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AgCenter, Slovakia partnership could help solve shared problems

News Release Distributed 10/08/14

Watch video from the Oct. 6 Global Agriculture Hour here.

BATON ROUGE, La. – While the United States and Slovakia are different in many ways, the two countries’ agriculture industries share similar challenges.

In Slovakia, where farms were state-run from 1949 until 1993, the agriculture industry is struggling to recruit young people, said Danka Moravčíková, associate professor in the College of Continuing Education at the Slovakia University of Agriculture (SUA) in Nitra. The American workforce faces a similar shortage of new blood, with farms and life science companies unable to hire enough trained ag scientists.

Moravčíková and other SUA faculty were the featured speakers at the Oct. 6 Global Agriculture Hour, an event sponsored by LSU AgCenter International Programs that highlights the significance of international activities to Louisiana agriculture. During their visit to Baton Rouge, they also met with LSU President F. King Alexander, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Stuart Bell and Bill Richardson, vice president for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture.

Representatives from the AgCenter, College of Agriculture and SUA formed an exchange program and signed a research agreement in July in Slovakia. SUA students will visit LSU in February, and LSU students will visit SUA in June, said David Picha, director of AgCenter International Programs.

SUA has about 10,000 students and offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs, including 20 that are taught in English, said Natália Turčeková, assistant professor in the SUA Department of Economics.

Not many SUA graduates become farmers, Moravčíková said, which is concerning because the average age of a Slovakian farmer is over 50. Likewise, the average Louisiana farmer is 58.5 years old, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

“We need to revitalize the sector,” Moravčíková said. “We need to attract young people.”

SUA Rector Peter Bielik said exchange programs like the one with LSU could help achieve that. Researchers will also benefit from the relationship by collaborating on research topics important to both Louisiana and Slovakia.

However, AgCenter Vice Chancellor John Russin, who was part of the group that visited Slovakia in July, said the partnership with SUA goes far beyond student and faculty exchanges.

“We have talked about topics such as entrepreneurism and how you encourage that among faculty, how you encourage public-private partnerships, and how you structure an outreach program so you touch your taxpayers throughout their entire lives,” Russin said. “There are many challenges that they face that we face as well.”

Agriculture is concentrated in southern Slovakia, Turčeková said, and key crops include winter wheat, spring barley, maize, sugar beets and potatoes. Beef cattle and sheep production is also important. Agriculture makes up only about 3.1 percent of Slovakia’s GDP.

Slovakia has undergone an “era of change” since the 1989 Velvet Revolution and 1993, when Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moravčíková said. Municipalities regained political autonomy and their unique identities.

“That was important for rural development because municipalities can decide for themselves about their needs and are self-governing units again,” she said.

However, Slovakia and several other Eastern European countries have high unemployment in rural areas, Moravčíková said. Agrarian unemployment in particular has increased, she said, because many workers have low education attainment and can only find seasonal work.

Bielik said SUA and LSU students both have much to gain by participating in exchanges. Being exposed to agriculture in another country is a valuable experience and one that is increasingly important in today’s world.

The next Global Agriculture Hour is at 2 p.m. on Oct. 23 in 212 Efferson Hall at LSU. It will feature presentations by faculty from Mendel University in Brno, Czech Republic, which is also working with the AgCenter and College of Agriculture to form student exchanges and research collaboration.

Olivia McClure

Last Updated: 10/8/2014 1:20:33 PM

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