Top Story, February 2017
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
EXMORE, Va. — Working what he called “odd jobs” in New York for close to 20 years, Mohammad Iqbal said he and his family wanted more and more to leave the city for farm country.
“At some point we just started looking for something to do in agriculture,” he said. ”We came to the Eastern Shore and we liked it, just loved it.”
Growing up in Pakistan, Iqbal said his grandfather was a farmer and while the family initially planned to raise sheep and goats, they decided contract poultry growing was the best route to take and started growing for Perdue with two chicken houses in 2005.
Now, Iqbal and family manage seven houses on a farm in Snow Hill, Md., and nine houses in Bloxom, Va.
Iqbal received the Virginia Minority Farmer of Year award form the state’s NRCS Civil Rights Committee during the Eastern Shore Agriculture Conference and Trade Show in January and talked about how he was able to enter the poultry industry and expand his farm business.
He said when he came to Virginia, he didn’t have any experience in poultry growing or managing a farm but soon found it easy to find people that would help him.
“Everybody made it easy for us. I’m thankful for a lot of people,” Iqbal said. “I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t helped me and really went out of their way to help me.”
Being involved with the area’s trade group Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., as a member of the board of directors has helped his operations as well, he said.
“That gives you a bigger picture on the chicken industry and everything involved in poultry farming,” he said.
In presenting the award to Iqbal, Keith Boyd, Virginia NRCS assistant state conservationist for field operations, said since starting his own farm, the poultry grower has been “instrumental in mentoring young farmers.”
Iqbal said he’s helped about ten other people get started in the poultry business but downplayed his efforts in mentorship.
“It’s just directing them to the right people,” he said. “That’s the thing that makes a difference.”
Far Nasir, one of the farmers he has helped, said he was referred to Iqbal when he was considering buying a chicken farm and though they had never met before, Iqbal was eager to help.
“I would never have been able to start farming if it wasn’t for him,” Nasir said. “That’s something he doesn’t like talking about.”
Nasir has been growing chickens for five years and now manages 12 chicken houses in Maryland but still draws on Iqbal for advice at times.
“Even to this day I call him and ask him for help. It’s good to have a person you can rely on,” Nasir said.
Iqbal said conservation practices take a priority on his farms.
He has manure storage sheds on the farms and composters and puts an emphasis on maintaining good neighbor relations.
He’s also planning to add more vegetative buffers around his farms and expand the grassed areas around the Virginia farm.
He said having NRCS as a resource to install best management practices is key and vital for many farmers.
“Without cost share, it’s going to be very hard, even for established farms but also for newcomers,” he said. “Agriculture is a dirty business but we can manage it,” he said.
Iqbal said he hasn’t ruled out adding more chicken houses as long as he’s able to operate them at the level as he does now.
“Whatever you can manage properly is very important in the poultry business,” he said. “Whatever we can manage in the family is where I want it to be.”
Iqbal’s wife and four children help in the business along with his sister and her two children.
“I love it,” he said of having family involved. “This is the best part of farming. All the people who came in that I’ve helped, this is what attracts them.”