Russian officials speak language of Md. farming

February 01, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

They came from Mariy-El to Maryland. And they share one important word that crosses both languages: "agribusiness."

It was one of only two recognizable words in a stream of Russian dialogue as President Vladislav Zotin described the link between his country, the republic of Mariy-El in the Russian Federation, and Maryland.

Mr. Zotin and a dozen other Mariyan and Russian officials and entrepreneurs made a Carroll County egg farm their first stop in a weeklong tour of Maryland.

The other word that stood out to an American listener was "perestroika," the new mood of openness and change in government in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Since perestroika began in the late 1980s, Mr. Zotin said through an interpreter, there have been many changes in his country. Now that the Cold War has ended, Mariy-El is trying to broaden its once-military-based economy. Mr. Zotin, 50, was an agricultural engineer before he was elected Mariy-El's first president 13 months ago.

He has traveled extensively through Europe, but this is his first visit to the United States, intended to forge partnerships with state governments and private business.

Riding in a school bus, he and his group also toured a couple of dairy farms and a grain farm before going to lunch at Piney Branch Golf and Country Club.

They spent most of their time with Claude Steger of Hampstead, co-owner of County Fair Farms and Steger's Maryland Fresh Eggs.

Mr. Steger had visited Russia in October as part of a delegation arranged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Robert L. Walker.

This week's visit is a reciprocal one, filled as much with good will as with good advice.

The goodwill began at a breakfast in Mr. Steger's brick home. In addition to the pastries and coffee, the officials kicked off their tour with toasts of Russian vodka, Canadian whiskey and American brandy.

At a laying house at his farm off Bachmans Valley Road, Mr. Steger shared another toast -- this one with a raw egg.

He showed confidence in his product by pinching off the top of an egg shell and throwing his head back in a bottoms-up gulp joined by Mr. Zotin and Ivan Chlebnikov, his minister of agriculture and deputy head of the government.

Maryland has taken the lead nationwide in forming partnerships with the countries that formerly made up the Soviet Union, Mr. Walker said. Visitors from the Free State are helping the former Soviet republics form free economies by lending technical assistance.

"At the same time, we try to promote Maryland for selling equipment, selling services, and as a place to do business," Mr. Walker said. "We have the airport."

Of course, it can't hurt Maryland to have an agriculture secretary who speaks fluent Russian and is married to a native of Ukraine.

The Mariyans and other Russians are looking for ways to be more efficient, asking questions about milk and egg production at their various stops. Mr. Steger said that while it takes 3.25 pounds of feed for a hen to produce one egg at his farm, it takes about 1 pound more feed per egg in Mariy-El.

"That costs a lot of money," Mr. Steger said.

The group stopped at Colton Farms off Route 88 in Hampstead, and at Cranberry Meadow Farms, a dairy operation owned by Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

Many people in the group had bilingual business cards, Russian on one side and English on the other.

Victor Sevastyanov's card says he heads the Republic Children's Hospital in Russia and is a neurologist and sexologist.

He apparently also is a Renaissance man. He seemed to be just as well-versed at Mr. Dell's dairy farm, where he discussed the prevention of mastitis, as he will be when he visits Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital this week to discuss childhood eye diseases.

Mr. Sevastyanov said through an interpreter that he had invented a device to help prevent and heal mastitis in nursing mothers.

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