Alum David Radtke is using his decades of agriculture and international policy experience to help the Republic of Congo establish large mechanized farms.
"The Republic of Congo imports almost all its food, yet has lots of open land suitable for farming," says Radtke, who has worked as a farm manager and crop consultant since graduating in 1989. "Their traditional farming usually involves garden-sized plots. This project is to start and promote large mechanized farms throughout the country, and then spread these ideas and provide tractors and equipment to rent with another program."
Radtke has been in Congo since February 2013. The mechanized farm program is a partnership with the minister of agriculture and the International Partnership for Human Development.
Radtke is introducing U.S. potato varieties in the Plateaux region and coordinating production of corn, soybeans, dry beans and rice on farms in Lekana, Nkoumou, Mouindi and Kinzamba in consultation with the Minister of Agriculture and International Partnership for Human Development. "I am training local farmers in improved and mechanized agriculture," Radtke says. "I help them manage inputs, labor, production and sales of crops and set up farm record keeping systems."
Potatoes at the market
He reports on his blog, Crop Ideas, that the red potatoes he introduced are showing up in local markets. "We gave and sold seed after last season to local farmers and their first production from this seed is being harvested now," Radtke says. "The red ones are also getting a better price than the traditional ones. A bucket of reds goes for 700 CFA francs and the old variety goes for 500 CFA. The sellers are quick to tell you how good the red potatoes taste."
Radtke earned his bachelor's degree in agronomy from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, then joined the U.S. Peace Corps and spent four years in Guatemala working with vegetables and water projects. He returned to Wisconsin and earned a master's degree in international policy from the La Follette Institute and became a crop consultant with Agro Engineering in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. He then spent about 13 years managing two farms in the San Luis Valley, growing potatoes, lettuce, small grains, alfalfa, canola, sunflowers and cattle.
Radtke also started a consulting business, Mountain Valley Crop Service. He provided marketing and execution in soil fertility, plant nutrition, integrated pest management, farm planning and irrigation water management including system and pumping plant analysis. He also carried out international market analyses in Brazil, Egypt, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.