Many in the SDARL group were impacted by the children they met while on the trip. India has a very large population of homeless people and many of them are children. Shown is Bo Slovek of Philip (right) and Adam Schindler of Reliance with a few of the children. The SDARL group was the first Americans these children had ever met.
Many in the SDARL group were impacted by the children they met while on the trip. India has a very large population of homeless people and many of them are children. Shown is Bo Slovek of Philip (right) and Adam Schindler of Reliance with a few of the children. The SDARL group was the first Americans these children had ever met.

By Codi Vallery-Mills

The South Dakota Agriculture and Rural Leadership Class 9 returned home from their international trip to India in late February. The CBW caught up with a few of the class members to hear about their travels.
Billy Clanton of Buffalo, Peggy Bieber of Leola, and Bo Slovek of Philip, are all cattle producers so venturing to a country that holds cattle scared and doesn’t eat it for meat was a definite change of pace.
“Cattle are everywhere. They show up in the mornings to be milked by their owners, then go wander around for the day and show back up at night to be milked. Cattle will just be standing in the city streets,” Slovek says.
Clanton agrees it was different to see a resource like cattle not being used to its full extent. Most of the cattle are a bos indicus cross or water buffalo. The class did visit a dairy production facility but with the average herd being only 5 head and the average milk production being under 10 pounds/head/day, the facility had to rely on numerous producers to get the milk needed for the demand.
“And they haven’t invested in genetics. They could improve the pounds of milk they produce every day if they would look into their genetics, but instead, any bull can breed the cattle as they roam freely,” Slovek says.
While there wasn’t anything to see in terms of beef production, the trio appreciated the trip and what it offered them in seeing a different way of life.
“It was a very great trip. So eye-opening to see how they live and do what they do so they can feed their people. They are not mechanized there so they can keep people employed with labor and they realize that. They are aware they are outdated,” Bieber explains. “But it is so they can keep people in jobs.”
They expected the hustle and bustle of the traffic in the cities but still, once they experienced it first-hand found it shocking. With no rhyme or reason to the madness it was hard to believe people were getting anywhere they wanted.  “They don’t use blinkers but they do use their horn. It’s like there is an international code for honking over there,” Slovek jokes.
Clanton says he initially was unsure about going to India, “But I changed my mindset right before going and made the decision to embrace it. Once I was there and immersed in the culture I really enjoyed it. The kindness of the people was unreal. They literally rolled out the red carpet for us at some places.”
“We did kind of feel like celebrities a few times,” adds Bieber.

In the country-side is where the SDARL group felt the most welcome and had great exchanges with other farmers. “They asked questions of us as much as we did them. We had good two-way conversation,” Clanton says.
Farms in India are small (less than 20 acres) as the government limits the size so farms have to be managed manually thus creating farm labor jobs for people.  The largest tractor the group saw in use was 100 horsepower. Crop farms are flood irrigated and cross-pollination and development of hybrid seeds is common though India does not believe in using GMOs or pesticides.
A highlight for the group was visiting a large flower and vegetable operation, Beauscape Farms. Through the use of cooperator farms, the business has grown to provide seeds for 100 other countries including the U.S.
“This guy started the business in 1985, figured it out, and has become very successful,” Slovek says. “He is India’s largest flower seed supplier.”
“He really was pretty innovative for the area as everyone else was growing rice and chickpeas. He had a different way of thinking and it worked,” Bieber says.
They also visited a hog producer who is raising hogs through the use of Canadian genetics. Artificial insemination was a common practice and the animals resembled what you would find in the U.S.
However, India has a large Islamic population that doesn’t eat pork because they feel it is the lowest of animals. Because of this, Slovek says the producer has been shunned somewhat because people place the same “low label” on him.
“But he has continued and has found a market for his pork somehow, with some of it even going to China,” Slovek says.
While labor force jobs are paramount, Bieber says the group did stop at a major tractor factory, International Tractors Limited that was creating tractors – with no electronics – to be sold locally and abroad. International Tractors Limited is India’s third largest company, selling 85,000 tractors a year. Sonalika International tractor lines are exported to 90 countries with 15,000 units a year globally. The average wage for a worker at the factory was $5 a day and that was a very good job they were told. The company has recently expanded into the U.S. “These are tractors that are used on small acreages and hobby farms,” Bieber says.

The SDARL class was made aware of several challenges the country has. Front and center was the situation of homeless children living in unsanitary environments. The amount of trash that filled the streets and was piled in heaps overwhelmed the class.
In explanation of it, one Indian man told the class that years ago meals were eaten on biodegradable items like leaves or plates made of straw and could just be thrown on the ground and either burned later or blown away. This habit of throwing things on the ground has never ended but the increase of non-biodegradable food containers has risen and now India has a massive trash issue.
Rummaging through the trash are hundreds of children that leave their homes looking for a better life, are abandoned by their parents or somehow get separated from their families while visiting the city. There are numerous organizations established to help the children stay safe and have warm meals, but still many children remain living on the streets and are one of India’s biggest hurdles.
Interacting with the kids was a highlight for Clanton that he says he soon won’t forget. “What we found was children are children wherever you go in the world,” Clanton says. “They were so happy to see us.”
Related to the garbage issue and farming is the country’s soon to be short supply of fresh water. Waste is spoiling waterways and flood irrigation practices are misusing amounts of water needed.
“They said by 2030 they will only have half of the fresh water supply needed,” Slovek says.
And another challenge that hit closer to home was the prevalence of farmer suicides. While it was never fully discussed with the group there were several mentions of suicides among farmers being high due to lack of resources, debts and just overall living environments.
“The trip made me appreciate the wide-open spaces of South Dakota and the freedom we have to do what we want. If you want to grow GMO crops, be organic or use pesticides we can. No one is telling us how to raise things or that we can’t expand,” Slovek says.
Expanding, whether through land or market channels is going to be limited agrees Bieber. She says the country’s increasing population is going to make it hard to do anything but focus on feeding itself. “They will continue to outpace us [the United States] in textiles and exports there. With so many people and little land though they can’t grow their agricultural products enough for exporting I don’t think. Eventually, they will likely have to import commodities to feed their people and that will be an opportunity for U.S. ag.”
Now back in South Dakota and busy plowing March snow, Clanton says what he reflects back on is the fact that farmers in India do things so different and yet it works for them. “We are considerably more advanced than them, but they are a proud culture and work hard. It is just a reminder to me that things can be done different ways and still work.”