Moroccan farm manager keeps the place ticking over

Moroccan farm manager keeps the place ticking over


Cropping
ICARDA Marchouch research farm manager Ouzzine Mohamed in a weed management trial at the farm.

ICARDA Marchouch research farm manager Ouzzine Mohamed in a weed management trial at the farm.

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The job of farm manager at ICARDA's Marchouch facility is never dull, keeping on top of the various trials and projects going on.

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BEING a farm manager is a busy task at the best of times, but when you manage a research farm responsible for hundreds of thousands of trials across a diverse range of crop types in a semi-arid environment it becomes even more tricky.

This is the conundrum facing Ouzzine Mohamed, farm manager at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dryland Areas (ICARDA) at Marchouch, south of Rabat in Morocco.

The ICARDA farm conducts trials on cereal crops, such as wheat and barley, along with pulses such as chickpeas, lentils and faba beans.

Trials include varieties from hot areas such as Sudan, along with wheat from Ethiopia that may have promise in terms of disease resistance.

Along with that, the farm is responsible for bulking up a lot of genetic material originally stored in ICARDA's Syrian gene bank, with 20,000 plots of varieties to be grown this year for storage in gene bank facilities, primarily in ICARDA's Rabat, Morocco, bank, but also across the globe.

Ouzzine Mohamed points out popular local grain varieties.

Ouzzine Mohamed points out popular local grain varieties.

As well as that there is work done on a local level, benchmarking popular local varieties.

"We are getting ready for a big open day where local farmers can come in and have a look at how the different varieties are performing, if they can see a new line here is doing well they are more likely to grow it themselves rather than sticking with older lines," Mr Mohamed said.

He manages a large team of workers, from technical assistants to agricultural labourers to mechanics.

Like most farmers, he said dealing with the climate is the most difficult.

The Marchouch farm is 1000 hectares overall, and includes 160 hectares of trials, with other land given over to other uses.

There is 50ha that can be irrigated, using water from five wells.

Mr Mohamed said a dam had recently been constructed to help store well water and could be hooked up to an irrigator.

While some plantings are for trials that want to see how particular varieties do in the Marchouch climate, featuring heavy vertisol soils and average annual rainfall of around 400mm, others require the crop to grow evenly.

For instance, Mr Mohamed said water had been allocated to the gene bank bulk ups this year, following an extremely dry late winter and early spring.

This period, similar to Australia's Mediterranean cropping zones, is generally the major source of rainfall for the winter crop.

Mr Mohamed said, similar to Australia, climatic variability and failed springs were becoming an increasing problem.

In its previous incarnation the Marchouch station was operated by the Moroccan Department of Agriculture.

Prior to it coming under ICARDA control around 2012, there had never been a crop failure at the site.

However since then there has been a failure and this year only late spring rain saved the crop from a similar fate.

The mechanics crew at ICARDA Marchouch have a busy time of it.

The mechanics crew at ICARDA Marchouch have a busy time of it.

It means Mr Mohamed is keen to investigate further water security projects.

"It's something we want to look at, but we have to be careful as the wells are not limitless in terms of what we can take out," he said.

The tyranny of distance means some old-fashioned ingenuity is required in terms of keeping everything running.

"We don't have easy access to mechanics or resources like that so we tend to do a lot of our own repairs."

A team of mechanics works out of a repair shop to keep the fleet of often specialised plot-sized equipment running.

Although it can be difficult, Mr Mohamed said it was a rewarding job.

"It is great to be a part of all the work that is going on at the facility."

* Gregor Heard travelled to Morocco with assistance from the Crawford Fund and with financial support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Council on Australia Arab Relations.

The story Moroccan farm manager keeps the place ticking over first appeared on Farm Online.

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