Sunday, March 25, 2012


Steve Groff is finishing his trip to China with his daughter and her school choir. LuAnn and I have been following his excellent email reports of his great adventure with the kids across China. I am always interested in this subject because I had the opportunity to be one of the first American citizens invited to the country in 1985 after travel there was opened.

We were talking this morning, how could a farmer go away this time of the year and focus on the trip during the beginning of spring? For Steve, it was a great opportunity for his teen age son to "take over" while dad is gone. How do you focus on what needs to be done or what you could be doing when you are away?

It's easy for some. Steve has made it look easy this past week when others were reporting planting from all over the U.S. and even Canada! He has been eager to learn how our trading partners live and work and was willing to share his experience to anyone who would "listen." If you would like his email review of his trip to China, drop me an email or comment at the bottom of this post.

I can see that a lot of things have changed in China since I was there in 1985 but a lot of things have stayed the same. The average person had no transportation, just their own two legs. Even though we hear of the traffic jams in China and world demand for fuel while we are cutting back, most of them still walk or ride their bicycle.

Steve did get to see John Deere building tractors in China, something most of us will never see. One question was raised, is their quality and tolerances as good as the USA or Europe? China is considered the source of "junk" we don't need and throw away. But they have come a long way in quality of their products which is reflected in the way people live there now.

China is a whole new world that has changed ours. Is China on your "bucket list?"



  1. You want to "do" China before you die? ^-^
    I assume you went there to teach them how to improve their crop's yield. Nowadays, maybe it's us who'll learn a thing or go visiting them, although I believe the teaching is always mutual.

    I wouldn't put the blame solely on China for the junk aspect, it has more to do with the greed of American companies who want the wares for as cheap as can be. At this level of low prices, they are not just trying to stay competitive, they want to maximize profits, regardless of the health, environmental and social (both in China and in the U.S.) consequences.

    American companies that have Chinese factories build their products based on strict specs control all these factors, including the quality, as you mentioned. Apple's iPad comes to mind. If you don't want cheap lead paint on your toys, specify the list of what's not allowed, don't expect a Chinese factory to know the U.S. legislation for you.

    Still, even detailed are worth nothing if you don't control the quality upon delivery of your products. I don't remember in which book I read this, but for each product a factory manufactures, there's a dozen other factories trying to beat them on prices (and with their GDP growing, a dozen more in other countries too), so factory owners are constantly trying to find cheaper ways, for instance using a metal strip thinner than the specs require. They don't even consider this as cheating or breaking their contract or amoral, it's up to us to educate them about the kind of business integrity we expect. It's a whole different culture out there, so for anybody who trades with China, a visit is probably mandatory.

    On the other end of the spectrum, China also produce industrial machinery and tools, or 18% high efficiency solar cells rated for 20 years of usage. And by machinery, I don't mean just a robot to do certain things, I mean a whole production line chain of machinery, where you put the raw ingredients on one end, and you get the finished products on the other. If there's a business need for it, someone already asked for it and they have it.

    I frequently visit the Chinese portal alibaba . com to check out on prices, it's a lesson each time. I plan to import a pallet of solar cells at some stage, and have a family and friend workshop to build solar panels out of them, from small 1-cell systems for kids to power their phone or iPod, to full scale systems with used car batteries to power the whole house including at night. Should be fun.

  2. I was on a Citizen to Citizen Ambassador Mission to share how we educate our youth in American in agriculture through 4-H and FFA. In my opinion our mission was a failure because we only had one interpreter for a couple of days in the 30 day trip who could translate English to Chinese. Deng Xi Ping had decided that agricultural education of youth was a key how America outproduced Chinese agriculture so greatly at the time.