Three high-ranking members of the Chinese Rural Development Institute visited Logan County Thursday as part of an extension exchange project between U.S. universities and their counterparts in China.

The trio, accompanied by an interpreter from Colorado State University, are part of China’s Academy of Sciences Social Science division in Beijing. The RDI advises the Chinese government on policy direction for rural development in that country.

The visitors met with staff members of CSU’s Engagement Center in Sterling and then toured Northeastern Junior College’s greenhouse. There, CSU Extension agent Brian Kailey briefed the visitors on the joint NJC-CSU hydroponics project, which grows several vegetable types for use by NJC food services.

Kailey told the Chinese the project is aimed at bringing young people “back to the farm.”

“We’re exploring the possibility of bringing the next generation back to the farm using high-intensity vegetable production with hydroponics,” Kailey said. “We also want to create profitable small farms and provide locally-produced, healthy food for our community.”

Dr. Brent Young, agriculture economist at the Sterling Engagement Center, explained that the production agriculture that’s done in Logan County doesn’t necessarily feed local people.

“We can’t directly use what these farmers and ranchers grow,” he said. “This kind of project explores the possibility of growing food these people can directly use.”

The trio and their interpreter were accompanied by Dr. Lou Swanson, CSU’s vice president of engagement and director of extension services. He said the Chinese officials were here because CSU and other universities are helping China establish a university-based extension system to work with the massive government-based system it already has.

After the greenhouse tour, NJC’s Agriculture Department and members of the NJC ag faculty hosted the delegation at a luncheon in the Tennant Art Gallery. Prof. Mike Anderson gave the visitors an overview of the department’s mission and goals, from training production farmers and ranchers to preparing students for further study in agricultural areas. He also talked about the strong relationship between NJC and CSU.

Prof. Andy Bartlett briefed the Chinese on the concept of precision agriculture and the importance of that concept in improving per-acre yields on modern farms. Prof. Kelly Huenink then explained her adult education program, which trains farmers in the use of new technology and the importance of record-keeping, planning, and commodity marketing. She also briefed the delegation on Annie’s Project and the important role women play in American agriculture.

After lunch the Chinese visitors met with local financial advisors: Jeanne Klemt, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency lending office in Sterling; William Owlsey, who directs the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Sterling, and Jocelyn Knutson, senior loan officer for Premier Farm Credit Services in Sterling.

The visitors later toured the Mike and Kammy Schuppe farm north of Iliff to learn about the successes and the challenges of conservation tillage, also called “no-till” farming.

There, the delegation learned about having to closely manage scarce water resources and how the Schuppes use no-till farming to improve soil moisture and decrease inputs like fuel, fertilizer, pesticides and manpower. Mike Schuppe estimated that yields can increase by between 30 and 50 percent, but it can take up to 10 years to realize those returns.

CSU’s Swanson said the week-long tour of Colorado is part of China’s attempt to build a university-based extension system similar to the one in the U.S.

“They already have a massive extension service, with about 6.5 million extension agents, but it’s in the Ministry of Agriculture, which is the counterpart to our U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Swanson said. “They’re in the process of re-structuring and they want to develop a university-based platform for the rapid introduction of new technology into Chinese agriculture.”

Swanson said the idea is to build a parallel, university-based extension system and then see how the two blend together. He said the U.S. is the only nation in the world with a university-based extension system.

CSU is working with the University of California system, Oregon State, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Purdue, Texas A&M and Purdue University and with 10 universities in China to exchange information.