Laura Larson returns from ISU Ag Entrepreneurship Tour in Greece

Laura Larson, marketing coordinator for Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, recently returned from Greece where she toured through Iowa State University’s Ag Study Abroad program. The trip’s focus was Agricultural Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was a great match for Laura’s educational pursuits, as she was very involved in studying entrepreneurship and business development throughout college.

Laura said she was intrigued by the program because Greece’s agricultural industry is facing some of the same issues we are realizing in American agriculture: industry consolidation, increased regulation and the need to grow more food on fewer acres. Due to Greece’s diverse and small-scale ag production, producers in the region have to become entrepreneurial to remain viable in tough economic times. Laura said the constant innovation and niche marketing that is driving agriculture in Greece can be applied to help American farmers remain competitive in the global agricultural market.

The 26 ISU students who participated in the trip toured one of the top 100 wineries in the world, Domaine Gerovassiliou (acres of vines at Gerovasiliou below). They also toured Kri Kri dairy processing plant, a dairy operation focusing on Feta cheese production (pictured above), and a pistachio farm on the island of Agina (pistachio trees at right). (Greece is the largest producer of pistachios in Europe and the sixth largest exporter in the world). Other stops included a water buffalo feedlot, Barbastathis frozen vegetable production plant, a winery focused on producing canned grape leaves for the food market instead of wine, Agriplant high tech nursery and Spirulina algae production plant.

One big highlight of the trip was the opportunity to interact with the American Farm School, what Laura called the “ISU College of Ag of Greece.” The school was founded by a missionary, who traveled to Greece from America, with the goal of preaching about religion.  Upon arriving, however, he found a country suffering from famine and drought, so he decided it would be much more important to teach them about agriculture. This school is the only one of its kind teaching agriculture in Greece.

Laura’s greatest learning experience came from talking with Greek producers about the use and acceptance of biotech ag products. She was surprised to find that many of them were very open to the biotech industry but, admittedly, were not well educated on all the industry had to offer.  They told her the main reason European producers are reluctant to approve biotech is for simple economic reasons; they don’t want the United States controlling genetics for products they produce.  Hopefully, increased pressure from a growing population will help these producers overcome economic opposition and accept the benefits these products can bring to their fields.