Category Archives: International agriculture

Impacts from Partnering with Military Serving in Afghanistan

In time for Christmas of 2013, members of the Nebraska National Guard Agribusiness Development Team 4 (NE ADT4) returned home to their families from Afghanistan.  While the NE ADT missions were concluded, lasting impacts in the lives of the Afghan people will hopefully remain for years to come.

Members of NE ADT2, UNL Extension Educator Vaughn Hammond, and Afghan Extension agents after a train the trainer program.

Members of NE ADT2, UNL Extension Educator Vaughn Hammond, and Afghan Extension agents after a train the trainer program.

Our military worked to “win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people by helping them learn how to grow their own food and provide for their families.  You can read more in this post about their missions and ultimately the efforts to train the extension faculty to take the research they were conducting to the people of Afghanistan so their lives could be improved.  This is what Cooperative Extension in the United States does every day for our citizens!

It has been an honor to work beside the men and women defending our Country and our freedom!  It was also a blessing to have a unique insight to the missions and accomplishments of these teams as a military wife serving at home while my husband served with NE ADT2.

Beginning with three UNL Extension faculty providing reach-back to NE ADT1 in 2008, an ADT Training Team grew to over 60 individuals from UNL Extension and Research, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA National Agroforestry Service, UNO’s Center for Afghanistan Studies, and the Nebraska Corp of Army Engineers providing pre-deployment agricultural training followed by reach-back during deployment for NE ADT2-4.

Partnership Impacts:

Since this was the conclusion of this effort, I wished to share a few of the impacts our military shared with me via a survey sent to 27 military members from NE ADT1-4 (n=14 respondents).

  • 93% agreed or strongly agreed that the training received from the ADT training team prior to deployment helped prepare them with information needed during deployment.
  • 93% agreed or strongly agreed that the reach-back they received from the ADT Training Team was timely and helpful.
  • “The help that I received from the UNL extension was priceless. I am very thankful for their support and guidance.”
  •  “…All supporting staff instantly responded to our questions which enabled us to provide feedback to the local Afghan Extension Agents, political reps and the general population.”
  • “During my time in Afghanistan…we had a built in reach-back with Mr. Vaughn Hammond being with us…”
  • “The information provided by UNL Extension and training partners helped us help approximately 10,000 Afghans with crop and livestock projects.”

In their own words….

We often don’t hear about the great impacts our military members have on the Afghan people while they are deployed.  Here are just a few of the many stories in their own words as they share the importance of partnerships during deployment.

I was in constant contact it seemed with a couple members of the UNL extension. Their support guidance and assistance was immeasurable. I received training material from the Beef Basics course for classes I taught to Afghan college students and constantly received ideas and assistance from the extension members.

Drawing on some of the education provided on water resource management, I identified a dam that was in danger of failing..threatening the village below. Emergency efforts were then made to shore up the dam. The livestock and poultry education gave us the base from which to provide training, in turn, to the Afghan people using, in my case, the Center for Educational Excellence (CEE) in Sharana, Paktika. A highlight for me was a series of training on livestock vaccination (FAMACHA) conducted in remote sites – even on a mountain side – in eastern Paktika.

ADT 1 received direction, websites, hard copy fliers, books, and additional training information through mail, email and correspondence. The farm and machinery safety information was vital to the development of an “Operator’s Maintenance / Safety” video and handbook that we developed for the Afghan farmers. But just simply bouncing ideas back and forth was much more beneficial than anything else for me. I’m just so glad that future ADT’s saw the need and developed a plan to initiate Extension and the ADT Training team into their in-state training!

The initial training, relationships created and reach back capability had a direct effect on the success of our mission. I am proud to have had such an excellent working relationship with UNL and the ADT training team during our deployment.

During our time in Afghanistan we made a train the trainer program for the Ag Extension Agents and DAIL staff to utilize. A lot of the material that was given to us and from our training were put into the training program.

The NRCS training we received in Texas pre-deployment gave us a good idea of the terrain, crops and irrigation practices. Agroforestry helped in identifying tree species. The Nemaha NRD assisted by providing a template of their Tree Program which we started in the Paktya Province with their MAIL & Extension Agents. UNL Extension was vital to our success in many ways by providing an Extension Educator (Vaughn Hammond) as well as advice on many relevant topics. Our mission success would not been as great without the support of UNL Extension and the ADT training team.

Ag: What’s Around the Corner & Down the Road

In December, Dr. David Kohl, Professor Emeritus from Virginia Tech spoke at the Farmers and Ranchers College.  Dr. Kohl always has great insight and for those who read his articles, it’s extra special to hear him fit what he knows and sees all together into one talk!  He moves fast and my pen was flying but I’ll do my best to summarize some key points I took away.

Dr. Kohl talked about how to become a “cut above super producer”.  Essentially much of this comes down to a profit plan (60-30-10) where 60% of profit focuses on efficiency then growth.  One way to do this is to focus on doing better before you worry about getting bigger.  30% needs to build working capital. The final 10% he says to do what you want with it but don’t let 10% become 60%.  Dr. Kohl shared a statistic where 19% of producers (85% of whom were grain producers) who had an income of around $85,000 spent 1000% on living expenses.  I heard a similar remark from Tina Barrett with the Nebraska Farm Business Association at a different meeting.  Producers need to know what your family living expenses are and get them under control.

He also shared some questions regarding working capital for producers to consider.

1) Is your inventory protected? 2) How long will inventory take before it becomes cash?  3) Are contracts/receivables good?  Know who you’re doing business with.  He gave several examples of how those with too much debt took others under with them.  4) As you’re writing a lot of checks out now for prepaids realize you won’t see financial capital for 8-12 months.  Thus, how much working capital is absolute cash?  He recommended having at least 1-2 months available.  5) Look at your lines of credit and payables.

Dr. Kohl gave a stat that there’s a 500:1 odds of a business making it to the 5th generation.  Some qualities of a long-lived business include strong sense of core values, frugality, transition/planning (and he emphasized this is not an estate plan), professional development (1% of revenue should go to employee improvement and development), and building relationships.  He also shared the primary pitfalls of transition being the younger generation taking over an unprofitable business, younger generation acquiring rusted out, worn out and faded out assets, and assuming non-farm sibling(s) has/have no interest in farm assets.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about agriculture as well.  By the year 2050 we need 100% more food, fiber, and fuel and 70% of that will come from new technologies.  One in six jobs is related to agriculture.  There’s a place for everyone-conventional, natural, organic, local-just know that they all won’t do the same in feeding the world.  It was a very interesting presentation!  You can read another perspective from Brandy VanDeWalle’s blog!

Bridging War & Hope

During my husband’s deployment, I came in contact with Luke Heikkila, a producer for Twin Cities Public Television.  Luke embedded with the Minnesota National Guard Agribusiness Development Team in Zabul Province Afghanistan for a few weeks in order to tell their story of the great work they have done in helping the Afghan farmers and the Afghan people.
Below is the link to Luke’s documentary which can be watched in half an hour and really provides a great perspective on the work our soldiers are doing on these teams and the goals of their missions.  I hope you take time to watch and thank you to all our military members for your service to our Country!

Bridging War and Hope Documentary


Fall Conference and Feeding the World

Last week was our UNL Extension Fall Conference and Nebraska Cooperative Extension Conferences.  The energy and excitement involved with getting the entire Extension faculty together and seeing each other again never ceases to amaze me! Regardless of the technological advances in how we conduct programming and business, there’s still something to be said about meeting face to face.  We discussed programming at the national, state, and local levels and are currently working on dates and topics for winter programs.  A unique professional development opportunity was taught via jeopardy and pictures to help agricultural Extension faculty understand precision agricultural technologies and UNL research related to it.  We also received updates on herbicide resistant weeds, atrazine, stinkbugs, and evapotranspiration research.

The conference was completed by watching the video stream from the 2nd Heuermann lecture.  Dr. Stephen Baenziger, UNL Small Grains Breeder, spoke to the topic of “Why Agriculture?”  At the early age of 18, he couldn’t accept the fact that as human population growth increased, that there would not be enough food to feed the world.  He has been about agricultural team research and feeding people and has made an enormous impact on farmers and consumers in Nebraska, the U.S., and the world.  A few of the quotes I jotted down from his seminar were:  “Agriculture is team research and failure cannot be an option unless you are willing to accept starvation”; Regarding increasing wealth “the future 9 billion people will consume the equivalent of what 12 billion people eat today”; “Success or failure of science as a whole depends on success or failure of agriculture”; and “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.  I would recommend checking out the video archive at:

Stephen has also provided a key role in helping our soldiers serving on agribusiness development teams to Afghanistan.  He along with a team of over 25 UNL Extension faculty are helping our soldiers answer questions about growing sustainable wheat to feed Afghan families in addition to numerous other questions.  This effort is one of the most exciting and rewarding projects I have the privilege of working with in Extension!  The current ADT2 team has planted wheat demonstration plots, vineyards, educated about poultry and bee keeping and is working with the Universities and high schools on agricultural programs.  It’s been fascinating to hear about their experiences.  The people live in mud huts but have cell phones.  There’s no mail system or roads, so trying to teach programs or help the Extension faculty there conduct programs is challenging.  One Afghan Extension educator took a taxi cab to a rural village and walked from village to village for two weeks in order to solve an agricultural problem.  The challenges are great, but our soldiers are making a huge impact on improving the lives of the Afghan people by teaching them how to better feed themselves and their families.  

Visit from Chinese Agronomists

Last week I had a neat experience in speaking to a group of agronomists from China about Extension.  They are in the U.S. for 10 days and are interested in high yield corn production.  I scrapped the presentation I had been asked to present as they had so many questions about our Extension system.  So we started in a discussion…how do we set up a field day/meeting in Extension?  How do we let farmers know about them?  How do we decide what to talk about? Thus ensued a discussion of farming in China vs. farming in Nebraska.  In China, many of the fields are hand-planted and less than 10% of their farmers have internet connectivity.  In Nebraska, we’re seeing the trend of larger equipment and the majority of our farmers are connected to the internet.  I suggested that they start with field days and meetings which shared the research-based information they are generating at their research sites.  Advertise to farmers via word of mouth, radio, newspapers, direct mailings, or brochures/flyers left at common gathering spots.  Once they have the people at the meetings, they can follow up with a survey to determine needs assessment for what the farmers would like to know more about in the future to determine future meeting topics. 

Extension in Nebraska has greatly changed in my 7 years regarding how we share information.  We are challenged today to reach a broad audience who on one hand primarily finds information from newspapers  to the other hand, primarily from the Web-and everywhere in between! This year, I’ve worked at trying to share the same information 7 different ways to reach a broader audience.  I showed the agronomists from China the impact of the Web and social media in sharing information in Nebraska.  They were amazed! 

We then went on a tour where they were able to view harvest.  It was fascinating watching them excitedly discuss and question no-till farming as they were digging through residue and in the soil.  They also predicted corn yields by measuring and counting and comparing that to the combine yield monitor.  Some enjoyed getting into the combines and learning about the precision ag tools available to farmers.  It was a neat experience and I learned much from our visitors as well!

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