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Travel offers lessons in ag markets, heritage – Iowa Farmer Today

RED BUD, Ill. — When people talk about international trade, Kirk Liefer listens intently as a soybean farmer whose bottom line is affected by trade.

The Southeast Illinois farmer will be traveling next year to learn about such things first hand.

As one of 30 people in the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Program, he is already being briefed on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that will be a focus of the 2016 trip to Japan.

“For our family, traveling focuses on education,” said Kirk, who farms with his two brothers, Kent and Kris, and their father, Kevin, raising corn, soybeans and wheat in Randolph County.

Kirk, of CH Farms in Red Bud, said he looks forward to learning what people think about the TPP agreement and about Japanese culture.

He is also well-versed on issues related to the $5.25 billion Panama Canal expansion, set to officially open next year. The Central American country is also on the leadership program tour in February and March.

“The mission is to create leaders,” said Alison Myers, program director for Illinois Agricultural Leadership Foundation, which funds the program. It includes visits to the state and national legislatures. The finale is a relevant international trip.

Kirk previously traveled to Brazil with the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Young Leader Program to learn about global markets.

“It’s good to know what the competition is doing,” he said.

While international farmers have far different climate and crops, those he has visited still share common challenges, Kirk said.

“A lot of the core issues are similar to what we have,” he said.

Most of the trips Kirk and his wife Stephanie have taken were agricultural-based, usually through the Farm Bureau Young Leader Program.

“All those experiences we have help us focus more on what we do,” Stephanie said.

Kirk and Stephanie, parents to five children, ages 5-13, say they are able to accept such opportunities by planning ahead and with the support of their families.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL has a big impact on Kirk’s parents’ lives, as well. Kathy and Kevin Liefer traveled with a Lutheran Church group in Germany.

“That’s where our heritage is and that’s were we come from,” Kevin said.

Stephanie’s father’s heritage is also German, and her parents were on the same trip as her in-laws. Her dad connected with a cousin in Germany.

“You could see the resemblance. They hadn’t seen each other in 60 years. It was a moving moment,” Kevin said.

As a traveling farmer, Kevin said he noticed how European farmers used “every acre.” The farms in Southern Germany were well-kept, roadside ditches mowed, and the countryside looked immaculate, he said.

However, farmers were more heavily taxed and regulated than here.

“I think we have more freedom here. It makes you appreciate things we take for granted,” said Kevin.

He and his wife also visited Italy and Ireland. They hope to travel to Germany in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of reformation with fellow Lutheran church members.

The couple didn’t travel as much when they were younger, partially because they had hogs at that time and the livestock made it more difficult to get away.

But, now that their three sons are farming, they have time and opportunity for travel.

The parents have instilled the respect for that kind of learning into the next generation, Kirk said.

“It helps you be more open-minded about the world — broaden your horizons and have deeper perspective,” he said.

Travel offers lessons in ag markets, heritage – Iowa Farmer Today

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