It has been a few weeks since I returned from Germany as a delegate on the Nebraska governor’s trade mission. After a whirlwind week meeting with German government officials, ag and biotech manufacturing firms, business people, educators, researchers and others, I came away with a renewed sense of purpose for our ag industry. I was also reassured that goodwill still exists in this often-fractured world.
Global engagement is so important, as our world is constantly shrinking in the face of communications technology. One-on-one contacts that foster and further goodwill are vital and open communication channels that can’t be developed through technology alone.
While the trade mission’s main goal was to showcase Nebraska products and investment opportunities, and say thanks to German firms who have already invested in Nebraska, it was also a learning experience.
I was a former exchange student to Germany with the IFYE cultural exchange program. Unlike most traditional exchange programs, I wasn’t a student; rather, with IFYE, you live and work with your host families. In 1980, I stayed on seven different German farms in seven different states, living for three weeks with each family.
My German language background helped immensely. While English is the language of business almost worldwide, during our informal discussions and at dinners and receptions, it was nice just to converse with the Germans in German. They truly appreciated the handful of us in the delegation who could do so.
Through those discussions, we learned about the shared value system Germans and Americans have. We learned about the ways many of the firms we visited have worked to keep businesses in a family for multiple generations.
Usually after three generations there is a tendency for family businesses to fracture or be sold, as the upcoming generation has no interest in continuing the legacy. However, in Germany and especially in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, there are many businesses that are now in the fifth and even sixth generation.
We visited the international headquarters for CLAAS, maker of combines, forage harvesters and more recently tractors where the fifth generation is at the helm. Fourth generation patriarch Helmut Claas, age 93, made sure he had a chance to meet the Nebraska governor and was at the welcome center when we arrived.
At Graepel’s international headquarters, the fourth generation of Felix and Carlo Graepel, personally led one of the tour groups, ever excited to showcase some of the new equipment and techniques they are using in their metal fabrication firm. They make clean air intakes for equipment like CLAAS combines and John Deere tractors, metal steps for all types of farm equipment and for manufacturing firms and specialty items like metal strips for construction.
These are just two of many other firms who have made consistency and quality part of their legacy. These were the messages the nearly 30 Nebraskans shared as we engaged in conversations about ag products, education and research and manufacturing opportunities. The quality of Nebraska grains and beef, the work ethic found in our workforce and the other similar values for our businesses, communities and our families.
There were even opportunities to help bridge gaps among the Germans themselves. During a reception in Düsseldorf, I was visiting with the founder of a cybersecurity firm and during our conversation a gentleman from the German equivalent of our Extension service joined us. We began talking about all the problems German farmers were having with commodity prices, environmental activism (the German environmental minister pushed through legislation in July that will ban the use of glyphosate in Germany by 2023, while the agriculture minister offered barely a whimper), and urban sprawl.
The cybersecurity CEO had no idea about all the agriculture troubles and when I moved on to visit with others, they were deep in discussion. This was just one of the many times during the trade mission I was able to witness differences diminish through one-on-one conversation, allowing us to celebrate the common good.
Freelance journalist Barb Bierman Batie grew up near Battle Creek, Neb., and now farms row crops with her Platte Valley Farmer, Don Batie, northeast of Lexington. She has written for local, state, regional and international publications and joined the Midwest Messenger crew in 2010. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.