000 tractors annually. They produce several different models of open-cab 20-90 horsepower tractors.

The group was able to tour the factory where 72 percent of the tractor is built on site via a top of the line assembly line. Following the tour, they test drove various models that were hooked up to different implements on a patch of worked ground.

The tractors that are used in India are primarily used for transportation, as the typical farm is too small to justify using a tractor for crop production.

The company is looking to expand into additional countries and has recently partnered with a Japanese dealer to share facilities in Georgia and Florida in the US.

One major issue facing agriculture in India right now is mechanization.

Farming in the country could be completed much more efficiently, but with 60 percent of the population depending on agricultural production jobs, increasing the of machines would leave mass amounts of people out of work.

The SDARL’s class trip to India was definitely one to remember and learn from.

“It was eye opening on how good we have it in the United States,” Robertson said.

Class president Matt Dybedahl also explained that people in India “don’t have a lot, but they are so happy.”

Although Indian culture is much different from life in America, it was a remarkable learning experience and one that class members are sure to remember for a long time.

SDARL was formed in 1999 as a professional leadership development program for farmers, ranchers, and agribusiness people across South Dakota.

According to Cope, the 18 month program “provides a real understanding of statewide agriculture as well as agriculture on a national level and then follows up with an international experience.”

To learn more about or apply for SDARL go to or for further reading about the class’s trip to India check out their blog and pictures at F