Friday, November 16, 2018

Nutrient Tracking Map

Above is an image of the real time nutrient tracking system developed for AC4D farm open field crops.  Each valve, 1000m2, is watered and fertilized independently so that nutrients can be compared with crop requirements given the plant stage.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Hydroponic Improvements & Nutrient Management System

Stabilizing pH, maintaining nutrient level, and balancing N-P-K ratios in a reliable and cost effective way is one of the major hurdles to implementing hydroponics as a water saving technique into Jordanian Agriculture. 

To that end our team is working with a number of global partners to standardize and professionally produce the home grown, low cost (roughly 1/10th of commercially available systems), pH and nutrient management system that we have perfected over the last 3 years in the Jordan Valley.   

We expect to take delivery of 10 of these machines in January and immediately deploy them across hydroponic early adopting farms in Karama, South Shuna, Madaba, Jawfa and Dohuk, Iraq.

An Arduino, the $30 brain of our hydroponic control system

Tanner, our highly skilled intern, has developed a spreadsheet that allows us to project nutrient requirements and applied nutrients onto a digital map of the farm displayed on a TV screen. 

This map graphically displays where nutrients are needed before we see negative effects on the plants.  Intuitive, preemptive nutrient management allows us to significantly reduce pest infestations, crop loss, and chemical treatment at NO ADDITIONAL COST to the farm.   

Transitioning from anecdotal decision making to numerically based, analytical, decision making is one of the greatest needs in global agriculture.  A little know how on readily available software (Google Sheets) allows our team to collaborate and share what has been done and needs to be done in real time. 

A map of the JV farm with the first layer of data superimposed, valve placement.  Crop requirement and applied nutrient data to be superimposed this week.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

2017/18 Season Totals

A few statistics for thought:

Hydroponic Tomatoes Produced:  12.5 Metric Tons
Hydroponic Peppers Produced:  6.3 Metric Tons

Tomato Yield per m2:  15 Kg
Pepper Yield per m2: 5 Kg

Total food produced and delivered to refugees:  150 Metric Tons
Total cost to run farm:  $49,330

Boxes Produced:  15,132

People fed:  75,660

Cost per Kilo:  33 cents (inclusive of distribution, delivery, and all administration costs)

While overall cost per kilo of produce continues to drop, yields from the hydroponic systems remain far below what I want from them.  They have improved about 30% from last season due largely to more consistent and precise regulation of fertigation solution, both pH and nutrient load. Trimming and pest control remain major barriers to improved production due to a lack of skilled labor in the area.

In the coming season we will be using refractometers to evaluate the baseline sugar levels in the leaves before transpiration increases during the warm hours of the day.  This will give our team a stronger feel for how much nutrient is being absorbed by the plant.  That information will better inform our irrigation scheduling, our nutrient load, and our hydroponic systems flushing schedule.  

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