How Silverleafe, an Uzbek-American Agrocluster, Become a Role Model for the Farmers in the Country
In the Pakhtakor district of the Jizzakh region of Uzbekistan, the Silverleafe agrocluster has introduced new agricultural technologies for the production and reprocessing of cotton. The company has a unique employee – Dilchekhra Ergashev, the first Uzbek girl who operates a massive cotton harvester from America.
Amazing girls in Uzbek villages
Dilchehra was born and raised in the village of Mingchinor where Silverleaf, an Uzbek-American joint venture was established three years ago. The girl used to work as an English teacher in a kindergarten and an assistant in the local school when she learned that Silverleafe is looking for workers. As she had always wanted to try something new, she decided to apply for the position of cotton harvester operator.
«I’ve loved machines since I was a child. I like vehicles, I like to drive them. When I saw this new big enterprise next to our village, all that sophisticated agricultural machinery, I was curious. I just came there and said that I want to operate a harvester,» she recalls.
Female harvester operators are not something unique in Uzbekistan. Those who lived in Soviet times may still remember Tursunoy Akhunova, a woman who twice was named as a hero of labor and was the first Uzbek woman to become a cotton harvester operator.
Of course, cotton harvesting machinery has changed since then. Now harvesters are much more sophisticated, more comfortable for the operator and easy to drive. However, it doesn’t mean that any random person can grab the steering wheel of a harvester and drive it straight away. Specific training is needed. After such training, 24-year-old Dilchekhrabegan her work as an operator of CP690, a powerful (590 hp) flagship harvester by John Deere.
The girl likes her job and doesn’t think that she is doing anything special. Moreover, she is going to learn how to operate other agricultural machinery. While Dilchekhra works in the agrocluster, she also continues studying to be an English teacher.
«l love my country and my village. So, I’d like to be able to come in handy, to further develop my skills in operating agricultural machinery. Three years ago I couldn’t even imagine that I would be a harvester operator but I am here and do operate this huge machine. I do not doubt that there are tons of opportunities that arise every day and they are available for girls of my age. My fellow Uzbekistani girls need to believe in their potential and learn everything new,» Dilchekhra Ergasheva highlighted.
Attention to people
When the cotton harvesting season is over, Dilchekhra works as a dispatcher. She helps the agrocluster in developing and controlling the implementation of new procedures the company has created in conjunction with a consultant from Washington to protect human rights at the enterprise.
As Martin Walker, head of agronomy in Silverleafe told the Kursiv edition, the company deeply respects workers’ rights and sticks to social responsibility as a key priority.
The company has supported a female football club Sogdiana W from Jizzakh as a general sponsor for two years now. It has been one of the first initiatives of Silverleafe in the region. This year Sogdiana won Uzbekistan Prime League for the first time in the club’s history.
The agrocluster was also a sponsor of Ezgu Amal, a charity organization that supports children who have been diagnosed with cancer. Silverleafe even organized a visit of several American doctors from St. Jude’s hospital to let them share their experience in fighting childhood oncology with their Uzbek counterparts.
In addition, the company has constantly been involved in village life, helping to solve many infrastructural issues including water supply.
New approaches in the solving of social problems are part of Silverleafe business strategy. In fact, the entire company is some sort of testing site for research and implementation of new ways of land cultivation, cotton production and cotton reprocessing. The agrocluster is meant to serve as a role model for the entire agricultural industry in Uzbekistan.
The founders of the agrocluster have chosen Uzbekistan deliberately. The family of Dan Patterson, a CEO of Silverleafe and Martin Walker, head of agronomy, has a long history of cooperation with the country. In the 1930s, the family was involved in the development of the cotton industry in Uzbekistan, and in the 1970s and 1990s, Martin’s father took part in several agricultural projects here. That is why when President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev had offered to create a showpiece enterprise, the American company agreed immediately.
New approaches to the business
Once Silverleafe had received 2,000 hectares of land, the company started to introduce in the region new agricultural approaches including digital technologies local farmers were unfamiliar with. First of all, the company decided to exclude picking cotton by hand. To achieve that goal Silverleafe had changed the scheme of seeding the field – now the company seeds down cotton on separate parcels 20 hectares each to let a big harvester go through the rows.
Before the very first seeding down, the company had made the land flat and then added some slope for better irrigation of the cotton. The irrigation system is also modern. It’s been made of plastic pipes with tiny holes in them to make watering smooth and highly efficient. Moreover, the highly efficient irrigation system allows the company to save the soil from salt, boost crop yields and raise the quality of cotton. There are loads of special detectors 60 centimeters deep in the ground which track the level of watering and saltiness in the soil. All that information is reflected on an interactive map in front of a dispatcher, who controls the irrigation process.
The introduction of new technologies saves about 40% of water, the most valuable resource in the region, according to Martin Walker.
The crop yields are also being managed with the help of digital solutions. The scheme of the field relies on GPS technology. For example, the parcels with low crop yields are highlighted in red. Later on, those specific land parcels, not the entire field, are fed with additional fertilizers. As a result, the company saves resources and gets more yields next year.
Almost the entire process of seeding down and harvesting is automated. There are about 150 pieces of machinery in the agrocluster, including John Deere cotton harvesters. Usually, Silverleafe rolls the cotton up instead of packaging them in bails. Every roll has a barcode with the date, time, and location of harvesting as well as a model of which harvester did each roll. As Martin Walker noted, the company is aimed at the creation of an ecosystem in the textile industry where every piece of the process from the field to the sewing factory can be tracked.
This innovative approach by Silverleafe has sparked huge interest from local Uzbek farmers who visit the company whether to learn something new or to join the agrocluster. Today, there are 240 farms in the cluster that specialize in cotton and other crop production.