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FARM INSTITUTE SOWS SEEDS OF KNOWLEDGE

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During his three years in Russia as the agricultural attache to the U.S. Embassy, David L. Neubert thought there must be a better way to get information to the farmers than through food aid and the farmer-to-farmer program.

In fact, he became so convinced of it, he resigned and started the International Farming Institute - an organization he believes can bring useful, practical ideas to the new farmers through computers.He just needs money to get it into operation.

"We've felt there was a way to magnify the skills and efforts that are just touched by the food aid and farmer-to-farmer programs," said Neubert. "Where those programs are reaching three, four, maybe five farmers, we feel this can get the information out to hundreds in many countries."

Neubert and his co-partners have talked with 18 universities across the nation and worked out agreements whereby the university will share its resources - videos, texts, films - in exchange for the collection of information the institute will put in its CD-ROM library.

In Russia, the ministry plans to set up 35 individual farm centers where the information will be then be available on computer, probably at no cost, to all those interested.

"And they will know it's there (the information)," said Neubert. "The Russian people are extremely literate. They'll know this is available and they'll seek it out."

In fact, Neubert is concerned that the centers won't be numerous enough or be able to supply all those who come in to use the computers.

Farming in Russia is accelerating. Three years ago, there were 40,000 new farmers. Today there are 300,000, said Neubert.

Many have not farmed before and have little expertise in agriculture.

No extension service is available, and when a scientist goes to a state farm, he and his skill stay within the confines of that state farm, said Neubert. "They are very much self-contained."

Neubert feels getting information and education to the farmers will literally open up the world for them.

"We're actually creating an encyclopedia, although a very technical encyclopedia," said Neubert, "one that will include irrigation methods, seeding information, how to work with different soils, how to pen swine, a wide variety of subjects."

Some of the information will be beyond the reach of the poor farmer, such as methods of harvest and seeding that involve expensive machinery. Other parts will be invaluable yet relatively cost-free, such as simply changing pen strategies or a feed mix.

"This is designed not just for the Soviet Union but for areas of the world like China and India," said Neubert.

"What we hope is to get this into the computer format so it is easily transferable to many countries."

The institute has an agreement pending with the Russian Ministry to be signed in February, and it has trade agreements with the American universities, including BYU and the Benson Institute.

They need funding now to hire graduate students to edit the vast treasure of video and film information and translators.

"We figure we can do this on about $200,000-$300,000 a year," said Neubert.

"To get to this point, we've used our own resources, and we're pretty dry."

Neubert is hoping people looking for a last-minute tax write-off will step forward and invest in the institute. Eventually he'd like to see an endowment fund in place that will insure the project's ongoing future.

"Our focus is solely on teaching people how to fish, not just giving him a fish," said Neubert. "We're excited about it and hope others will be, too."

The phone number for the International Farming Institute is 224-9577.