Belgian students tour Imperial Valley agricultural producers
Agriculture students from University College Ghent in Belgium toured Superior Cattle Feeders Calipatria location Friday as part of their agricultural tour of California. (ANTOINE ABOU-DIWAN PHOTO / March 30, 2013)
“It’s an opportunity to compare European agriculture with American agriculture,” said Professor Dirk Fremaut, when asked why he arranged the two-week agricultural tour of California.
Fremaut, a professor of animal production at University College Ghent in Belgium, said the tour began in Northern California and worked its way southward. He and his 37 students attended two days of lectures and labs at University of California, Davis. They paid a visit to the Fresno Farm Bureau.
They also learned about the area’s irrigation system and the history of the Colorado River when they paid a visit to the Coachella Valley Water District, Fremaut said.
“All this water in the desert,” he said. “In Belgium there is too much water.”
The Imperial Valley leg of their itinerary included many aspects of the area’s agriculture, including crop production, animal production and feed processing.
Friday’s activities began at Superior Cattle Feeders, where cattle records manager Rosie Flores gave the students a tour of the company’s Calipatria facility.
“They (steers) come in weighing 299 pounds, and go out weighing 1,400 pounds,” she said.
All American Grain LLC, a grain elevator and storage company, was next on their agenda, where plant manager Cecil Baker demonstrated how grain is shipped in and out of the facility.
Twenty-seven thousand tons of grain can be loaded onto a truck in just two minutes he said, while pointing at the machinery that makes this possible.
Thanks to the facility’s computer-controlled automation, 11,000 tons of grain can be unloaded in 10 hours, Baker said.
“It’s big,” said Bram Pauwelyn, when asked what he thought of the facility. Pauwelyn said he is pursuing a master’s degree in agriculture.
Fremaut’s students saw how grain and alfalfa is processed into feed when they visited Superior Cattle Feeders.
Mill manager Richard Orduno said corn is rolled flat and mixed with sugar and alfalfa to produce cattle feed that is nutritious and digestible.
“Lots of corn flakes,” Fremaut joked about the appearance of the corn that had been rolled flat.
The most significant lesson, perhaps, was the contrast in agricultural production between the Imperial Valley and Belgium.
“Here you grow (crops) three times a year,” Fremaut said. “Production in the Imperial Valley is much higher because of the weather.”
Additionally, Belgian agriculture is not as specialized as the Valley’s.
Rather than rely on feed producers, “farmers in Belgium mix their own feed,” Matthias D’Haese said.
Additionally, D’Haese said, construction regulations in Belgium are stricter than in California.
“In Belgium they have to build a basement to catch the feces,” he said, contrasting the accommodations required for livestock in Belgium with the outdoor enclosures he observed in the Valley.
The group’s tour will work its way north again, Fremaut said. They are scheduled to visit a floral company in Los Angeles Wednesday.
Staff Writer Antoine Abou-Diwan can be reached at 760-337-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org