· Irrigation: Center-pivot irrigation systems are in need of calibration and repair. The farmers we have talked with, or worked with, have all said that their pivots are very good. In reality, the farmers have never grown a crop in the summer time, when the crop is 100% reliant on irrigation for its water needs. The farmers usually just use their pivots to supplement the rains in the fall/spring for their wheat or barley crop. Being totally reliant on their pivots definitely showed the weaknesses of them. When we have talked with the irrigation specialists with INMA (USAID), they have said that all of the pivots they have seen in the entire country of Iraq are not calibrated correctly. The main issues are the lack of pressure regulators, and using incorrect nozzles when replacing a faulty one.
· Weed Control: The second biggest problem we faced is weed control. When we talked with the agricultural supply stores, they said that they had the chemicals that we needed for post-application. When it came time to use those, we found out that we had been given false information. A couple of farmers hired labor to pull the weeds. We used a cultivator in the fields that we rented, and pushed hard to have the other farmers do the same. Unfortunately, the majority of the farmers refused to do anything about the weeds. This issue not only hurt yields, but caused problems for the combines, and at the factory. To remedy this issue, we must import the chemicals/adjuvants that we need, and have them on-hand. We will need warehouse space to store the chemicals. The most likely place to import the chemicals is from Turkey – there are several major chemical companies that are registered there (Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, Dow). We will require the use of a pre-emergent herbicide, with a possible post-emergent application, on every field, no exceptions.
· Zero support from the Ministry of Agriculture. This has made getting elite seeds and the proper herbicides and pesticides impossible. After three years of attempts, no one has told us how to register seed in the country.
· Electricity: In the summer, the electricity becomes more sporadic. This affected us because the center-pivots run off of electricity. The best way to overcome this is to make sure that the guard at each field immediately turns the pivot back on, when the electricity comes back on. Another option is to install an automatic switch that turns the pivot back on when the power comes back.
· Harvest issues: relying on local combine owners was very difficult to say the least. For example, we would agree to begin harvesting a field at 7am, and they wouldn’t start until 1:30pm. This happened basically every day throughout harvest. We would have 2 combines in a field, and they would only harvest 20 acres in one day – a very, very small amount. Soybeans are a very time-sensitive crop when it comes to harvest. In addition, because we had irrigation issues, the outside ring of the field would drydown differently than the inside parts of the field. The combine drivers refused to just harvest the soybeans that were ready, and then return at a later time to harvest the rest. This led to increased harvest losses, because we were forced to wait for the inside parts of the field to drydown, while the rest of the field was becoming too dry. Another factor is that the combine drivers are only used to harvesting wheat, so are not accustomed to putting the combine head close to the ground – they were really afraid of getting dirt into the combine. This issue led to harvest losses – in parts of each field it led to 10+ bu/A losses.
· Nitrogen applications: I did a small test of late-season nitrogen application, and saw some positive results. The plants held onto their pods/seeds better than the untreated areas. Anything we can do to relieve stress on the plants will help yields. Applying fungicides and insecticides is another thing that would help us next year.
· Animals: There are many flocks of sheep and goats that go by our fields every day. I have seen evidence of damage caused by these animals, as well as cattle, horse, and wild dogs that fight in the fields and damage plants. If it is a field we control, or if we have a contract with a farmer, we need to require that the guard do a better job of protecting the plants.
· Holidays: There are many local holidays throughout the year – unfortunately, 2 of the major ones, Ramadan and Eid, fall in the timeline of our crop year. All weed and pest control have to be taken care of before the month of Ramadan begins, and hopefully harvest can come before Eid.
· Control: We rented some land this year, thinking that we could be able to better control what was happening and be more successful. In reality, the people we worked with made it worse than working with regular farmers. They changed the rates of irrigation and did not turn it on when they were supposed to. In the future, we will need to make sure that the guards work directly for us, which would give us greater leverage over how the field/irrigation is being managed.