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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Local couple hosts international farming friends

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Two men from Russia -- one a mechanic and one a farm equipment operator -- visited Mark and Ellen Plendl last week. Seen here at Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor from left to right are Mark, his maintenance man, Dan De Korne, Ganzhin Sergey, Valeriy Mikhaylovich and Ellen.
The food was ice cream. The topic was farming. And the tractor of choice was John Deere.

But it was the mixture of languages -- both Russian and English -- that revealed that this was no ordinary gathering at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor last Thursday.

Mark and Ellen Plendl, of rural Orange City, spent the day hosting their Russian visitors, Ganzhin Sergey and Valeriy Mikhaylovich, at the Plendl farm, 4 Brothers Bar & Grill, and the ice cream parlor.

The two Russian men -- one a mechanic and one a farm equipment operator -- came to the United States on Jan. 13 to attend farm shows throughout the Midwest. But before their flight took off on Sunday, they took some time to stop and visit the Plendls, who farm in Plymouth County.

So where did this farming connection come about?

In 2006, Mark, along with six other farmers, went on a tour of Russia with John Deere. They visited the Khorol Zerno farm, 60 miles from both the China border and the Sea of Japan. While there, Mark met Sergey, and the two have stayed in contact over the years.

While in Russia, Mark said he learned that genetically modified crops are illegal there, the country doesn't have very many large collective farms or row crops, and many acres of their land lay unused.

"It's extremely fascinating to go over there," Mark said.

A lot of Russia's ground is fertile, Ellen said. However, effective agricultural practices in Russia are lacking, Mark added.

"It's like back in the '60s," Mark said. "It's like 50 years behind."

But the country is trying to change that -- and is doing so by modeling U.S. agricultural practices, including growing corn and soybeans.

To improve the country's agriculture, Russia is trying to bring in better used farm equipment.

"They can't afford to buy the new equipment," Mark said.

And that's why John Deere did a tour of Russia -- because the company was looking into selling larger used equipment overseas.

Farm equipment mechanic Sergey -- along with his friend and fellow Khorol Zerno worker Mikhaylovich -- have seen the growth and advancement of the equipment in Russia through their jobs. They came to the U.S. to see for themselves how agriculture works here.

This was Mikhaylovich's first time in the States, but Sergey visited in 2008 and 2009. Both times he travelled here so he could attend U.S. farm shows.

And so far the trips have been beneficial for Sergey.

When farm equipment is sent to Russia, Mark explained, it has to be disassembled so it can fit into large crates and be shipped overseas. Once it reaches the farm where Sergey works, it is his job to reassemble the equipment, which can be a very difficult process, Mark added.

That Sergey can successfully reassemble the equipment is "amazing," Ellen said.

During the visit on Thursday, Dan De Korne, the maintenance man at the Plendl farm, showed Sergey some of the Plendls' John Deere equipment and tried to explain to him how to fix a mechanical problem Sergey had been having.

Eventually, the two went online so Sergey could see a visual and clearly understand how to fix the problem.

"All of a sudden they were talking the same language," Ellen said. "They could show each other on the computer the problem and then Dan could offer possible solutions."

That De Korne and the Plendls could help their Russian visitors only furthers their friendship.

"What's neat about this is the relationship that's being established," Ellen said.

It's a relationship that she feels is good for the Russians and Americans alike.

"It's kind of nice to look beyond our country," Ellen said, "and also to appreciate what we have."

She and her husband are hopeful that this Russian connection will continue to develop.

Before Sergey and Mikhaylovich left on Thursday, they asked the Plendls if they had an email address.

"That was fun at the end of the day to talk about future communications," Ellen said.

The two visitors also wrote down their names for the Plendls so they can find each other on Facebook. The option of communicating with their friends from across the world via the social networking service just goes to show that it really is a small world after all, Ellen said.

"That has to be an international word -- Facebook," she added with a laugh.

And it appears as if John Deere is, too.

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