Northwest Missouri State University students from Nodaway County spent several days in Japan last month where they observed farming practices at the Niigata University of International and Information Studies.
Making the trip were Mariah Stiens, a junior agronomy and horticulture major from Maryville, and Michael Brown, a junior agronomy major from Skidmore. They were accompanied by Maryville resident Jamie Patton, an associate professor of agriculture at Northwest who specializes in soil science.
"Traveling to Japan was an incredible opportunity," Stiens said. "I love discussing agriculture with others, and it was great to learn from people from such a different farming environment than what I am used to."
Patton said international experience is becoming more and more valuable for young people preparing for careers as farmers or in ag-related industries.
"Agriculture experience outside our region and country is almost becoming required for a student to compete for jobs and to be successful in those careers," Patton said. “Therefore, when Niigata University offered to host us this summer, we were thrilled to take advantage of such an amazing opportunity."
Stiens, Brown and Patton studied Japanese rice and vegetable farming techniques and also noted cultural differences between farmers in the United States and those who cultivate fields across the densely populated Pacific island nation.
They found some similarities, too.
"Many of the faculty members (from Niigata University) were commenting that even though the culture and language are different, farmers are farmers wherever you go," Patton said. "We were sharing the same experiences, talking about our love of the land, culturing the land, liking the small-town lifestyle and the agony that being a farmer sometimes brings."
Patton said she met several farmers belonging to families that had farmed in one spot for six generations or more. One said his family had been cultivating the same land for eight generations, and claimed that Patton, Stiens and Brown were the first foreigners to walk through his village since "the dawn of history."
Northwest has had a relationship with Niigata University for several years. Students from the school sometimes attend Northwest to sharpen their English skills.
In the near future, Patton hopes to take Niigata students on a tour of area farms. She also plans to apply for a grant that would bring Japanese farmers to Missouri to observe American production techniques.