Sixty Iowa National Guard members are part of the “Agribusiness Development Team” that’s headed to Afghanistan.  A send-off ceremony was held last Thursday at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

Colonel Neil Stockfleth says he and his troops hope to address a number of concerns.

“There is just a whole series of problems but the biggest is Afghanistan is not feeding itself as a country.  Most of these people are subsistence farmers,” Stockfleth says. “The biggest crop they’re raising is wheat. They’re grinding that wheat for bread and baking that bread for their families, so it’s truly a subsistence form of agriculture.”

The 60 Iowa National Guard soldiers will take over from a group of Californians who’ve been helping Afghan farmers modernize and rebuild. According to Stockfleth, the Soviets destroyed orchards and irrigation systems as they fought their own Afghan war from 1979 to 1989.

“When we were over there — we did a short visit this spring — we saw fields that obviously had historically been farmed that weren’t today, so there’s ground that needs to be brought back into production,” Stockfleth says.  “Their wheat — their primary crop — their yields could certainly be improved with some improved management practices which might be fertilization, seed selection, irrigation timing — those kind of practices, so there’s just a whole host of things that we can look at.” 

Herds of goats and sheep will get attention from the Iowa soldiers, too, as Stockfleth says they’re suffering from parasites and other maladies.

“We have to be very careful to meet the needs that the Afghan people want met,” Stockfleth says. “Not just what we think should be done, we need to ask them and work with them on projects that they want to see accomplished.”

Stockfleth grew up on a western Iowa farm near Schleswig and he worked for the U.S.D.A. for 20 years. Stockfleth and his team will be working in an area of Afghanistan that’s about the size of one and a half Iowa counties.

“I’ve often said to the team members that we aren’t going to make wholesale changes. It’s just not possible in the short period of time, even though we think a year is a long time.  In the seasons of agriculture, we know that’s just a drop in the bucket. We hope to have a positive impact, incremental changes,” Stockfleth says. “Now we are following a California team that’s in there and we are going to be followed by an Illinois team, so what we want to do is make sure that our projects line up with the teams proceeding us and following us so that we build a consecutive effort that over time we can have maybe a lasting impact that’s going to help these people improve their lot.”

As part of their preparation, some of the Afghanistan-bound soldiers, including Stockfleth, went to Living History Farms in June to practice hitching teams of horses and oxen to wagons, and driving the wagons around the historic area in Urbandale.