No, not about Thanksgiving’s favorite fare, but rather, with a group of seven Turkish farmers and professional agriculturists who recently visited the state. The Turkish Farmer Mission Tour began on July 7th in Memphis and concluded when the group departed for Iowa on July 9th to continue their educational experience. Although it may not be widely known, Turkey is a major agricultural country, one of few that is considered completely agriculturally self-sufficient, and in spite of resistance to adopt or lack of access to modern technology and information, yields of Turkey’s main crops remain high, thanks to fertile soil, abundant water, favorable climate, and dedicated farmers. Cotton, tobacco, and sugar beets remain at the top of the list of Turkey’s major industrial crops, and cereal crops, namely wheat, top the list of food crops. Turkey is also a frontrunner in the export of dried fruits and edible nuts.
Interest in the U.S. agricultural industry by Turkish producers seems to be growing, and representatives from the United Soybean Board, Arkansas Soybean Promotion, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, and several Arkansas farmers were thrilled to oblige the group of two ladies and five men, which consisted of prominent Turkish farmers and a consultant with Foreign Agricultural Service, a part of the USDA based in Ankara, Turkey and housed at the American Embassy, by organizing this tour of a few of our state’s finest examples of productive agricultural ventures and state-of-the-art facilities.
On July 7, the group conferred in Memphis with the Biotechnology Committee of the United Soybean Board where they discussed Turkey’s position with the European Union and the impact that liaison could have on Turkish agriculture in regards to the ability to import and export biotechnologically enhanced foods. Although Turkey is not technically a member of the European Union, it is an associate member and is in the process of becoming a full member, which could happen as soon as 2013, and is therefore, subject to some of the policies and regulations observed under this status. The European Union began regulating biotech agricultural products, sometimes referred to as GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) products, in 1998 and has since gotten stiffer with its control. According to Dr. Lanny Ashlock, who represents the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, the session with the USB Biotechnology Committee was intended to educate the group on the U.S. perspective of biotechnology in agriculture. “Our visitors were presented with the advantages of biotechnology and newly emerging beneficial traits. They can relate this information back to influential policymakers in Turkey, and this will hopefully allow them to base their decisions regarding biotechnology on science rather than emotion,” said Ashlock.
That afternoon, the Turkish Farmer Mission Tour proceeded into Arkansas, where Todd Allen, Chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board showed the group some features of his Crittenden County farm and also provided a peek at a modern cotton gin and warehouse. They seemed especially interested in modern production of cotton since it is their own livelihood with the country’s large textile industry, and with the upswing in poultry production, corn is also emerging as an essential crop to the country’s economy. Although at present soybeans are not widely grown in Turkey, the group was given the opportunity to learn about soybean production in Arkansas and its importance to our state’s economy. Also of interest were the modern equipment, implements, and pivot irrigation systems that are a common sight on virtually any Arkansas farm. Since modernization is occurring rather slowly in Turkish agricultural production, the group was fascinated with the many advantages that technology can provide.
On Saturday July 9, the tour resumed at the Lon Mann Cotton Research Station in Marianna, where several University of Arkansas specialists delivered presentations. Dr. Fred Bourland, Director of the Northeast Research and Extension Center in Keiser and long-time cotton breeder and researcher, gave an excellent presentation highlighting the many facets of cotton research and management. Another tour favorite was Dr. Jason Kelley, Extension Agronomist-Wheat and Feed Grains, who spoke on the advantages and characteristics of biotech corn. Dr. Morteza Mozaffari, Director of the U of A Soil Testing and Research Laboratory presented on cotton and corn fertility, and Dr. Lanny Ashlock gave an overview of soybean production. The highlight of the day was the roundtable discussion between the Turkish farmers and some of Arkansas’ very best. The two groups were able to candidly discuss the challenges that they face while trying to provide food and fiber for their respective countries and also bonded over commonalities that are characteristic of farmers, regardless of geography. Especially fascinating to the group from Turkey was the U.S. perspective on cotton marketing. While visiting a local cotton gin, the group was surprised to learn that the origin of ever bale of cotton bought is preserved so that textile mill can know precisely what they are buying.
The Turkish Farmer Mission Tour was just one opportunity for new ties between the U.S. and Turkey to be made and for representatives of the two countries to compare goals, challenges, and pride in the contributions each make to the sustenance of their people and the economy of their countries. One area in which our two countries differ greatly is in the establishment of our land -grant institution system, which provides U.S. farmers with the Cooperative Extension Service. Turkey does not have a network of specialists specifically dedicated to helping farmers with problems and decisions on such a personal level as our Cooperative Extension Service. The Turkish farmers were impressed greatly with the availability of our extension personnel as a valuable resource to our farmers and expressed much appreciation for our organization. A special thanks to the farmers of Arkansas, our Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service specialists, who provided this great experience and education to their group of peers from Turkey.