Yuri Tarai returned to his berry farm in Moldova in September with new ideas for selling his blueberries — strategies he learned during a two-week horticulture training program at Ohio State University.

“We are quite proud of our good harvests, but we also need to sell our products for a good price,” said Tarai, director of Lolly Berry farm in Dolna, Moldova. “I was amazed by the marketing methods in the U.S. for farm produce. The packaging, labeling and psychology of selling are aimed at maximizing profit — all these have made an impact on me.”

Tarai is one of about 600 people the U.S. Department of Agriculture invited this year to participate in the Cochran Fellowship Program to learn the latest on U.S. agricultural technology and farm management.

The program — named for former Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi — has trained more than 18,000 agricultural professionals in over 126 countries since its establishment in 1984. The goals of the Cochran Fellowship are:

  • To help middle-income and emerging-market countries develop robust agricultural systems.
  • To strengthen agricultural trade relationships with the United States.

“Fellows from around the world meet with American farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses to exchange ideas and practices on critical agricultural trade and food security issues,” said Michelle Calhoun, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture involved with the program. At the same time, the program also is “pioneering new relationships between U.S. businesses and foreign partners, linking U.S. agriculture to the world.”

Cochran fellows receive hands-on training that generally lasts about two to three weeks at U.S. universities, government agencies and private companies. Topics range from food safety to agricultural marketing.

Cochran fellow Luiz Roberto Baruzzi, director of a Brazilian supermarket network called Rede Sao Paulo Supermercados Associados, attended a two-week training course on U.S. beef production, regulation and marketing at the University of Nebraska, as the U.S. ramps up its beef exports to Brazil. The Brazilian participants also visited nearby beef processing plants, supermarkets and beef cattle ranches.

“From genetics to beef marketing — the whole chain seeks high quality and food safety,” Baruzzi said.

Oluwaseyi Yahaya Odebiyi, a general manager with De Tastee Group, which owns the Nigerian fast food chain Tastee Fried Chicken, was one of seven Nigerian Cochran fellows to receive food processing training at North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota in September.

Odebiyi said he was surprised to learn how important American farmers and research innovation centers are to the growth and advancement of food industries. Today he’s planning how to convert the large amount of “wasted agricultural produce in the Nigerian food chain into a value-added product.”

Back in Moldova, Tarai said he is working on trying to begin exporting his berries to the United States, and he hopes to “create jobs, attract local specialists and local investors.”

“In a year, we hope our products will appear on the shelves of American supermarkets and occupy a worthy place in the U.S. market,” he said.