2006-02-23 / Front Page

Different Work Ethic Drives Farmers in Argentina, New Zealand, Africa

Well-Traveled Expert Challenges EUP Agricultural Community To
By Amy Polk

A journey spanning more than 40,000 miles, on seven airlines, in 24 beds, over 60 days taught Ben Bartlett that agriculture on the other side of the world is valued more as an occupation than it is in the United States. A different work ethic, he said, drives people in countries like Africa, Argentina, and New Zealand to work harder to make money, and may be a force to contend with in the global market.

Mr. Bartlett is a livestock educator for Michigan State University Extension in Chatham and has traveled extensively around the world. He has worked for 24 years for Extension and was a veterinarian before that. He has veterinarian and animal husbandry degrees from Michigan State University and he has his own business, Log Cabin Livestock.

He took a learning tour of countries south of the Equator, including Argentina, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia, and New Zealand, where farmers work “under the very different environmental and political circumstances and motivating forces,” Mr. Bartlett said. Extreme poverty in those countries tends to be a primary motivator. Mr. Bartlett compared the gross domestic product (GDP), sometimes used as a measure of a country’s wealth and standard of living, of the United States to the countries he visited. In the United States, the GDP is $36,000 per person. In the African country of Zimbabwe, the GDP is $600 per person, in New Zealand, it’s $15,000, and in Australia, which is as large as the continental United States, it’s $20,000.

“The people in these countries expect to make money farming,” Mr. Bartlett said. “They expect to make money at this and succeed. People really work with what they have. These people know they need to work harder.”

Farmers in some of the countries Mr. Bartlett visited fight against difficult environmental conditions like severe drought, but still manage to make crops grow by carrying water to their fields.

“Water is everything” in most of these countries, he added. In South Africa, he said, if farmers can get water, they will use it to irrigate their fields and grow corn. “If there’s water,” he said, “there will be an apple orchard.”

In Africa, they also fight predators like lions, which threaten the livestock. Zimbabwe is far from a city center in the wild African bush country, so farmers there protect their livestock from predators with dense, homemade, high fences. Elephants are to Africans like deer are to Michigan farmers, Mr. Bartlett said, and they raid corn pastures.

“When elephants get into the corn, they are shot,” he said.

At night, the sound of hyenas can be heard throughout the countryside, he added.

Mr. Barlett's presentation to members of the Chippewa/East Mackinac Conservation District at their annual meeting was accompanied by photographs of the countries he visited. He pointed out that most of them have much smaller, compact dairy facilities compared to the sprawling barns and milk parlors of the United States.

In contrast, Argentina had the most elaborate, best kept, state-ofthe art facilities for raising, selling, and processing beef. The country is quite proud of its ranching heritage, and barbecue is everywhere, Mr. Bartlett said. Many restaurants have barbecue grills out in front of the buildings. Approximately 100 small, independent meat packers supply the restaurants, compared to the few, gigantic suppliers in the United States. On the plains of the Pampas, farmers grown corn, soybeans, and grains.

“Trucks are constantly moving product, everywhere you go, and they know how to move grain. The farmers are very sophisticated, and every farm you go to has a farm office, with a board that tells how many acres and how much livestock are on that farm,” he said. “They’re extremely proud of their heritage raising meat.”

That pride is reflected in beautifully maintained farms, where even the fences are attractive. Wealth in Argentina is assessed by how much land a person owns, and “the farmers there are the elite,” he said.

In New Zealand, Mr. Bartlett observed a sense of camaraderie, where the isolated island people know “they live or die on the export business.”

“So they all work together,” he added. “Their motto is, ‘we try harder.’”

Farmers in New Zealand don’t have much, he said, “but what they do, they do very well,” he added.

“Their long growing season with no water is the same as having a short growing season with winter,” he said, comparing New Zealand’s challenges to northern Michigan’s long winters.

Mr. Bartlett summarized the culture of the countries as based on a determination to do what they think is possible. He challenged the farmers at the Conservation District meeting to do the same.

“Your paradigm is what controls your dream,” he said. “Check your culture, your dream. Whatever you think is possible, make it happen.”

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2006-02-23 digital edition