Wednesday Warfighter: Chowkay Demonstration Farm

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bennett Groth of Moville, Iowa, production agriculture specialist for the Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agribusiness Development Team, tills the ground inside the greenhouse at the Chowkay Demonstration Farm in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province on Dec. 5, 2010, as 1st Lt. Scott Rottinghaus of Waterloo, Iowa, also a production ag specialist for the ADT, looks on. Both Groth and Rottinghaus are full-time farmers in Iowa.

By U.S. Army 1st Lt. Scott Shirk, Project Manager, Chowkay District, Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agribusiness Development Team 

A couple of days ago, we took a little two-wheeled Chinese tractor to the Chowkay Demonstration Farm in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province.  We had a few goals for the mission. 

First, we wanted to till the ground in the greenhouse and prepare the seedbed for vegetable planting. Also, we already had the seed drill calibrated, but we wanted to make sure there was no big issue with the tractor and the seeder. We were going back to plant wheat, so we wanted to make sure there were no issues with the equipment before we took on planting the rest of the farm. 

The ag extension manager for Chowkay District, got a chance to run the equipment, as did his son and several other local farmers from Chowkay. Basically, this gave us an opportunity to get the two-wheeled tractor to the farm, let some of the local farmers see it and get a feel for it in some limited operations.  It also gave us a chance just to spend time at the farm with the farmers of Chowkay District. 

After buying the tractor, I wondered if it was going to work, especially when you consider the kind of farm equipment we have back in the states. We had to make ramps to get it on and off the trailer, and I frankly had my doubts about whether or not the equipment would hold up, given the hard soils that they have here. Compared to American farm tractors, the Chinese tractor is basically an overgrown garden tiller with a seed drill attachment — but it traveled well. We used the ramps to get it off the trailer and over some ditches to where it needed to be, and sure enough it worked! It was really fun to see our guys use it and then teach the Afghans how to use it. That’s the part I enjoyed the most. 

Mashuqallah has been very good to work with, and we understand the problems he’s facing in Chowkay. The primary issue he’s dealing with is the canal system the district uses for irrigation. Of course, Chowkay is not the only district we’re working in, and they are all facing similar problems. That means we can’t focus all our attention in Chowkay. As the project manager for Chowkay, I wish we could, but I understand why we’ve got to allocate our resources to other districts, too. 

We are working on the problems he’s facing, but it’s slower than I’d like. We’ll keep at it, and we are making progress. We’re also setting the stage for the ADT from Illinois that will replace us. They’ll be able to come in and continue with the work we’re doing without any disruption. But we’ll keep working to improve the agricultural situation in Chowkay until then.

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  • Miriam J Harris

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! First, I had no idea that the Iowa National Guard had an Agribusiness Development Team. Considering the number of humanitarian efforts involved in this conflict (and Iraq), it’s wonderful to hear about this initiative. Hopefully, the efforts of 734th will help the people in the Kunar province development farming practices that will contribute to their sustenance and independence.

  • Miriam J Harris

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! First, I had no idea that the Iowa National Guard had an Agribusiness Development Team. Considering the number of humanitarian efforts involved in this conflict (and Iraq), it’s wonderful to hear about this initiative. Hopefully, the efforts of 734th will help the people in the Kunar province development farming practices that will contribute to their sustenance and independence.