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Pick of the crop from Iowa

Proving that international links take many forms, two agriculture students from Oatridge College in West Lothian are jetting off to study farming methods in the United States. According to the man organising the visit, the ideas they harvest could be "the saviour of Scottish farmers".

Higher National Certificate students William Orr, whose family farms near Forfar, and David McEwen, who has an upland hill farming background and is from Stirling, will spend two weeks in Iowa under a new annual exchange scheme involving Oatridge and Kirkwood Community College, in the east of the state.

They will be accompanied by Peter Scott, the Oatridge farm director. Two American students and a teacher will visit the Ecclesmachan campus in late autumn or early spring.

Mr Scott says the exchange, financed at the Scottish end by the Cadogan Charity, will be the chance of a lifetime to study different crops and different management systems. Iowa is heavily dependent on agriculture, with exactly the same problems as in Scotland. "People are leaving the land and you see some farms lying empty," he says.

Mr Scott believes, however, that lessons can be learnt. "Farmers will either put their cattle into massive feed lots handling 50,000 animals and pay for them to be fed there, or sometimes the cows are actually owned by the meat plant and put on the farms, where the farmer is paid to look after them.

"That has got big advantages for the meat plants, because it helps them plan their production.

Much of the maize crop is turned into ethanol for the production of bio-diesel. Last year Iowa produced 700,000 tonnes of ethanol and new plants will take that figure up to a million tonnes.

"Anyone producing ethanol from crops gets a subsidy of fuel for their tractors and other vehicles," Mr Scott says. "In Scotland, a scheme to produce energy crops could be the saviour of our farmers, but we are doing very little of it at the moment."

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