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Moville soldier helps Afghanistan farmers improve agriculture

Moville Record of Moville, Iowa

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KUNAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - A Moville man is one of five members of the Air National Guard's 185th Air Refueling Wing of Sioux City who are deployed with the 734th Agri-Business Development Team in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

The agri-business team, or ADT, is on a one-year mission to assist Afghan farmers in improving their agricultural output. The ADT includes more than 60 National Guard members from Iowa. Most of the team is made up of Army Guard soldiers, along with the five Air Guard airmen. Team members volunteered for the mission and were selected for their particular farm backgrounds and agricultural skill sets. Among the soldiers is Ben Groth, son of Marlin and Kathi Groth of Moville.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Neil Stockfleth of Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, commands the Ag Section of the ADT.

"Our team members have a wealth of knowledge and experience between them," Stockfleth said. "We picked people with a variety of ag backgrounds and it has worked out well. We can address most of the problems we have encountered from within the team." The ADT team came together in late 2009 and started training together in January of 2010. They deployed to Afghanistan in July and will return next summer.

The ADT has encountered a country that is rugged and beautiful, but damaged by thirty years of warfare and struggle.

The team is located in mountainous eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. This area was once known for its fruit and vegetable production, including grapes, melons, onions and radish.

The climate allows two or three crops per year to be raised, typically winter wheat followed by corn or rice, with vegetables between the other seasons. Rainfall amounts total 10 to 12 inches per year, so farmers rely heavily on river water for irrigation of their crops. Many farms are small, one to three acres in size, and much labor is still done by hand.

During the Russian occupation, many farms, orchards and animal herds were targeted for destruction. The people and the countryside have not yet recovered from the damage incurred during that period or that of the civil war that followed. The ancient canal system which carries irrigation water from the rivers to the fields requires a regular maintenance and repair program which has not taken place in recent decades.

Other challenges which face the typical small farmer are a lack of quality seeds, fertilizer and modern crop production practices. Where irrigation water is available, farmers often over-irrigate crops like corn and wheat. Overgrazing on mountain slopes accelerates runoff, causing soil erosion and creating flooding and sedimentation problems in the valleys.

There are lots of opportunities for the ADT to offer a helping hand to the Afghan farmers. But U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bennett Groth, of Moville, Iowa, pointed out modern American-style solutions do not always fit in Afghanistan.

"The farmers here have a lot of needs," Groth said. "What we want to do is to demonstrate farming practices which are an improvement and are sustainable with the technology available over here." Groth recently returned to Afghanistan after spending a short leave at home here.

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Original Publication Date: November 11, 2010

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