By Army Pvt. Christopher McKenna
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 1, 2008 - A series of four greenhouses officially opened June 28 in Mahmudiyah marking a step forward in revitalizing and modernizing Iraqi agriculture. "The greenhouses are definitely a dominant feature in the area; there is nothing else around them, and they can be seen well into the distance," said Army Capt. Benjamin Neusse, civil-military operations officer with 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment. "Hopefully, it gives people the impression that progress is being made along agricultural lines."
Each greenhouse is more than 500 square meters in area, and plastic sheets on the outside convert ultraviolet rays into heat to produce a more acclimated environment for plants to grow.
"The greenhouse is a pilot project through the local agriculture union for research and development of agriculture technology," said Neusse, a native of Murfreesboro, Tenn. "The houses are on lease for one year to the union to educate local farmers on potential technology."
A 60-cubic-meter storage pond feeds a drip irrigation system. Each house has an independent valve that allows individual irrigation.
"The project started a year ago when the [embedded provincial reconstruction team] came to me expressing a high level of interest in agriculture," Oded Abrahim Ghanthwan, owner of the greenhouse property, said. "It took so long to come together because, for a long time, the security in the area was not stable. But thanks to the coalition and Iraqi Army, the security is better, and these greenhouses can be opened."
Ghanthwan is the first person in the area to use the individual row greenhouse systems.
"People followed my footsteps before, and they want to do the same with these greenhouses," Ghanthwan said. "Many other farmers are going forward attempting to get contracts for greenhouses of their own already, even before production has begun here. They see the potential."
The seeds will be planted outside the greenhouses and brought in when the plants sprout. The planned crops are tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, melons and various other fruits and vegetables.
After one year, the agriculture union will hand the greenhouses over to Ghanthwan for full-time ownership.
(Army Pvt. Christopher McKenna serves in the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)