April 2013
In the News

Alabama Agriculture Piques Foreign Interest

Visitors to Alabama who were part of the Cochran Fellowship Program from the Republic of Georgia included Mamuka Merebashvili, director, NGO Agrotechno; Zaal Akhalkatsi, farmer; Otar Sabashvili, owner/director, Agribusiness Management Group; Revaz Janelidze, manager, Greenhouse, Herbia Ltd.; Irakli Merkvilishvili, director, Agro-Com Farmers Service and Consulting Center; George Bulbulashvili, farmer; Nikoloz Gavtadze, production manager, Inagro Ltd.; Goga Turashvili, USAID; and Demna Dzirkvadze, agricultural specialist with USDA and interpreter for the group. The Cochran Fellowship Program provides participants from middle-income countries, emerging markets and emerging democracies with high-quality training to improve their local agricultural systems and strengthen and enhance trade links with the United States.


Republic of Georgia Ag Leaders Visit and Study

Alabama farmers routinely share tips, techniques and innovations, but sharing those with farmers who don’t speak English is a rare occurrence. A passion for agriculture helped bridge their communication gap.

Eight delegates from the Republic of Georgia explored a variety of farms and research centers in North Alabama February 5-7, 2013, as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cochran Fellowship Program. Though it’s more than 6,000 miles from their farms in Tbilisi to Auburn, where their journey began, the visitors came hoping to improve their local agricultural systems.

"Like any other country, we encounter problems to solve ... financial, social and agricultural," said USDA representative and native Georgian Demna Dzirkvadze, who also was the translator. "We have comparable mechanization, and we grow some of the things farmers here grow, but we have low productivity and yields. We hope to learn some new techniques to increase yields and profitability. No-till practices seen at [the North Alabama Horticultural Research Center] could be useful in the fields of Tbilisi."

Dzirkvadze noted the Republic of Georgia — located on Russia’s southern border between the Black and Caspian Seas — has liberal regulations compared to the U.S., but said farmers still work hard to produce the best food they can.

"Our families need food for nourishment, just as American families do," Dzirkvadze remarked. "We have less government control, but our practices are safe for our people."

The tour, which began in Auburn, included stops at the Cullman County Extension Office, North Alabama Horticultural Research Center, North Alabama Food Bank and farm tours in New Market, Meridianville, Athens, Bremen, Cullman and Hayden. The farmers also visited the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama Farmers Cooperative in Decatur and the Birmingham Farmers Market.

Since its inception in 1984, the Cochran Fellowship Program has trained more than 14,300 participants from 123 countries — many of whom visited Alabama. The group was selected to tour Alabama following a competitive bid process initiated by Auburn University.

For more program information, visit http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/cochran/cochran.asp.

Melissa Martin is with Alfa.