This month I have been fortunate to be part of the Farmer to Farmer program. This U.S. Agency for International Development initiative operates in many regions of the world and is administered by Partners of the Americas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

From May 1-15, I worked with the Agricultural Business program at LaSalle University in Bogotá, Colombia. My assignment was to teach agricultural business planning to students in their undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as meet with professors and review a local dairy processing cooperative.

On my first day in the country, I sat with the director of the program chatting about my work in Pennsylvania. I found myself talking about the challenge of teaching business practices when farming is so often a labor of love. Add volatile market conditions and unpredictable weather to the mix and it’s a wonder we have so many successful farms day in and day out.

My assignment in Colombia was to help prepare students to work in the field of agribusiness. The university is based in the capital city, Bogotá, however many of the students come from rural communities in various parts of the country.

The subject of one of the workshops was risk management. In Pennsylvania and other parts of the U.S., we focus our efforts on price and production risk management. At this particular class we were discussing the various types of risk management:

1. Production;

2. Marketing;

3. Financial;

4. Legal;

5. Human Resources; and

6. General.

I asked the students if they could think of other examples, and one answer: security.

In Bogotá, security is not a present issue. However, many students come from rural communities that have seen violence.

LaSalle University runs a program called Utopia that is specifically designed to train young people from these violence-affected areas to be agents of change in their communities.

These students earn degrees in agronomy and agriculture production and are expected to return to their communities to serve as leaders for agriculture development.

When I arrived, I had prepared various lectures on budgeting and other business management topics. However, in each class I was asked to share my experiences working with farmers in Pennsylvania.

Recent years have shown us the extent to which the global trade environment affects the farm price of milk. Colombia is not known as a dairy producing country, but there is a sector in the more temperate region, higher in the Andes Mountains, where the climate is more conducive to small-scale dairy production.

One theme we returned to at each workshop with students from all parts of the country was the importance of record keeping and using data to make decisions.

Producers across the globe face risk in different ways. The resources available to manage price and production risk in the United States are different from those in Latin America.

More than anything, the goal of my lectures was to impart these students and agriculture producers that the challenges in agriculture are not specific to any one country. That the issues of price variability, a dependence on global trade and exports to support prices and production challenge such as a changing climate, heat stress and crop loss are issues faced by all producers: large and small, tropical and temperate.

Heather Weeks is originally from New England and has lived and worked in Central Pennsylvania for over three years. She brings a background in dairy production to her work, and served as Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador after completing her master’s degree in agricultural economics from Virginia Tech.

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