IT’S THE WISCONSIN IDEA GONE GLOBAL. That’s one way to describe Colonel Darrel Feucht’s pending mission in Afghanistan. The Fall River resident, a loan services facilities manager in civilian life, is leading a newly formed 58-member National Guard team that includes agronomists, hydrologists, forest scientists and a veterinarian. The goal of their 11-month tour? To help restore Afghanistan’s farmland an provide a viable alternative to growing poppies for the drug trade.
Wisconsin’s first Agribusiness Development Team (ADT) will get some help from CALS before their tour starts in late 2011. The group is taking a short course Feucht calls “101 Extreme,” a 40-hour crash course in farming practices they’ll need in Afghanistan. And CALS International Studies will serve as a “reachback” resource for Feucht’s team to call upon for assistance while in country.
Feucht’s group, headed for the volatile eastern province of Kunar, will build upon an effort that since 2007 has involved dozens of National Guard ADT teams from other states (they have been going over in waves over the past three years). Their work has included everything from training farmers in the use of trellises in grape production to building root cellars, slaughterhouses and wind turbines.
What kind of agricultural efforts will you build upon?
One thing that’s really gained momentum are demonstration farms. ADT teams demonstrate growing particular crops at different stages of the growth cycle and invite farmers in to show how you can do things from start to finish. It’s more efficient to teach a group of people the same thing at one time. It also means less time for soldiers to be traveling on the road. It’s more secure for our people.
What kinds of crops will you be working on?
Winter wheat is becoming a popular crop. Pomegranate is a huge crop in that region. One of the construction projects is a pomegranate juice production facility. Beekeeping is popular, too, and is part of the demonstration farm as well.
Why is this kind of help needed?
Many years ago, Afghanistan was one of the major crop-producing countries in the region. They have the wherewithal to produce because of their rich soils and irrigation. The challenge is that a lot of the canal work and irrigation systems have been neglected or destroyed over the last few decades because of the wars. What looks to us like a vast wasteland has great potential when you work on these irrigation systems. That’s why we’re taking a couple of civil engineers with us.
What’s the state of farming compared to our own?
It’s been described to me many times as 1900s Wisconsin. There’s almost no machinery, you till with an ox. It’s very basic farming.
Are you excited?
I am apprehensively excited. To me, “excited” is if someone said you were going to spend a year in Hawaii. It’s still a dangerous country. There’s a risk in where we’re going. We try to mitigate and minimize that risk to keep everybody safe. I think it is a tremendous opportunity for the state of Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin, and the College of Ag and Life Sciences.
And I’m looking forward to it. I’m glad I was picked to do this, and we will do the best we can. My No. 1 focus is that of the 58 people who go over, 58 come back and we’re all safe and healthy.