U.S. troops preparing for deployment to Afghanistan are learning about that country’s grape production and the importance of small-scale farming to its citizens, thanks to a Washington State University Extension viticulturist.

Michelle Moyer, a WSU statewide viticulture extension specialist, has developed a presentation for the national eXtension Grape Community of Practice (GCoP) that offers troops a general introduction to vine biology, how grapes are grown, potential threats to grape production and specifics of Afghan grape production. An organization of 87 grape production professionals from 31 states and Ontario, Canada, the GCoP will distribute Moyer’s presentation to its members at universities and government agencies for their troop training efforts.

Reducing negative impact; improving economy

"Specific information on Afghan grape production is important for developing cultural and production sensitivity in deploying U.S. troops,” Moyer said. "Grapes are the leading horticulture crop for Afghanistan, but their production systems are not like those U.S. citizens would be accustomed to seeing.

"By providing information regarding what our troops might encounter while on the ground in Afghanistan, we can reduce the likelihood of a negative impact on production for this very important crop,” she added. "This sensitivity is critical in rebuilding economic and agricultural stability that is necessary for the overall long-term stability of a country.”

(For more, see: US military succeeds in fields of the Taliban)

Predominant crop

Forty-eight percent of the fruit-bearing land in Afghanistan is dedicated to grapes, said Moyer, a WSU assistant professor, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in genetics and plant pathology, and a Ph.D. in plant pathology. Much of those crops are grown for personal consumption as table grapes and raisins, not for commercial use. Because most Afghan vineyards have higher rates of fungal disease, yield is typically low.

One major difference between Afghan and U.S. grape production is the absence of trellising for grapevines. Grape plants are most often grown as bushes or use old trees as a trellising system.

"Just because a vine is growing up a tree does not mean it is not a part of the local production system,” Moyer said. "While rudimentary, it is a common practice to trellis vines on any structure available, if they are trellised at all.”