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Italian farmers learn about agriculture in Canada

There was an international flavour to the gathering at T. Scherman Acres south of Battleford last Wednesday. That was provided by a group of 18 farmers from Italy who had come as part of a tour of farms throughout western Canada.

There was an international flavour to the gathering at T. Scherman Acres south of Battleford last Wednesday.

That was provided by a group of 18 farmers from Italy who had come as part of a tour of farms throughout western Canada.

The group had just come in from Lloydminster and they planned to head to more farms to the east, including around Wynyard, in the following days.

It was through social media that they found out about the Scherman farm, run by Trevor Scherman and his father Pat. Trevor has an active presence on Twitter posting about farm-related topics, and that caught the attention of those organizing the tour’s itinerary.

The group tracked Trevor down on Twitter only a couple of days before.

“Now here they are,” he said.     

The Italian group spent a good deal of time at the Scherman operation looking over the variety of equipment on display. It was Trevor Scherman who showed the group around the seeding equipment and tractors on site, as well as the sprayers.

There was one particular brand that especially caught their interest, not surprisingly.

“They’re very keen on John Deere stuff,” said Scherman.

One notable piece of vintage equipment that impressed the Italians at the farm was a restored John Deere 5010 tractor from 1964. It drew plenty of interest and a lot of photographs that made their way on to social media.  

It was Pat Scherman who provided the demonstration of their most prized piece of equipment at the farm: the ScherGain Solution System they had developed on their own.

It consisted of a drop-pan that measures the amount of grain being left behind on the field when combining. The idea is for farmers to be able to manage their losses and maximize the amount of crop that goes into the bins and to market.

This was just one notable stop on a tour that began in Calgary Oct. 8 and which was scheduled to run a week and a half.

The group on tour consisted of farmers who hailed from Italy’s northern regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna.

The group was led by Elio Mastrangelo, an Italian travel agent for John Deere Italy. In the past, Mastrangelo had organizing tours of customers and dealers of John Deere to visit the company’s factories in Iowa and Illinois.

But over the last couple of years, Mastrangelo said, he started organizing other tours on his own, without a sponsor, by using his social media accounts on Facebook or Twitter.

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“You can see the results,” said Mastrangelo. “I have 18 farmers who are very enthusiastic about this travel in Canada. They are enjoying meeting with other local farmers, so they can exchange experience, ideas, maybe some same issues, because the issues are the same for all the people that work in farming activities. I’m very happy because between my people and the people that they meet, they start sometimes, they exchange emails, and they create relationships. It’s nice.” 

For this leg of the trip they found a Saskatchewan contact, Louise Carduner, who used social media to find farms for the Italian farmers to visit and acted as their tour guide once in the province. 

Mastrangelo had chosen Canada for these tours because “this country, for agriculture, is incredible, because you have a lot, a lot, a lot of land.”

Mastrangelo pointed out some notable differences between farms on the Canadian prairies and those in Italy.

He noted that Italian farms are usually much smaller, about 25-30 hectares, mainly because there is a limited area of Italy where the soil is good. Those mainly are in the Milan and Bologna areas in the north, as well as areas of southern Italy, which are good for wheat crops.

Another thing that impressed the tour group was the amount and size of the machinery. According to Mastrangelo, “when they see the stuff a local farmer has to use, they are very surprised because in Italy you can’t afford to buy machinery, it’s very expensive.”

There was one challenge that everyone from both sides of the Atlantic had to overcome, and that was the language barrier. Most of the Italian group had limited to no English.

However, it was evident on the Scherman farm that the Italian farmers did share something in common with their unilingual English-speaking hosts from Saskatchewan, and that was the language of agriculture.

“They don’t necessarily need to speak English to communicate with the Canadian farmer or the United States farmer,” said Mastrangelo.

With a few words, he said, the Italian farmers “understand everything, because they have the common problems and the common targets.”

Scherman agreed, pointing to the use of hand gestures and the use of common measurements like bushels and tonnes, so they could understand how much the yield would be.   

“It’s all agriculture,” said Scherman. “Between hand motions and a couple of calculators, we’re basically talking agriculture. We don’t need to know all the words.”

As for the types of crops grown in Italy, there is much similarity to what is found in the fields across Saskatchewan.

Mastrangelo says that in northern Italy there is a lot of corn, soybean, wheat and barley, while in southern Italy the soil is good for durum wheat, which is normally the source for the country’s world-famous pasta. 

“We’re all in the same boat, we’re all doing the same thing, just in different countries,” said Scherman.

In all, the Canadian hosts were impressed with the enthusiasm and the attention they got from the touring party from Italy.

The tour at the Scherman farm ended with some typical Saskatchewan hospitality, with the Schermans providing food for their guests from Italy.

“We’re in the shop, sitting around some moose and deer horns, talking agriculture,” Scherman said.