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Minnesota and Morocco find common ground in wheat

Group of people looking at barge on river
USDA Cochran Fellows from Morocco and Tunisia toured the Riverland Ag Corp barge loading facility in Savage, Minn.

Minnesota is a leader in spring wheat, and last year’s wheat harvest shattered previous records. More than half of the state’s wheat acres are planted with varieties developed at the University of Minnesota.

Prices and quality count in the wheat business, but so do relationships. “Somewhere in the world, wheat is being harvested every month of the year,” says David Torgerson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers and the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council. “Building personal relationships helps sustain long-term trading partnerships.”

Moroccan and Tunisian agricultural leaders visited Minnesota in 2017 via the USDA Cochran Fellowship Program. University of Minnesota Extension’s John Vreyens, Jochum Wiersma and Edward Usset organized a tour so the visitors could learn about Minnesota’s wheat industry. The tour included a stop at a barge loading facility in Savage. Barges are loaded on the Minnesota River and shipped to Louisiana, where grains are transferred to ocean-going vessels for export.

“A special relationship between the University of Minnesota and Morocco going back to the 1970s has long involved agricultural development, and we can expand on this connection for mutual benefit,” says Vreyens, Extension director of global initiatives. Many Moroccan scientists who studied at the University of Minnesota lead and teach today at Moroccan institutes of agricultural higher education and research.

Vreyens also led a trip to Morocco from the University of Minnesota Crookston, which is in the region that grows 80 percent of the state’s wheat. One goal was to explore new opportunities to share expertise in global food security.

“You could probably drop Moroccan farmers into a rural Minnesota coffee shop and they would fit in perfectly other than the language they’d be speaking,” says Rob Proulx, an agronomy lecturer at University of Minnesota Crookston who went on the trip. “Our goals are the same, the science is the same, and we are all battling diseases in wheat. My students can benefit from becoming a part of this special connection, whether through electronic means or travel.”

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