When members of the Wisconsin National Guard's 82nd Agribusiness Development Team deployed last week to Afghanistan for a year-long mission, they took with them specialized skills learned during a five-day "Ag 101" crash course coordinated by the Babcock Institute for International Dairy Research and Development, and the Arlington and West Madison Agricultural Research Stations.
Last summer, the Babcock Institute directed an extensive, weeklong training session for 58 soldiers and airmen of the 82nd ADT to help prepare them for work with Afghani farmers in the Kunar province. The training took place on the UW-Madison campus and the Arlington Agricultural Research Station with field trips to area farms, the UW's West Madison Research Station and the DNR's Nevin Fish Hatchery.
Instructors included experts in crops, livestock, food safety and nutrition, forestry and other fields from UW-Madison, UW-Extension and state and federal agencies. They covered topics ranging from Afghanistan soil, seeds, crops and harvests, to livestock and forest management.
The training was completely customized, which is one of the Babcock Institute's strengths, said Director Karen Nielsen. "We specialize in custom training programs for numerous groups throughout the year, and this training program was especially meaningful, as we were responsible for teaching U.S. troops skills that will improve the lives of farmers in Afghanistan," Nielsen said. "We reached out to a large field of technical experts for instruction on everything from beekeeping to fish farming to the ins and outs of growing corn, pomegranates and poultry."
Farmers in the Kunar province are subsistence farmers, and the region is home to fertile land and river valleys. But more than three decades of conflict have resulted in destroyed irrigation systems and a generation of lost agricultural knowledge. Part of the 82nd ADT's mission will be encouraging legitimate agriculture practices, helping Afghans become better able to produce food, and less dependent on expensive imports.
"The Babcock Institute is honored to have worked with the UW's Agricultural Research Stations at Arlington and West Madison to help train these troops about agriculture. We wish them well as they deliver Dairy State know-how to war-torn rural Afghanistan," Nielsen said.
To learn more about the Babcock Institute, visit www.babcock.cals.wisc.edu or call 608-265-0561.