Wednesday Warfighter: Afghan Agriculture at its Best

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Neil Stockfleth of Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, officer-in-charge of the Agriculture Section for the Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agribusiness Development Team, shakes hands with Mohammed Ishmael, manager of the Salar Bagh Research Farm, Jan. 18. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Capt. Peter Shinn)

By U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Neil Stockfleth, officer-in-charge, Agriculture Section, 734th Agribusiness Development Team

Yesterday, members of the Iowa 734th ADT Ag section, along with security force members, conducted a foot patrol to the Salar Bagh Research Farm about a mile outside of FOB Wright. We walked out and back along the elevated banks of the Salar Canal, a main irrigation canal for Asadabad District.

Some Ag team members had been to this farm in September and reported that it is a well-managed facility. It is locally known as the tea farm, as a small planting of tea has been in place for several years. Unfortunately, tea plants are not suited to the soils in this area, so the tea experiment remains unproductive. The rest of the site is a well managed research and demonstration farm about three acres in size.

The farm is divided into many small plots and a wide variety of crops and vegetables are planted there year round. The local climate allows for double cropping, so they have established a rotation of warm and cool season crops. During today’s visit, we saw carrots, coriander, lettuce, onions, radish, spinach, squash and turnips. These vegetables were in various stages of growth, from freshly planted to ready for harvest. All of the vegetable crops looked very good and appeared to be quite productive. Some of the vegetables are planted on raised beds to keep them out of contact with irrigation water.

We saw approximately eight varieties of wheat being grown in test plots. Near the wheat was a small olive grove. At the far end of the farm is a vineyard containing five varieties of one-year old grapevines. The vineyard was a primary reason for our visit to the site. Grapes have been proven to be more productive when grown on trellises rather than resting on the ground. Mohammed Ishmael, the farm manager, confirmed that they would soon be installing a trellis system over the grape plants.

The second reason for our visit was to examine the irrigation system. Mohammed Ishmael had mentioned at a recent meeting that they were having some irrigation problems. All of the crops are flood-irrigated through an intricate, hand-dug canal system. From our observation and from discussion with some farm workers, it appears that the irrigation problem only exists if water is in short supply in the main Salar Canal. The manager would like to have an irrigation well installed to ensure a more reliable water source, but providing it will be the responsibility of the provincial agriculture director.

The Salar Bagh Research Farm does indeed appear to be a well-managed facility. They practice good crop production techniques and keep records of their work. They provide demonstration events to publicize their findings to local farmers. Our team came away impressed yet again with the level of management that is applied to production practices on this facility.

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