Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Short Term Loss? Long Term Gain!

Bioremediation is the oldest, most cost effective, and most natural strategy for improving soil health.  When local farmers refer to "resting" a piece of soil they are often mislead in their understanding of the processes that are at work when a piece of ground is taken out of production and can therefore fail to make the best use of time spent out of production.   

The Problem:
Salt cations accumulate in soil creating an environment where very high pH and very high sodium levels hamper plants ability to absorb needed nutrients.  In addition, the loss of soil structure and organic matter breakdown creates a root environment in which reduced oxygen and low carbon content also reduce plant productivity.

The Process: 
By deep plowing (turning over) "tired" sodium affected soils; oxygen levels are improved, UV light kills soil borne pathogens, and the hard pan (densely packed soil crust) is broken allowing for the quick infiltration of rain and irrigation water to flush the root zone of sodium.  Following that plowing with seeding of barley or wheat stabilizes soil, rebuilds structure, and incorporates sodium into the stem and head of the cover crop.  Cover cropping with clover can also fix a small amount of nitrogen into the soil, the limiting reagent in plant growth early next season.

The Solution:
Well structured, well flushed soils which have had carbon incorporated into them are much more productive the next time they are used.  In this way land that would normally need multiple years of "rest" are rejuvenated in a single wet season and available for use with much greater consistency.  This improves inter annual yield.

A rotation of wheat is planted on a small percentage of AC4Ds trial farm every winter in order to rejuvenate the land


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Seasonal Totals and a Block Party

The last two months at the Jordan Valley farm have been the most productive in our four years.  In the first two months of the seven month season our team has delivered over 54,000kg (119,000lbs) of fresh produce to Iraqi, Syrian, and Palestinian refugees at four different locations across Northern Jordan.  One of the most significant pieces of encouragement for the AC4D team has come as the result of a medical day sponsored by Operation Mercy in the Azraq region this week.  The medical team coordinator relayed to us that they overall health of the 100 children at the school that we have been serving for the last year and a half has improved dramatically.  His statement was, "I don't know where all the nutrition came from.  The last time that we did medical checks on the kids we were seeing serious signs of malnutrition; lots of infections, lots of skin problems, even some kidney failure.  Now they look great!  Full of energy."  Then it dawned on him where all the nutrition came from.  We have been donating two metric tons of fresh produce to those families every week for almost the entire interim between his health checks.  Turns out huge amounts of fresh food delivered to their homes will make kids healthier.

This week I took my oldest son to distribute food to several families in the area to give him a sense of the conditions that people are living in.  It was difficult to see but a great pleasure to engage with knowing that we can make a difference in this small area with these few hundred people. 

 


Delivering food to families in the Azraq Region of Jordan


Block Party

We also hosted a meal for the farmers in our area yesterday to break in the new Zarb pit.  Zarb is a traditional Jordanian dish of chicken or meat cooked in an earthen oven. Its a big draw.  Equivalent to cooking a half beef in the front yard of your house in Texas.  Everybody in the neighborhood shows up.  We had a great time and it was a good opportunity to take the pulse of what is happening on the farms around us.  

    
 

This stand goes in the Zarb Pit and cooks for several hours

Thursday, November 9, 2017

New Media for Hydroponic Tomatoes

Hydroponic Tomatoes a few days after planting in CoCoPeat




DIY Automatic Fertigation Unit
1500 m2 of Hydroponic Sweet Peppers

Friday, May 19, 2017

2016/17 This Season By the Numbers and Our Plan Moving Forward

This season, August 2016 to May 2017, AC4Ds Jordan Valley farm produced:

15,561 Boxes of Produce

Those boxes contained 157,944 Kilograms of Mixed Produce

Over 90% were distributed to Syrian and Iraqi refugees, mostly through 6 local partners

77,805 people ate fresh produce for a week 

50 local farmers participated in extension and training events (with many more visiting the farm between trainings)

Over 15,000kg of tomatoes were produced hydroponically, a major step toward providing local farmers with a sustainable, and cost effective, step forward in the quality and quantity of their production.

Hydroponic Tomatoes 2 Weeks after Planting


One major challenge that has finally overtaken Jordan Agriculture is its over-reliance on chemical pest control and fungicide.  

As of just May 17th the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) have banned the importing of Jordanian produce due to high levels of pesticide and other chemicals.  The requirement is now that all produce meets Euregap standards and Jordanian smallholder farmers are unequipped to understand and implement those standards.  This is a major opportunity for AC4D to continue to add value to the agricultural community but implementing what we have learned to link smallholder farmers with information and training in meeting new standards. 

Hydroponics is an excellent solution for meeting those criteria because it allows plants to be grown year after year in a media unaffected by salinity from poor water quality.  Low salinity means healthy plants which are more resistant to pests, viruses, and fungus therefore requiring LESS CHEMICAL INTERVENTION. 





Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Farmer Capacity Building

AC4D has spent a great deal of time and energy developing and improving upon a simple hydroponic production system that will allow small farmers to get out of the soil and better control the effects of salinity and pests and pathogens.  I am pleased to say that our trial has yielded over 15000 kilos of very high quality Deafness tomatoes despite the management and technical errors that come with the first year of any management system.   We expect significantly better yields next year as system management improves with a higher degree of automation, more stable and consistent nutrient and pH levels and better tools for draining the rows of excess irrigation water.  We are encouraged by the trials this year and recently had the opportunity to host 30+ local farmers, ag. extension specialists and vendors in cooperation with our partners at EcoConsult.

     
Ag. Projects Manager describing drainage system to a sub-group during the farmer field day




Monday, February 13, 2017

Sinjari Communities in Northern Iraq

AC4D was privileged to move forward with our plans to serve displaced farmers from the Sinjar area in Northern Iraq.  This last week we chose five sites from which to center agricultural production and training centers near the towns of Dohuk and Sinuni.  All of the sites will serve to produce fresh produce for displaced people both inside and outside of IDP camps.  They will also employ IDPs and provide valuable skills training in high value vegetable production.  Moving forward AC4D will continue to provide technical backstopping and farm reconstitution packages to Sinjaris who are returning home after being forced out by a year of IS occupation.  Farm reconstitution packages will include greenhouses and drip irrigation systems needed for farmers to compete against cheap imports from Turkey and Iran.

AC4D team evaluating IDP camps for suitability

Sardashte camp on Sinjar Mountain

Regional map of Sinjar Mountain
 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Seasonal Goals & Hydroponics Update

AC4D delivered its 20,000th box of mixed vegetables this month which translates to over 100,000 refugees fed for a week over the course of the project.  Our projected productivity for this season alone is to provide food for over 15,000 families (same number of boxes delivered) translating to 75,000 refugees during the 2016/17 season. 

Moving forward we are working in partnership with Operation Mercy's Refugee Relief team to explore areas in Jordan where larger refugee care providers like the UN are unable to provide services. 

Hydroponics trials are going very well.  The entire team has been very impressed by the speed and quality of the growth, the uniformity of the plants, the quality of the first 3 fruitsets, and the lack of any kind of loss due to viruses, fusarium wilt, or nematode infestation.  A few of our non-resistant varieties have suffered losses due to white fly borne virus but I have not seen a single loss in either of our resistant varieties (Master and Deafness) which constitute over 90% of the trial. 

Hydroponic Tomatoes

Jordan Valley Farm Staff Meeting

Friday, November 11, 2016

Developing a Sensor System to Inform Automation of Greenhouses

Darren Allison of Millennium Relief and Development Services has recently been engaged by the AC4D team to develop a sensor system for our greenhouses that can track air temp, humidity, and soil moisture.  The system will inform the hardware that he is developing to ventilate, water and fertigate our protected trials. 

Currently information is being generated by a series of sensors that connects wirelessly with a base station which makes the data gathered accessible for use in decision making.  It is no stretch to envision a few months from now allowing our automated hardware and algorithm to water greenhouses according to real time soil and air moisture data in order to minimize plant stress from over or under watering and excessive greenhouse temps.  Overwatering is a common cause for root rot, cold season mold infestation, and oxygen deficiency in the root zone.  Underwatering causes plant stress and severely curbs fruit production.  Finding the right balance is the key to strong harvests and low levels of crop disease.

Darren wiring up the base station for our data acquisition system

The hardware implemented thus far has cost only $226 USD making it easily accessible to local smallholder farmers. 
    

Saturday, October 22, 2016

2016/17 Season Update

This season we are able to receive much lower salinity (higher pH) irrigation water which has significantly improved our early season growth.  I would also expect it to boost yields pretty significantly.  Roughly 30% of the farm is in eggplant this year which is showing excellent early season growth.  Corn is responding well and zuchinni will round out our fall offering.

Month old eggplant starting to bear fruit


X3R & Intruder not yet forked
We are trialing a new quick maturing pepper variety called "Ace" against Monsantos X3R and Intruder varieties.  Ace is much less expensive and is already flowering while the X3R and Intruders are developing stem and leaf matter much more quickly.  Only time will tell which strategy will yield better under our conditions.


 The hydroponic system is now planted.  The vast majority, 14 of 15 rows across 3 hoop houses, are planted in Deafness tomatoes.  This week representatives from EcoConsult are coming to the farm to help us troubleshoot fertilizer dosing.  The trial that was originally conceived as a cucumber/tomato system contrasting both fresh and brackish water yield has been simplified to a single (more salt tolerant) crop, tomato.  The 2 independent pumping systems have been simplified into a single fertigation system due to early stage technical difficulty.  The whole trial will now be brackish water because we are unable to obtain the quantity of fresh water needed to run all 3 houses.  No matter how well laid the plans are, the Jordan Valley will throw you a curve ball. Over 3400 Deafness tomato plants are now taking root in their perlite containers. 

  
3 of 9 storage tanks for hydroponic system - 1m3 each

Storage tanks covered to avoid algae growth - Note the two return valves to stir fertilizers in holding tanks
Lined canals allow drainage water from perlite bags to be recaptured in a closed system. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Simple, Doable, Cheap Stuff that Farmers Can Benefit From

We have recently been focusing on building a hydroponics trial whose watering is automated.  A timer controls when water is turned on and off in each greenhouse.  Automation of the watering system is one of the necessary components of a "large" scale hydroponic system and it is probably the most daunting aspect of utilizing the technology for Jordan Valley farmers.  Pictured below is our automation system.  It cost us $110.  A rainbird timer, three electrical plugs for clean connections, and two relays to start and stop 2 independent pumps which water 3, 250m2,  greenhouses.  This is no great feat of engineering but going through the process of putting it together (thank you Darren) showed our team that even "simple" interventions need clear instructions if they are really going to be adoptable.

A Rainbird timer and two relays, one for independent control of each watering system

Simple / Doable / Inexpensive / Reproducible / Locally Sourced / Effective / Proven

These words are the hallmarks of our smallholder farmer engagement program.  Hydroponics is shown the world over to reduce the need for chemical treatment of crops, to enhance production volume and produce uniformity, to reduce labor costs, to end the need for physical and chemical soil preparation, to REDUCE the quantity of synthetic fertilizer required, and to save a very significant amount of water.  We believe that with simplification and clear communication hydroponics can be a profitable and environmentally positive intervention even in a developing world market.  We believe that it can be a feasible tool for smallholders to reduce costs, enhance productivity, and increase crop quality to command higher market prices.  

We will keep readers up to date with specific production numbers and costs as the season progresses.