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Wisconsin Agribusiness team visits Afghan demonstration farm

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
The Wisconsin National Guard's 82nd Agribusiness Development Team had its first chance to check the progress of a demonstration farm in the Watapur District of Kunar Province April 16.
The farm - one of three the 82nd ADT oversees - was established by the previous ADT from the Illinois National Guard. The 82nd ADT met with Mohammed Wali, the demonstration farm manager, performed quality assurance and control assessments of the farm, and identified future issues.

"I think it was a good visit," said Master Sgt. John Dietzler, a soil science specialist assigned to the 82nd ADT and project manager for the Watapur Demo Farm.

The demo farm manger's son gave the team a tour of the farm, which is currently growing potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, onions, cucumbers and orange trees intercropped with wheat.

Dietzler said a canal project upstream is causing problems with the farm's irrigation system, which is affecting crop quality.

"Some of the plants were a little wilted, but overall the plants looked pretty good," he said.

After the tour, the team discussed previous training conducted at the demo farm. Wali stated three training events have occurred on the farm - spinach planting, winter vegetable, and orange sapling planting - training up to 30 farmers during each event.

While the previous ADTs have been more hands-on with the demo farms, Dietzler stressed that a cultural advisor and people called young professionals now handle most of the work.

"Much of what we are doing now is advising and facilitating," Dietzler said. "If there is a legitimate reason, we will then provide supplies and money, but we have to be justified in doing a project."

"A lot of time we go these places, we go to just give them ideas - they have the capacity to do it, we just need to encourage them," said Capt. James Schmitz, an agricultural specialist with the 82nd ADT who was also along on the mission to help assess the farm.

One of the stipulations of becoming an ADT-sponsored demo farm is the farmer must agree to reinvest 30 percent of the farm's profits back into farm maintenance and general farm upkeep.

"They have been living for today for so long," Schmitz said. "We're now trying to get them to invest in their future."

The Wisconsin National Guard learned it would gain an agribusiness development team mission in 2010, and the unit trained for 12 months before reporting for active duty in February and completing mobilization training at Camp Atterbury, Ind.

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