CORVALLIS - Six Oregon State University students are seeing first-hand how one nation feeds a fifth of the Earth's population.

The students arrived Sept. 6 in Beijing, China, where they are guests of the China Agricultural University. The trip is the first of its kind for the four-year-old Comparative World Agriculture Course.

Charles Boyer, who heads OSU horticulture department, and Larry Lev, a professor of agricultural resources and economics, are leading the students on an itinerary that includes trips to agricultural projects, universities and tourist stops such as the Great Wall, Imperial Palace and the Ming Tombs.

Boyer paved the way for the exchange two years ago when he visited Shandong University along the eastern coast of China, south of Beijing.

"The purpose of the class is to provide another avenue for students to get exposure to international perspectives of agriculture besides taking a full term or full year in the exchange program," Boyer said.

Students are responsible for paying the bulk of the $2,000 trip, but grants from the E.R. Jackman Foundation, OSU Student Foundation and the Oregon Department of Agriculture have helped defray the cost. A deal on airfares and lodging primarily at university dorms along the way also keeps the cost down.

Brett Gallager, an OSU senior from Bend, said he intends to go into beef cattle production after he graduates in the spring of 2000. He described the trip as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that may involve a bit of roughing it.

"I don't care if I have to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag," he said.

Joshua Clague, a 23-year-old horticulture major from Eugene, intends to pursue a career in the nursery industry. He said the trip is a chance to learn from a new perspective. "Their philosophy is entirely different," Clague said. "There is a great deal more emphasis on manual labor."

The course was developed four years ago by OSU professors Jim Cornelius of agricultural resources and economics and Dale Weber, animal sciences.

Lev said the eventual goal is to establish relationships with universities in South America, Africa and Europe as well as China and plan trips several years in advance. This way, incoming freshman can target a particular location to complete their comparative agriculture course.

The experience will be an opportunity for Boyer and Lev to learn as well as to teach. Lev said his primary interest in this trip will be to learn how the Chinese food distribution system works.

"Up until 1985, the government decided what people grew and how to distribute it," he said. "Now they've freed up that system and feed 1.2 billion people."

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Charles Boyer 541-737-5474