PRT inspects Iraqi dairy farm

By Natalie Rostek Sgt., 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO

Spc. Stephen Stricklin feeds a cow at the Nasser Dairy Farm, near Wehida, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Natalie Rostek)
Spc. Stephen Stricklin feeds a cow at the Nasser Dairy Farm, near Wehida, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Natalie Rostek)

FOB HAMMER, Iraq (March 2, 2008) — Members of the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion and the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s Provincial Reconstruction Team conducted an inspection of the al Nasser Dairy Farm, in a village near Wehida, Feb. 26.

 Floyd Wood, from Manassas, Va., agricultural adviser to the brigade from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, from Holland, Ohio, commander of the 3rd BSTB, talked with the farm’s managerial staff and workers regarding opportunities for the brigade to provide technical and financial assistance.

Spc. Amy Graybeal, a Soldier from the PRT who grew up on a dairy farm in Peach Bottom, Pa., said the farm is similar to those one might see in California.

"The climate here is similar to that of California’s," she said. "It looks like they don’t have as many cows for as much equipment as they have."

Her assessment was correct. Wood met with several members of the farm’s leadership, including the farm manager, veterinarian, feed and nutrition specialist and financial manager.

He learned from the group that the amount of both dairy cows and farming staff has drastically decreased due to irrigation problems. Currently, the farm staffs approximately 20 employees and houses 1,000 dairy cows. When fully operational, the farm had 1,000 employees and 8,000 cows.

"They need to ship in about 50,000 gallons of water a week just for the cows to drink and for operational maintenance," Wood said. "They need enough water to irrigate about 3,500 acres of land to produce feed for the cows. Basically right now there are just enough workers to keep the cows alive."

Wood explained that the bulk of the employees used to work in the fields tending to the alfalfa, clover and corn used to feed the cows. Without the proper amount of water to irrigate the fields, the crops cannot grow resulting in loss of jobs for the workers and malnutrition for the cows.

"The feed is also shipped in but it’s poor quality," Wood said. "They have to slaughter about 25 cows per month due to malnutrition. The manager told me he gives the meat from the slaughtered cows to the workers and poor families in the area."

As a result of less production, Iraqi citizens who relied on the farm for their dairy needs are also feeling the effects.

"When the farm was fully functional, they were a large distributor of milk to south central Iraq, primarily Baghdad," Wood said. "Now that they can no longer do that, milk is being imported from Kuwait or Jordan causing the prices to go up. Mid to lower income families can’t afford it anymore, so this problem is not just affecting direct employment, but it’s also affecting the quality of life."

Wood, Ratliff, Graybeal and 3rd BSTB Soldiers toured the milking facility and cow parlors, accompanied by the farm’s managers and staff.

Graybeal said she was surprised at how modern and functional the facility was, with several automatic milking stations and devices which digitally track milk production for each dairy cow.

When the assessment was complete, the group went to the source of the farm’s irrigation problems; the al Khachia irrigation pump station.

Wood said last March members of al-Qaeda destroyed the pump station, which had provided water to a large portion of the Mada’in Qada, the 3rd HBCT’s area of operation. Currently, there is only one operational horizontal pump at the station. The one pump can only provide a few local families with drinking water.

"If the vertical pumps were working they could put out massive amounts of water," Wood said. "The one working horizontal pump is not enough to sustain agriculture in this area."

Wood said Coalition forces’ main effort is to get the Ministry of Irrigation involved to repair the pump station.

According to Maj. Cliff Faulkner, from Silverton, Colo., commander of Company A, 489th Civil Affairs Battalion, the plan is to have the government of Iraq move sub-pumps from the al Bawi pump station to the al Khachia irrigation pump station.

"The pumps move water down the canal," he said "A lot of people depend on them."

The 3rd BSTB is assigned to the 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.