Cultivating Afghanistan’s ag potential

To help rebuild Afghanistan’s agriculture industry after decades of war, troops of US military are being trained and sent overseas.

These farm-belt-state men and women are part of Agri-business Development Teams, which work to stimulate agriculture production and efficiency in the country as part of a counterinsurgency strategy.

More than 80 percent of Afghanistan's population has a connection to agriculture and 50 percent of its economy is based on agriculture, according to the USDA, which has a website devoted to the development of rural Afghanistan.

"Agriculture has been called 'the oil of Afghanistan,'" said Col. Roger Beekman in a War on Terror News story. "It's what they have now to create money with and sustain themselves with. At some point, there may be minerals in the mountains and stuff, but right now it's agriculture. And historically, this has been a good agricultural area, dating back thousands of years. The last 30 years have set that back, so we're trying to build that back up again."

Afghan agriculture products include saffron (used for spices and fragrance), honey, sheep, wheat, cotton, fruit and nuts.

Teams include soldiers with backgrounds in engineering, food processing, wheat farming, honey production, veterinary medicine and cattle and poultry production. Team members use an education and mentoring approach with Afghan farmers.

Members may also assist farmers in applying for ag grants to bolster farm operations.

One such team, the 734th Agri-Business Development Team of the Iowa National Guard, is personally dubbed the “Dirt Warriors” and maintains an active presence on Facebook. Its mission: to conduct agricultural activities in Kunar province that expand legal agribusiness, services, markets and ag education to reduce poverty, create jobs and build the capacity of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

One of its members, Pete Shinn, wrote about his experience in the province for

“There is also tremendous ag productive capacity here, along with some immediate opportunities to help local farmers boost yields. For example, a very nice looking corn crop is coming in on a half-acre or so right outside the base. The corn is tasseling and looks to be about six to seven feet tall. The farmer who seeded the field used a broadcast approach, so there’s not a cornrow to be seen. One of our efforts will likely involve demonstrating the production benefits that come from planting corn in rows.”

Team Projects
  • Building grain mills
  • Introducing new wheat seed
  • Developing canning and juicing factories for harvested vegetables and fruits
  • Building cool storage facilities to store harvested crops operated by solar panels
  • Overseeing micro-slaughter facilities to increase sanitization of livestock meat
  • Launching vet clinics focused on de-worming livestock
  • Advising reforestation projects
  • Increasing the crop yield for commercial use
  • Operating cold- and warm-water fish hatcheries
But before teams can begin work, they meet with village elders or leaders to demonstrate respect and to discuss the community's agricultural needs, reports a Tulsa World story, which often involves participation in culutral customs such as tea time.

American military will continue to use their civilian knowledge of agriculture to harness and bolster the capability of Afghanistan’s rural areas.

*Photo obtained from:

Dust regulation is debatable

Agriculture-industry members and supporters throughout the nation are up-in-arms, or should I say, up-in-dust about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent proposal to further regulate farm dust.

Particulate matter, such as dust, was first regulated in 1971 as part of the Clean Air Act to safeguard human health.

According to the Second Draft Policy Assessment for Particulate Matter within the Clean Air Act released July 8, the EPA could retain current levels of 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air for regulating coarse particulate matter or revise it as low as 65 to 85 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Agricultural dust occurs when weather, machinery or humans disrupt topsoil. These natural causes, coupled with the difficulty of establishing clear regulatory guidelines for enforcement, are issues for many who’ve learned about the proposal.

Twenty-one senators signed a letter directed to EPA Director Lisa Jackson, urging the EPA to reconsider its dust-regulation stance.

“[The regulation] would establish the most stringent and unparalleled regulation of dust in our nation’s history,” states the letter. “We respect efforts for a clean and healthy environment, but not at the expense of common sense. These identified levels [of dust] will be extremely burdensome for farmers and livestock producers to attain. Whether its livestock kicking up dust, soybeans being combined on a dry day in the fall, or driving a car down the gravel road, dust is a naturally occurring event.”

Dust can somewhat be controlled with chemical dust suppressants and decreased speed limits on gravel roads.

Many others also deem the regulation unnecessary.

"This proposal to apply much stricter limits on particulate matter would make it very difficult for our growers to comply, and could expose them to fines and hours-of-operation restrictions for everyday farming operations," said Lola Raska, executive vice president of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

According to a story at, “EPA officials say that dust can be a potent pollutant and that rules to restrict it serve the public good. Officials estimate that meeting the current standards would prevent 2,500 premature deaths among people with heart or lung disease, 2,600 cases of chronic bronchitis, 5,000 heart attacks and 350,000 days when people miss work or school every year.”

A YouTube video gives viewers additional insight about the proposal:

"We are early in the process and are far from making any decisions about whether the standards should be changed," said EPA spokesperson Brendan Gilfillan. "This will be an open and transparent process that will provide Americans with many opportunities to offer their comments and thoughts."

Does the EPA have a valid concern? If not, is there a better method to monitor dust? Should farmers be concerned?

*Photo obtained from:

Government doling out $20 mil to save wildlife in the Gulf

On April 20, an oil spill stemming from a sea-floor oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico caused extensive damage to wildlife habitats. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf has made acres of wetlands inhabitable for wildlife and the government is taking action to help protect those creatures affected.

Under a new program offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), farmers, ranchers and other landowners are being given a chance to help save the wildlife affected by the oil spill.

In a recent article in the Paragould Daily Press, Nelson Childers, a biologist with the NCRS in Jonesboro, Ark., said the intent is to provide enough water, food and shelter so that migratory birds won’t have as much need to stop in the gulf region.

“[We’re] flooding fields that haven’t been flooded in the past, giving them more opportunities to have places to go to make them healthy for the journey,” said Childers. “Some of these birds are going down to South America. They’re not going to stay here; they’re going to keep going. We want to make sure they’re healthy enough to skip over that leg (gulf region) of the journey.”

The Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), introduced June 28, will provide $20 million in incentives to farmers, ranchers and landowners in eight states, (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas) to help improve habitat conditions and food sources for migratory birds that have been impacted by the oil spill. They are being paid to keep their rice and soybeans fields as well as crawfish and other aquaculture farms flooded for months longer than usual in hopes that the birds will visit the farms to find food and rest.

MBHI aims to utilize as much as 150,000 acres of private land to maximize migratory bird habitat and food resources. The acreage will provide critical wintering habitat for a significant number of waterfowl, wading birds and other birds.

Eligible lands include wetlands farmed under natural conditions, existing farmed wetlands and prior converted croplands. Rice fields are particularly suited for this initiative, as are aquaculture farms (catfish and crayfish) no longer in production, since they can easily be flooded to provide immediate habitat conditions.

Landowners can contact the nearest NRCS office for more information about the MBHI or visit

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. “Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

"It's an opportunity for Louisiana farmers, foresters and ranchers to help create habitat for migratory birds," said Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M. "So far, our landowners have responded in record numbers."

MBHI will be delivered through two components:
  • Component 1: Agriculture lands - NRCS is offering payment incentives to farmers willing to flood their existing farmed wetlands, prior converted cropland, or other lands that can provide immediate habitat for these species.
  • Component 2: Habitat priority areas - this applies to private agricultural lands within and adjacent to the Flyways that enter the Gulf of Mexico.
“This is an urgent situation,” said Keith Jackson, private land programs supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Some of the affected birds arrive in Missouri as early as mid-July. Birds ranging from mallards and herons to songbirds are going to find their traditional wintering areas along the Gulf Coast severely impaired by the ongoing oil spill. One important way to help them is to make sure they come through their southward migration in good condition. Enhancing the availability of natural foods and resting areas in Missouri can help them get through the coming winter.”

However, some are not as optimistic that this initiative will work.

In a recent article in Dultuth News Tribune, Dr. Frank Rohwer, scientific director for Delta Waterfowl, based in Bismarck, N.D., questions the initiative. He claims that the program doesn’t address species that use the costal bays and the Gulf.

“In my opinion, it stands very little chance of working,” said Rohwer, who also is a professor at Louisiana State University’s School of Renewable Natural Resources in Baton Rouge, La. “It’s conceivable that it will work for a small fraction of ducks.”

Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources agrees with Rohwer, stating that he doesn’t believe the initiative would shortstop ducks or even redistribute them to the flooded fields on their way south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Do you feel this initiative will work? Are there any alternative measures the government could take to save the wildlife in the Gulf?

*Photo obtained from:

Agreement may alter Ohio food handling

There’s always something in the news about one food or another causing consumers grief – Spinach, peanuts and pork have been recent culprits.

Foods can be occasionally spoiled during their transport cycle – or how food gets from the farm to grocery stores and local markets.

Americans are becoming increasingly cogni
zant of this process. Because of the enhanced attention, Congress is considering several food safety policies.

The National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) is one such proposal. It would require Ohio produce growers to meet California-style food safety standards; forcing Ohio growers to adhere to growing policies and practices developed for and by California growers. Though this proposal is limited t
o leafy greens, the potential for similar proposals regarding fruits and vegetables seems imminent to some in Ohio’s produce industry.

To circumvent the potential of a complex food-safety regulation system being implemented in Ohio, The Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association (OPGMA) proactively established its own food safety plan for the Buckeye State.

The Ohio Fresh Produce
Marketing Agreement program elements:
  • A tiered approach that takes into consideration operation size
  • Developed by and for Ohio growers
  • Every produce-industry stakeholder has program input
  • Provides access to additional markets now and in the future
  • Provides customers with "peace of mind;" due diligence in growing safe food
  • Blends good food safety practices with good environmental principles
  • Encompasses all types of growers and is especially small-farm friendly

“We are trying to help the FDA because it is to our benefit to help them. If we don’t, we’ll get something that will put growers out of business,” said Bob Jones, Jr., OPGMA board member.

OPGMA believes that adhering to the NLGMA standards will adversely impact Ohio's small and medium-sized producers, who will be financially strapped to remain compliant.

Ohio’s Country Journal reported the recent development in its July edition. The story’s author, Matt Reese, reports:

“Unfortunately, whether it is really their fault or not, the blame often falls upon the farm. And as more scrutiny falls on farms, many of the larger Ohio produce operations have been required by their buyers to meet specific food safety standard operating procedures. For many operations this has resulted in the need to employ a full-time food safety quality assurance person to manage the complexities of the requirements that often have no backing in science or any potential for increased revenue for the farmer.”

Many state producers worry about the specifications of the NLGMA’s proposal spilling over into future produce-handling requirements in Ohio.

“Given the California agreement as an example, Ohio growers have major concerns with a number of specific on-farm requirements such as water use and usage, animal intrusion, field sanitation, harvest requirements, soil amendments and more. These specifics were designed around some California cultural practices and are not conducive to Ohio and many other states’ accepted practices,” said Lisa Schacht, an Ohio produce grower and member of Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, OFBF, Farmers' Market Management Network, Inc., Growing! Ohio Farmers' Markets and The Ohio State University support the Ohio Fresh Produce Marketing Agreement.

Reese reported that after the draft is completed, it must be reviewed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and will move through the process (which includes an industry vote) for the development of a market agreement sometime in 2011.

People may contact OPGMA board member or the Ohio Fresh Produce Marketing Agreement project manager Karl Kolb at with questions/comments.

*Photo obtained from: www.