University News

Australian Ag Students Take a "Walkabout" WIU

July 17, 2014


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MACOMB, IL -- Two years ago, Western Illinois University Agriculture Professor Emeritus John Carlson and 21 WIU ag students traveled across the globe to Australia to learn about that country's agriculture systems, as well as the culture. Last week, Western returned the favor to Charles Sturt University students.

Twenty students and two faculty from the Wagga Wagga, Australia university landed in the U.S. June 26, making their way to Western after visiting a few other American universities and landmarks. During their four-day visit to the Macomb campus, the group has toured campus and Western's agriculture facilities, visited area farms and agriculture-related industries, such as the Big River Ethanol Plant in Burlington, IA and Pioneer International plant breeding center in Adair. State Rep. Norine Hammond also met with the students to discuss the government's role in agriculture. Free time activities included cookouts, pool parties, community tours and some Illinois landmarks, including the Lincoln Museum.

"It was wonderful to have the group from Charles Sturt University here. This visit is another great example of the international cooperation Western has around the world," Carlson said. "Not only was it a learning experience for our visitors, it was a learning opportunity for our area producers to learn more about Australia's agricultural systems from these students."

Lexi Cesnik, a Sturt agriculture student, noted that the "openness of the producers" was a pleasant surprise.

"The producers and others we spoke with, and asked questions of, were so open to talk about their methods and more," she said. "While both of our countries are westernized, there are so many differences, such as state versus national regulations. It's interesting to compare how things are in our country with your system in the U.S."

One of the differences the students, and their faculty leaders - Yann Guisard and Shevahn Telfser - pointed out is that while "organic" or "natural" foods are taking off here, they are much bigger in Australia. Reducing the chemical impact is of utmost importance in her country, Telfser added.

"Hormone- or chemical-free seems to be more the norm for our general population," said student Tony Allen, whose interests lie in rice-based farming, as well as corn and soybean production. "But like here, those natural products are price driven. However, if an antibiotic doesn't add to its value, we won't use it."

Another notable difference the group pointed out is how agriculture is viewed in America, as it appears to receive much more support in relation to its benefit to the economy.

"Agriculture is not a big major in our country. When I came to Charles Sturt University from Sydney, people in Sydney were asking me why I was majoring in agriculture. The personal and professional relationships between the producers, the University and government is so very different to us, and it's so nice to see," explained Rylie Chevvey, whose specialty

"There is a lot more learning opportunities and more diverse agriculture topics to study here as well," said Nicholas Ball, whose interests are regulation, education and extension. "It's also interesting to see how much larger your operations are, and how there are so many segregated industries within agriculture."

Telfser and Guisard added that agriculture is definitely viewed in a much more professional manner in the U.S. Despite the differences, the global partnership is beneficial not only for their students, but for the WIU students who visit their university as well.

"These exchanges allow us to view each others' systems in a new light, and perhaps we can bring new ideas to the table," Telfser said. "The partnerships provide students with the opportunity to learn how to be a professional on a global stage."

Carlson, who retired from Western's School of Agriculture in May 2012 after 32 years of service, made it his mission during his tenure to travel with students via WIU's study abroad offerings. Over the years, he has hosted numerous study abroad trips to Russia, and in 2012, Carlson was selected as a Fulbright Scholar. He taught from August through December 2012 at the Ryazan State Agrotechnological University in Russia, located in Ryazan, which is approximately 126 miles southeast of Moscow. And while he has since retired, Carlson remains an active participant in the school and working with Western's international partners.

"As agriculture becomes more and more international in scope, it is important to establish these partnerships and understand global agricultural systems," Carlson added. "We strongly encourage students to become involved in these trips. They not only expose them to different types of agriculture, but they also demonstrate to them how differently other people live. That knowledge is extremely important if we continue to actively compete against them and/or sell products to them. You have to know all you can about your customers and your competition, and you can't get that kind of information from an economic worksheet or from taking a vacation and just visiting another country. You have to be there, talk to them about what their problems are and see how they live," Carlson explained.

Carlson will lead another study abroad trip to Australia in Spring 2015. Students interested in the 2015 trip should email Carlson at JP-Carlson@wiu.edu.

"We would like to thank Western Illinois University and Dr. Carlson for making this possible, and for the opportunity to experience all that we have during our visit," Cesnik added.

"The networking opportunities, the experiential learning, it's all an incredible experience for our students and for us," Guisard added. "Seeing what we learn about first hand is very beneficial."

For more information on Western's study abroad opportunities, contact Emily Gerlewski of the Center for International Studies at (309) 298-2504 or EJ-Gorlewski@wiu.edu, or visit wiu.edu/studyabroad.



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