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Swiss Students Get Overview of Pennsylvania Agriculture

Posted: October 16, 2018

Twenty students from Switzerland visited Penn State's University Park Campus and operations throughout the Commonwealth.
The visiting Swiss students enjoyed the opportunity to pose with the Nittany Lion.

The visiting Swiss students enjoyed the opportunity to pose with the Nittany Lion.

Penn State’s Department of Animal Science hosted 20 students from Switzerland as a follow-up to a trip taken by Penn State students last spring. Both trips were designed to introduce the students to the history, the agriculture and traditions of each country. Through research projects, lectures and presentations, students were able to contrast and compare the two countries andachieve a richer appreciation of both.

 Visiting students were from The Bern University of Applied Sciences School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences, HAFL, Zollikofen, Switzerland, and they represented diverse backgrounds and interests. Stefan Probst, lecturer in livestock nutrition, accompanied the group.

Ann Macrina, Ph.D., Associate Teaching Professor in Penn State’s Department of Animal Science and co-organizer of the trip, said, “Our visitors were all very inquisitive and took lots of notes at each of our visits. They were intent upon learning as much as possible in their short time in Pennsylvania.”

The packed eight day schedule took the students from the University Park Campus to dairy farm visits to equine operations, to University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center and much more. There was an opportunity to see the diversity of Pennsylvania’s agriculture while getting to know the people and the culture.

At the University, they visited the Dairy Complex, Beef-Sheep Center, and the Deer Research Center and learned about the work of Penn State researchers on calf nutrition, genetics, milk fat depression, cow circadian rhythms, beef cattle nutrition and growth, and deer nutrition, reproduction and health. They also visited the University’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center to learn about research on hops, dairy cropping systems, and high tunnels for growing berries..

In addition, they visited the Armsby Calorimeter, which was on the cutting edge of animal nutrition research in the 1920s when Henry Armsby began using it. Probst said, “As a livestock nutritionist, it was a rare honor to meet and speak with Dr. Truman Hershberger, who may be the last living person to use the calorimeter. It was of special interest to learn that while this calorimeter was probably as sensitive as the new ones, it was a lot more labor intensive.”

Students visited a Walmart which helped them get a feel for how meat, eggs and milk are sold in many grocery stores, and they also visited a smaller store as a contrast for a total picture of producing and marketing. Visits to several farm stores offered insight into the variety of supplies available to farmers.

Stephanie Bürgy observed, “There are a lot more food choices here than at home. We have some different brands, but the total number of brands available is much broader here.”

Most agriculture in Switzerland is on a smaller scale, and with less land area to grow grain, the difference in feeding both dairy and beef cattle was of interest to the group. Jérémie Favre said, “Because grain must be imported and can be expensive, our rations are largely forage, creating little marbling in the beef we produce. It was surprising to see the amount of marbling found routinely in the steaks in this country.”

He pointed out that the production of some Swiss cheeses require that the cows not be fed any silage, so many farms feed dry hay and no silage. Favre graduated from the University of Bern and is currently a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. He joined the group for their tour of Pennsylvania agriculture.

A visit to Penn National Race Course gave the visitors a thorough background on that important Pennsylvania and its contribution to the economy. They met with veterinarians and learned how the racing industry works, the examinations and drug testing performed on horses and got a close-up view of the racetrack and racetrack racing.

To show more of the equine industry, the group visited Pennwoods Percherons, Centre Hall, and Windermere Farms, with Percherons and oxen, Spring Mills.

Penn State alumni graciously provided tours of their dairies. Matt Wanner of Wanner’s Pride-n-Joy Dairy, Narvon, showed them his family’s ~800 cow farm that has a methane digester, a trucking operation, and a bed and breakfast. Don and Pam Gable of Gable’s Conebella Farm showed the group his award-winning Ayrshires and explained about their cheese-making and hay-making operations.

      Other places on the schedule included:

* Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, the largest producer of specialty mushrooms in the U.S.

* New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

* A 100-head goat dairy and cheese making operation 

* Belleville Livestock Auction and Farmer’s Market

* Benner Spring State Fish Hatchery

* Penn State Greenhouse, where they learned about hydroponics and the raising of tilapia.

* Jan Turner, an Amish dairy and turkey operation

* Windy Butte Ranch

* New Holland Farm Equipment Manufacturing Plant

And it wasn’t all work for the students. They visited Hershey Chocolate World, Seven Mountains Wine Cellars, and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

A large part of any international exchange is the opportunity to meet and interact with locals. Marina Bernhard said, “We were happily surprised to find how friendly people are, and how willing they were to chat with us at restaurants or in checkout lines. We felt very welcomed and were delighted with the friendliness.”

Jacob Werner, VMD, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Dairy and Animal Science and co-organizer of the tour, said, “It was a pleasure to host these students from Switzerland after a visit there last year with Penn State students. To help them gain an understanding of our agricultural economy and contrast and compare it with their own was very rewarding. It was an added bonus to interact with producers, professors, researchers and others throughout the week.”

Probst expressed his appreciation to all those who facilitated their visit. “The students and I learned so much about your agricultural industry; it was a very special opportunity for us to visit and meet those involved in production agriculture. We are very appreciative.”