Markell, via the web, discusses importance of intercontinental poultry exchange

Gov. Jack Markell’s international business tour took him to Milford High School on Nov. 10, when he used the online video/telephone service Skype to take questions from Judith Bruns’ animal science class.

A day after he made a similar appearance at Newark High School, 19 students got the chance to ask Markell about what he’s learned in his visits to industrial centers in Taiwan and China.

Markell spoke from his hotel in Beijing using a telephone and webcam to talk to students half a world away. They saw him on a 10-foot projection screen at the head of their classroom, as his voice came over a set of computer speakers.

“It’s amazing what technology can do,” Bruns said. “This is something I’d like to use to talk to other teachers across the country, and it also gives us opportunities like this.”

Markell’s talk and the students’ questions focused on the chicken industry. Delaware farms and businesses sell more than $40 million worth of chicken to China every year, Markell said, and his tour has included a number of Chinese and Taiwanese chicken importers.

What exactly that $40 million includes was an interesting fact the governor shared with the Milford class.

“It’s really very interesting; people in Taiwan and China generally eat parts of the chicken that we don’t eat very much,” Markell said. “The chicken feet are much more popular in this part of the world. So it’s a good thing that we have a place to send the parts of the chicken that we don’t eat at home.”

After a question from junior Colton Barr, he added that Chinese customers prefer chicken with less of a yellow tint in its skin — a trait that usually requires farmers to change what they feed their birds.

“I want to help make sure that around the world as many of these markets as possible are open for American poultry producers,” he said, after MHS junior Jocelynn Johnson asked if there are unexplored markets for American chicken farmers in China and Taiwan.

“I feel like I got a good answer to my question … I wish we’d had more time to ask more,” said Jasmine Williams, who asked about how taxes on imports shape trade between the two countries. “I’d like to know more about what he’s seen over there and what he’s learning.”

Markell’s office first reached out to Bruns on Nov. 5, giving her students a few days to research their questions before the call. For some, the quick preparation wasn’t enough to get a handle on the complexities of international business.

“I’m still kind of confused about my question,” said Matt Patterson, who asked about “dumping” — an unfair trade practice where businesses from one country sell their products in another at prices far lower than what it costs to make them, driving local industry out of business when they can’t compete. Markell explained what the term means but said he couldn’t comment on accusations by some Chinese companies that Americans have pulled that trick on them.

“I thought it was pretty cool that we could actually talk to him, though,” Patterson continued. “My family is really into politics, so they were really excited for me to be able to talk to him.”

Bruns called the conference call a unique chance for her animal-science students — many of whom plan to go into farming and agriculture after graduation.

“I jumped at the chance when I first heard from (the governor’s office),” Bruns said. “This is something that can help guide their future plans. What they know about the economy will affect what they want to do with their lives.”

Markell arrived in Asia on Nov. 7 and flew back to the United States on Nov. 14, after meetings with business and political leaders from Taiwan and China, along with American diplomats stationed there.

“It’s great for students to be able to see that agriculture that happens in Delaware doesn’t just impact Delaware,” Bruns said. “It goes beyond our borders. It goes all the way to China.”

David LaRoss writes for the Milford Beacon, a sister paper to the Dover Post.