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Iraqi visitors exchange agricultural information with NMSU agents, farmers

Thousands of miles may separate New Mexico State University and Iraq, but farmers from the Middle East who visited recently learned that there might not be such a big difference in agricultural challenges the two cultures face.

Tim Ross, interim department head for the Department of Animal and Range Sciences, speaks with a woman who was part of the Iraqi team about livestock practices in New Mexico. Iraqi farmers visited New Mexico State University recently to exchange information on agricultural practices with Cooperative Extension agents as well as area farmers.(Photo by Audry Olmsted)

Seven Iraqi farmers were in El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces last month to learn about irrigation, growing practices and other agricultural topics as part of an international program to build communication and information between cultures.

"I think it was fulfilling for both sides," said Jeanine Chavez Castillo, NMSU specialist with Extension Plant Sciences. "It was very beneficial for us to see what they're doing and the challenges they face."

The Iraqi farmers were here as part of the El Paso Council for International Visitors program. Through the U.S. Department of State, foreign dignitaries are invited to tour the United States and meet their professional counterparts through the international program.

The farmers arrived in El Paso Sept. 11, and left Sept. 17.

While at NMSU, the farmers took tours of area farms and also heard lectures about sheep production - the majority of the farmers raise sheep and poultry - and activities being done at NMSU through the Iraq Agricultural Extension Revitalization Project in Iraq. They also spent time at Texas AgriLIFE Extension Service, El Paso Water Utilities and Tech 2O Learning Center.

The El Paso branch of the organization invited New Mexico State to participate in sharing information with the visitors.

"I think its main purpose is building relationships. NMSU has so much to offer," Castillo said.

During a lunch at the Doņa Ana County Cooperative Extension Service building, the visitors shared the challenges they faced in Iraq and expressed, through translators who accompanied them, what they hoped to get out of their visit to the United States. Most said they wanted to learn about the agricultural differences between the two countries. Unlike NMSU, there is no communication between farmers and universities in Iraq, the visitors said.

"Some of the challenges, such as drought, were similar to the challenges our farmers face in New Mexico. They also emphasized the need for their farmers to be better informed of current technologies and practices related to agricultural production. We shared the structure and mission of the Cooperative Extension Service to transfer research-based information to the citizens of the state," said Jon Boren, interim associate dean and director of the Cooperative Extension Service. "During the field tours, the farmers from Iraq were able to gain information and have a hands-on experience of current agricultural practices used in New Mexico from our Cooperative Extension Service faculty."

Before the visit was over, Extension agents and other personnel at NMSU exchanged contact information with the Iraqi farmers so they could maintain a line of communication and information sharing with the visitors.

"It was just amazing, the questions they had, the curiosity," Castillo said.

Castillo said that if the visitors have questions later that can't be answered by Extension agents, they will be put in contact with other specialists at NMSU who can help them.

Castillo said the group was amazed at the kinds of programs New Mexico State offers and said the visit was good for them as it gave them an opportunity to draw on the expertise of the university's specialists. "At the very end of the day and a half tour, they were very thankful and grateful for the knowledge they gained at NMSU."