CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq (Army News Service May 26, 2010) -- Iraq currently imports 72 percent of its agricultural goods from foreign nations, including Syria and Iran, driving market prices ever higher in a fledgling economy.

Recently, to remedy the need for Iraq to import the majority of its agricultural, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, used funds from its Commander's Emergency Response Program to create a fully-encompassing agricultural foundation that plans to leave a lasting change to the landscape and economy of Iraq.

A civil affairs battalion attached to the unit is teaching Iraqi farmers to adopt efficient growing methods and providing feed pens for livestock as well, according to Sgt. Charles Schoenen, 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion.

To begin the cycle of a fully functional agricultural economic system, two seed purification sites were built, one by the country of Iraq, and another from U.S. CERP funds. From the two locations, the seed purification sites will supply wheat and vegetable seeds for all of Ninewa province.

Seeds that are deemed unusable are taken to feed mills, throughout the province, which grinds down the seeds to be used as feed for local livestock and poultry farmers, said Schoenen.

"Some of the additional gains from introducing a complete agricultural economic system are the increase of jobs that are provided at these newly emplaced sights," Schoenen said. "Each site provides seven to 10 jobs alone, besides the increased income local farmers will gain."

Also benefiting from the seed purification sights are newly built drip farms, which are given to individual farming families. The drip farms greatly alter the way Iraqi farmers grow their crops because they use less resources, but yield a greater production from a single growing season. Previously, farmers would flood their fields to keep their crops fed, this would cost the farmers greatly because of the water used, and it yielded more potential for damaging crops.

"The drip farms have running pipes that slowly drop a small amount of water directly to the crops," said 1st Sgt. Thomas Watts, 422nd Civil Affairs. "This allows farmers to use much less water for a growing season and save the farmers much less in resource costs."

In addition to the drip farms, local farming families received hoop houses, similar to a green house. This allows farmers to have three growing seasons. About 62 hoop houses have been provided to local farmers throughout Ninewa province.

"The hoop houses in combination with the drip farms triple the amount of growing seasons for the local farmers, which in turn gives local farmers a great financial boost," said Watts. "On average a single growing season from a single farm produces around $4,000 a season, now with farmers having the ability to triple that amount; it gives farmers the financial boost needed to build additional hoop houses from their own funds."

To complete the agricultural system emplaced by U.S. and Iraqi funds, local livestock farmers received 75,000 chickens and 4,500 sheep. This livestock then in turn is fed at feed lots, which receives grain from feed mills. The feed lots provide a central location for local populace to feed their livestock without needing to travel great distances with their livestock to graze on limited grazing fields, Watts said.

"The system which has been emplaced is truly a fully functioning agricultural economic system, from seeds, to the farms, to the markets; this has been one of the grandest and long-term projects to date," said Schoenen. "The long-term success of this project has the potential to greatly improve the agricultural infrastructure of the country and in turn the overall economy of the country."