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Finding Their Field of Dreams : Agriculture: Where guacamole and jet fighters fail, a produce farm with tractor and plow favorably impress Chinese officials.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The guacamole at an avocado packing plant was OK, the overflight by the Blue Angels a temporary diversion.

But what the 30 Chinese farm officials visiting Ventura County really wanted to see Friday was a big American farm with big American tractors. After rumbling by bus down a dusty road to a broccoli field in Oxnard, they got their wish.

There, more than two dozen Chinese men clad in business suits and a handful of women in dresses inspected a Caterpillar tractor and marveled at the vast fields shimmering under the hot noon air.

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“Where is the water?” asked one through an interpreter. “Where are the workers?” asked another.

The exchange was part of the delegation’s daylong tour of sites in Ventura County, a goodwill effort organized by the law firm of Lawler, Bonham & Walsh in Oxnard and a trading company in Santa Barbara.

In addition to the field operated by Ocean View Produce, the group toured an Oxnard plant where nearly 200,000 pounds of avocados are boxed each day, ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Camarillo, and visited the law firm. They were scheduled to arrive in Santa Barbara on Friday evening for a banquet before leaving today for San Francisco.

“It’s an opportunity to develop contacts in China and to stimulate economic activity,” said Gregory J. Lawler, whose firm has recently begun directing trade efforts in Asia. “Obviously, we hope it will lead to more.”

The lure is the burgeoning Chinese market, with 1.2 billion consumers and a new openness to capitalist business practices. China is in the process of privatizing its economy, but more than 90% of its companies are still run by its Communist government, said Ling Lin, one of the delegation’s leaders.

“In China, we need to develop our market some more,” said Lin, speaking through an interpreter.

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During their 18-day trip, which includes stops in New York, Chicago and Fresno, the officials hope to learn efficient ways to run farms and packing plants, Ling said. About 80% of the delegation is made up of farm equipment sellers, she said.

The Chinese were impressed with the size of American farms and with the quality of the machinery used to run them, said Charles Lin Wang, one of the visitors.

“In China, we have small farms owned by families,” said Wang. “We water with hoses.”

The visitors were impressed to learn that fields on the Oxnard Plain are irrigated using underground pipes fed by wells deep beneath the ground. And they were surprised to see how few people it took to tand a two-acre crop of broccoli.

“The Chinese joke that we have so many babies because we need workers in the field,” Lin said.

As the group asked questions about the cost of buying or renting farm equipment, a squadron of four Blue Angels swooped overhead in formation, practicing maneuvers for today’s air show at Navy air base at Point Mugu.

The delegation stopped briefly, craning their necks to peer at the precision jet fliers before returning to their inquiries.

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Earlier in the day, the group toured Mission Produce in Oxnard. The packing plant collects, boxes and distributes about 13% of all avocados grown in the United States, said chief financial officer Harold S. Edwards.

Edwards led the tour, showing how the fruit is washed, sorted and boxed, then hand-packed in boxes for delivery to restaurants and markets worldwide. Every few minutes, one of the visitors would scurry to the front of the group and snap a photo of the activities with their camera.

“This might be a breach of national security,” Edwards joked. “But maybe we’ll sell a bunch of avocados.”

At the end of the tour, the group was invited to sample a giant bowl of guacamole, prepared specially for them that morning. Many of them had never before tasted an avocado, which is considered an exotic fruit in China.

Zhen Ping Yu looked puzzled as he bit into his chip, topped with a healthy dollop of the green stuff.

An interpreter announced his impression: “It’s strange,” Yu said diplomatically. “It tastes like the yolk of an egg. For Chinese people to like, this would take some time.”

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