A marvellous week in Texas, by Per Henrik Hansen, Denmark

As winner of the 2009 writing competition organised by the Danish guild of agricultural journalists, Per Henrik Hansen was funded to attend his first IFAJ Congress, held in Fort Worth, Texas. Here is a translated version of his report for the guild’s website.

Eight days filled with great experiences, surprising impressions, inspiring discussions and exciting people - this is the short version of what I gained from taking part in the IFAJ Congress in Fort Worth, Texas.

After being named the lucky winner of the 2009 writing competition of the Danish guild, for a couple of months I had been looking forward to collecting the prize – a tour to ”God’s own country,” as some Americans like to call their homeland. I was not disappointed.

Unforgettable images

The word congress perhaps leads you to think of long speeches in a large, sultry meeting room, and polite exchange of business cards during the breaks. During this congress the longest speech was the very powerful words photographer Jim Richardson used to accompany his unforgettable slide show.

Under the headline, ”Soil”, he showed a series of beautiful pictures he had taken for National Geographic. They illustrated the incredible importance and enormous multiplicity you can find in the thin layer of soil that feeds the entire world’s human beings and animals - overwhelming, touching and deeply serious at the same time.

Input to both your mind and notebook

We were never sitting in a sultry meeting room. On the contrary, the rooms were chilly or even cold thanks to the predilection of the Americans for very efficient air conditioning.

In these tempered surroundings I got something both to reflect over and write about from the workshops and meetings I attended.

Take for instance the debate about agriculture and climate where Theodor Friedrich from FAO recommended the use of “conservation agriculture”.

Farm with 5800 cows

But the most exiting was to meet farmers in the neighbourhood of Fort Worth. Fortunately there was lot of time to do this. A visit I will never forget was at the Vander Horst Dairies. The farm had in total 5800 milking cows at several geographical sites.

At one place they had 1000 cows in an air-conditioned barn. I have never seen or imagined a barn so crowded with animals, but they were not tied, the sand in the beddings was clean and dry, and the air was fresh and good.

Calves with little space

In another place they had almost 1000 calves - the first 50 days of their lives were spent standing in a tiny box, so tiny, that they could hardly turn around. If the USA really is God’s own country, God ought to look a bit more at animal welfare.

I could also write about organic farm with the cattle outside on grass the whole year round, or about cosy stores at farms in beautiful landscapes. Instead let me finish with a private remark: I have started trying to convince my wife that I must go to Belgium next April, to the next IFAJ Congress. Even if I have to pay myself.!