One of our main reasons for visiting Vietnam was to learn about the agriculture industry in another country. We wanted to know more about how our imports to the country are used, how livestock are raised, what the economic values of certain crops were, and how food was treated overall. At the end of the day, 75% of us in MARL are active producers, so seeing agriculture up close in another country is one of those things that make us all giddy inside.
Rice is one of the main staples of food dishes and the agriculture economy in Vietnam. We were able to visit with a rice farmer, and see first-hand how rice is grown. Luckily for us, since we traveled from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, we were able to see an entire crop’s life cycle from planting to transplanting to harvesting to burning off the fields at the end.
I never really thought much about the rice I eat until I saw all of the hard labor that these farmers put into their product. At the end of the day the might make $500 a year for their crop, and they might get 2 crops a year in the North, and 3 in the South. They transplant all the rice into perfectly straight rows because when they plant it they just sort of throw it into the field so it seeds itself in clumps. Most still hand harvest all the rice, but some do own a small harvesting machine.
We were able to tour a pineapple farm. I knew pineapple grew on bushes, although some in our group thought they grew on trees. Pineapple is hand harvested here as well. I don’t think I would like that job – they are very spikey! We learned that the smaller the pineapple, the sweeter it is. The Pineapple farm is also in the process of diversifying so they have planted passion fruit as well. Passion fruit grows much like our grapes do, on vines utilizing a trellis system. The Passion fruit then hangs down underneath and is picked when ripe. If you haven’t had passion fruit yet, I highly recommend you try it. It is delicious!
When we visited the pineapple farm, we were able to speak with some of the farmers that operate a section of it. The farmers also had honeybees in their yard. It was interesting to see how bees were raised in another country, and another climate. For them, they basically just get a continuous flow of honey at all times, rather than here in Minnesota where we have to let the hive build up enough honey stores to winter them over.
We were also able to tour an organic veggie farm where they were using seaweed for their fertilizer. They grow a lot of herbs there, lettuces, chives, and sprouts. They have easy access to seaweed which is known as a fantastic fertilizer full of nutrients for plants. The farmers dig about 4 inches down in the dirt, place the seaweed in and then cover the bed with dirt again. They the plant directly into the bed. We were able to practice watering some of their vegetables…although I’m not sure any of us did a very good job!
Fishing is also a large part of agriculture over there. They use a few different net systems – one a hand net, and the other one is a large net that is raised and lowered “mechanically” (speaking loosely on mechanically here) to catch the fish. there are also many fishing boats that go out to the ocean. There is also a lot of fresh water fish available – basa fish, similar to our cat-fish (and there is a lot of controversy over the industry there) are readily available. There aren’t limits here, and size isn’t part of catch limits either. Some of the fish they would fry to eat were tiny! As I stated before, Oyster farming is also huge down there. It was interesting to see how they were raised vertically in the water.
One of our favorite stops, was to a modern hog operation in Vietnam. The owner raises primarily Duroc hogs, and was very interested in what the Duroc’s looked like where we were from. The owner new his data everything from average birth weight to the size of litters to how many head he would keep for replacement versus sell. The hogs were kept in what I would call more of an open confinement system. It reminded me of the hog farm I grew up on as we had an outdoor, open feed lot for our hogs. The manure handling system at this farm, was not something you see at a typical US hog farm. They separate the liquids and solids, and bag the solids for fertilizer. In the US typically hog manure is pumped and spread on the field as one, not separated.
But, I think the strangest thing we encountered at the hog operation was the tattooing of hogs. From what we gathered through our interpreter, was that he uses the tattoo as a way of marketing his hogs – kind of like showing them off or making them fancy for the market there. By doing so, his competitors and buyers know that they are getting a good hog because the tattoo shows it is one of his hogs and his are prized.
Agriculture in Vietnam uses a lot of Water Buffalo to plow fields, provide beef and even milk. Not many things are done with a skid loader or a tractor, but with the water buffalo. Water buffalo are an important piece of agriculture in Vietnam because without it, they would have to be working fields completely by hand, and they wouldn’t be providing the beautiful leather hand bags many of us purchased in Vietnam as well.
Agriculture looks vastly different over in Vietnam just because so much of it is done by hand. The prices they earn for their products are drastically lower as well, part of this is because of it being a communist country. There isn’t really a free market to help set the price. They have different weather issues so things like grain storage and animal housing look different or operate differently.
That being said, it also looks the same. They don’t get to control the end price of their product, just like many of us here that farm. They care about bettering their operations and are searching out ways to do so. They are also worried about the same things we are – the weather and the prices. Their families work alongside them, just like many of ours do too. Some farms are multi-generational just at our farms are here in the US.
I really appreciate the work, the detail, the dedication every one of the farmers we visited with displayed. They love what they do, just like we do. Many of them are continuing the family farm, and at the end of the day, you have a lot of respect for everything they do to provide a living for their families.