Agribusiness summit at U

by Will Conley

The College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences presented “Exploring Our Global Community: People, Food, and Agriculture,” a first-of-its-kind global summit designed to improve international agribusiness relationships.
The summit, which took place June 6-9 at the Radisson Hotel in St. Paul, pulled in 700 agriculture academicians, producers and businesspeople from 50 different countries.
Many of them are alumni of Minnesota Agricultural Student Trainee (MAST), an international educational student exchange program that began in 1949 at the University in an effort to make connections with other cultures that participate in agribusiness. In 50 years, the program has grown from a few Swedish and American students to 5,000 alumni, said Vern Freeh, a summit organizer.
“The beauty of (the program) is they would come over and live in the dormitories while they were at school. So suddenly, Germans and English and Dutch and South Africans — everybody is living together. And there’s no quicker way to break down barriers,” Freeh said.
“We wanted to celebrate it by having a global summit bringing people from all over the world, both to be speakers and to be participants,” he continued. “And we brought the very top kind of people — farmers, academicians, businesspeople.”
For two days the participants discussed global agriculture and food supply. They broke up into focus groups to discuss such issues as the growing influence of biotechnology on world food and agriculture; principles for assuring that agriculture and the environment work together; information technology and its impact on food and agriculture; and food quality and safety.
“Globalization is happening.” Freeh said. “So how can we all work together to make it possible for all of us to do the very best with what we have?”
He said technology is quickly forcing all nations to work together.
“Technology has improved more in the last 40 years than it has in the last 400 years,” he said.
Also included in the program was an award ceremony which granted $50,000 to three leaders in food and agriculture.
In recognition of the event, Gov. Jesse Ventura proclaimed the week of July 5-11, 1999 to be observed as “People, Food, and Agriculture Global Summit Week.”
Following the summit this week will be a reunion for everyone who has participated in the program throughout its 50-year history.
“It will be an informal way for them to reconnect,” said Stephen Johnson, reunion coordinator.