Iowa ADT discovers complexity of Kunar agriculture at demo farm

  • Published
  • By Capt. Peter Schinn
  • 734th Agri-Business Development Team
The Iowa National Guard's 734th Agri-Business Development Team got some lessons in the complexity of Afghanistan's agriculture and governance when its members paid a visit to a demonstration and experimental farm near Asad Abad Sept. 21.

The agricultural experts of the ADT found the Salar Bagh Demonstration Farm, which is owned and run by the Kunar provincial government, in immaculate condition. They also discovered the farm's manager, Mohammed Ismael, to be an expert on local agronomic techniques, soil conditions and production practices.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bennett Groth is a production agriculture specialist for the ADT, and he commanded the mission to the demonstration farm.

Groth said the farm's condition and the manager's technical prowess caused him to rethink his assumptions about the ADT's approach to the project, which originally called for an assessment of ways to help the farm.

"We realized they're far ahead of where we thought they are," he said. "The cropping we saw today was pretty advanced. We're going to have to kind of switch our focus and figure out a way to motivate them to teach each others how to farm."

The demonstration farm produces corn, soybeans and a type of locust tree for timber and tea, which thrives in soil with high acidity. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Eric Pugh, the ADT's forestry specialist, advised Ismael to mix needles from pine trees growing on the farm's edge with soil around the tea plants to increase the soil's acidity.

Ismael informed Pugh he was already doing so. "I think it's obvious they have a high level of expertise," Pugh said. "I think it's to our best interest to try to leverage that expertise to get it to their own people so they can be trained and understand it."

Ismael, however, urged the ADT to help him on a range of matters, especially in digging a well to provide a continuous source of irrigation for the farm. He noted water from mountain runoff is available only half the year, leading to reduced farm production the other half of the year.

"When we don't get enough water, it hurts the crops here and we get lower yields," Ismael said. "It's clear; without enough water, this demonstration farm gets hurt."

Additionally, Ismael asked the ADT to construct a building on another government-owned demonstration farm across the road for secure storage of implements and to provide a classroom for agricultural instruction. Part of that suggestion contained another lesson for the members of the ADT, who had not previously known of the existence of the second government-owned demonstration farm.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Neil Stockfleth, who leads the ADT's agriculture section, welcomed his team's positive assessment of the Salar Bagh Demonstration Farm and pointed out personal contact with Kunar agricultural officials is vital as the ADT conducts its mission.

"Seeing the sophistication of these existing facilities is going to have an impact as we discuss additional demonstration farm sites with the provincial government," he said. "We feel there's value in replicating this type of farm in other parts of the province, but first we need to determine what the Kunar government is already doing for its people, and we can only do that by meeting with the provincial agriculture officials on a regular basis."

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