Understanding Today’s Agriculture, AGRI130 Field Trip #4- Mr. Scott HOPKINS (Farm Superintendent) & the UD Research Farm

On November 2, 2019, the class took a very short-distance field trip to the University of Delaware research farm with a tour led by farm superintendent Mr. Scott HOPKINS. Mr. HOPKINS spoke to the class largely on a University bus for the first part of the trip before leading the class on a walking tour through some of the barns.  Along the way the class was able to learn about a variety of research projects and interact with a few animals.

The speaker begins talking about the farm’s October production & research.  A few crops are grown on plastic, such as tomatoes & peppers- ¾ are non-organic.  Many of the crops are sold to nearby restaurants.

Hi-tunnels and organic plot

Mr. HOPKINS states working on the farm in a good job opportunity- some of best employees have had no farming background. He then laments that it is often, ‘a challenge for people to show up’, even as ‘2-hour volunteers’. Maintaining consistent 2-hour work periods, a volunteer might be expected to work on maintaining irrigation and equipment, or keeping the grounds.  Such work might consist of mending fences, weeding, and even picking up rocks- Mr. HOPKINS says that many volunteers don’t expect to do such arduous manual labor.  They are often indignant, claiming they, ‘didn’t earn a college degree to pick up rocks’ – Mr. ISAACS is quick to add that most volunteers without an agriculture or working background forget that jobs often come with the caveat, ‘other duties as assigned’.  He continues, saying when taking on a volunteer opportunity, as a new employee one is constantly watched & judged- ‘Education doesn’t make you ‘above’ tasks, and you are always part of a team’.

The tour continues, moving from the University bus to inside the University milk parlor. Once inside we are taught about the workings of the automated milking system.  The cows are equipped with, ‘Hoopbar transponders’ each with an ID.  Each transponder records data, such as the last milking, how much milk was produced, and any estrus abnormalities.  The cows are milked with rubber-lined milkers.  Having participated in a milking session before, I remember using iodine to sanitize each teat not once, but twice.  Despite this, mastitis- an inflammation from bacteria in the teat- can still set in. This kind of infection often requires antibiotics- the #1 economic loss for the milk industry is often incurred by an elevated level of somatic cells. After it is gathered, the milk is refrigerated & stored before being hauled away.  Getting milk in the tank is important, as the price for milk is relatively low and going down- taking out 6-8 cows for treatment is expensive and lowers the overall amount of milk collected.  Today, a functional dairy farm needs a minimum of 1000 cows, compared to the 100-500 cow farms of yesterday. The University keeps Holstein cows for milking, while keeping Heifers and other breeds simply for visitors and tourists to see.

Walking from the parlor the class visits the Collin Barn.  The Collin Barn is a tie-stall barn.  A tie-stall barn is an older style of milking facility where cows are retained & left until milked.  The cows are held via a chain & collar, milked from back with an overhead milk vacuum, & then released back to pasture.  All that milk is deposited to a, ‘dump station’, before being shipped out for processing.  The older barn has an overhead metal mesh on which pigeons, starlings, and perhaps even cattle egrets are nesting and coming for the feed grain.  The birds pose no risk the cattle, but present a biosecurity risk for humans.  The large presence of birds serves as an ample food source for hawks, who, ‘can’t eat enough’.

Hello…

Drawing a crowd…

Lunch time!

Thirty cows are fed inside this barn.  Their diets consist of silage- grain, forage, & proteins/vitamins– that each cow has access to from their own individual troughs.  Each cow is equipped with a transponder that sends out a signal when it leaves the stall to go out to pasture.  The cows are trained or perhaps use a retained memory of the number of steps they’ve taken to return to their own assigned trough upon re-entering. Their silage is a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) as earlier described by Guest Speaker -Mr. Dan SEVERSON, consisting of 75-85lbs of alfalfa and corn.  The mixed food is kept in large anaerobic bags to ferment and pickle.  These bags are part of the innovative technology adapted on the farm for greater efficiency and improved storage solutions.  Unlike a grain elevator, where workers can drown in grain cavities- air pockets in the grain bin that collapse onto themselves under the weight of unsuspecting entrants- or succumb to deadly silage gases, the bags have no motors and are less hazardous storage solutions. Mr. HOPKINS, announces UD’s own Dr. Limin KUNG is conducting research on storage bags without air for greater stability of the feed. White bags also reduce heat and albedo.  Along with the food, the cows are given plenty of water to prevent dry mouth.

Feed bags
A misplaced forklift tine can spoil the entire bag…
This feed makes a great snack during the workday- the wholecut kernels are tastier, but chopped is better for the cows… no evidence of vermin…
Evidence of birds…
Tiptable…
Calf hutches…

In addition to providing food, the barn also serves as an area to tend to the cows. The barn contains a, ‘Tiptable‘, where the cows’ heads are secured while their feet are trimmed.  To keep 75-80% cows chewing cud, their feet must be maintained because a sitting cow isn’t eating or making milk.  Cattle are ruminants that have mineral metabolization that occurs in their albumin, unlike humans who are monogastric and have probiotic enzymes and mechanical digestion.  Cattle ingest bugs to add microflora in their gut to stay healthy.  When a cow becomes sick, rumen fluid can be transferred between cows to improve the health of the sick one. This method is tested on the Universities’, ‘Window Cows’, a collection of 6-8cows with, ‘windows’- created by sewing the skin and rumen walls together and inserting a disk port, UD researchers unplug and extract samples to monitor the cow’s health.  Researchers can extract samples from pigs- animals that are monogastric, like people- to test substances and food that might be consumed by humans.

UD Cattle are no longer shown at the Delaware State Fair for biosecurity reasons.  Mr. HOPKINS with this practice however as the documents and records that are kept from shows help both producers and the public learn.  He does, however, understand the increased level of caution.  Producers are taking on a 2-year investment before they have cows or milk.  Heifers are sent out to become pregnant. The resulting calves are placed in a hutch or sold for an average price of $60-100, usually at a public auction in PA where livestock are sold. The firstborns’ immune defense comes from antibodies transmitted from a vaccinated dame to the calf through colostrum.   When the dairy cows reach maturity, they will weigh around 1400-1800lbs.

Cattle are not the only livestock managed by the University. The University also grow feed and forage for horses and sheep, as well as experimental plots. The 1.5% grade of the UD farm is not fit for some research, though the property is suitable for a wide range of projects.

One such project involves research on the arsenic uptake of rice.  Mr. HOPKINS tells us there have been documented incidents of people in Asia with near-clinical levels of arsenic poisoning stemming from the high consumption of rice.  In 2017 I attended a talk on-campus lead by Assistant Professor Angelia SEYFFERTH who described an experimental method where rice chaff was used to absorb arsenic from the soil.

Rice Paddies

Other projects deal with poultry.  Poultry has the greatest biosecurity risk.  The farm has 10 colony houses with 30 birds to each house.  Only one will contain vaccinated birds. The rate of, ‘generation interchange’ for chickens is only 3-4 months, a relatively quick one compared to the 12-13 years of a humans.  This accelerated rate makes it easier to observe genetic changes.

In addition to their work with poultry, Mr. HOPKINS the University has a partnership with another university studying Kestrel Hawks.

Beehives are also kept on the farm.  The hives must be opened multiple times per week to check on the Queen. This is done to check for, ‘Colony collapse’.  A queen will lay 3 egg types- a female infertile worker; a male drone, whose only job is to eat & breed; and a new Queen, who lays eggs in the cells the workers build. When a new Queen reached sufficient size, she goes up on mating flights, gathering all the reproductive she requires from other drones over the course of 2-3 flights.  A Queen will live and lay eggs for up to 3-4 years, reproducing every Spring.  The is only one Queen for each colony- when a new Queen is introduced, she is either killed or ousted from the hive. A bee swarm protects the ejected Queen until they reach a new site, a cavity in which a new hive is built of wax and comb produced by young bees. When farmers want to extract honey and jelly from manmade hives, or bee boxes, they must remove all 10 frames of honeycomb from every 50lb box and scrape the wax form each side before spinning the frames in a centrifuge.

Etymology & Entomology departments will quarantine certain bugs to combat invasive species. Public enemy number one is the region has been the recently discovered Spotted Lantern Fly, which arrived in Delaware from PA on a shipment of ornamental rocks, only to be detected 3weeks later. The Emerald Ash Borer is another notable pest to watch for. Parasitic Wasps are often effective pest management solutions. When used to combat the Tobacco Hornworm Mr. HOPKINS has observed the moths with 30% of their bodies covered with wasp eggs, which signals and agonizing end.

In addition to pest management, the farm also uses mindful soil and water management to protect the farm and the surrounding communities. The farms’ wetlands are fed with water from the Townsend & Worrilow Halls. A Storm weir was created to mitigate flooding to the nearby development.

Other activities hosted on the farm include Environmental Balloon Launches, and, on the day we arrived, ‘Goat Yoga’!

Goat Yoga!

Crossing over the Rt. 72 highway, the group pressed on to the adjacent Webb’s Farm. The first building we visited featured a controlled area for horses established in 1994 where the University once held horseriding. The ceiling used to have insulation instead of a metal roof, which birds would use as nesting material. The building as has sand bedding on the floor. Next door, we enter a climate-controlled 8-9yr old building used for mares & stallions. This building has rubber flooring and grilled grating for fear of injury for those with handicaps participating in therapeutic riding and also to improve sightlines. This smaller space allows for 2-3 horses at a time. Here the horses are tended to, with such familiar methods as feet trimming. Horses are also bred in the building. Mares are teased into estrus & pee before breeding. Once pregnant, they receive ultrasounds.

Horse Building 1

16-17 breeding mares a kept per year at 1 time within 6 stalls. Sightlines throughout the barn are important for the feeling of safety among mares as well- possibly an evolutionary need. The stalls contain water meters to monitor the mares in-take. For students it is important to be present at the birthing of a foal, but it was always a challenge for remote students to connect to on-campus Wi-Fi to witness the delivery. Mr. HOPKINS tells the class that horses- & dolphins- can stop contractions during labor – delaying their delivery for at least 1 day or 2 if they feel threatened or too many people are present. It has proven more effective to record the mammary secretions & calcium level increases in a titration lab – those levels are more accurate measurements to time the mare’s true delivery time.

The classroom

The birthing center
Cute drawing…

Despite the mindful living arrangements for the horses, Mr. HOPKINS expresses concern at the way such animals are kept. He states horse were not meant to be enclosed- they’re built to run. An unhealthy horse may resort to, ‘Cribbing’ – chewing on wood – or weaving. He says the issues with horses breeding run deeper that how they are kept, citing, ‘Stacking Genetics’, as a problem that effects both livestock and crops like potatoes (in S. America), tomatoes, and Kudzu grasses.

Walking to the last building, we visit some sheep. Sheep were selected for out-of-season commodities- wool blankets are made and sold in the UD Creamery. They seem to require minimal management, only needing to be sheared once a year and keeping their feet trimmed. Shearing every year can allow wool to grow with a 4-5inch staple length. We see a few lambs with their young. One small lamb is recovering from a hernia repair & has had no tail docking. Mr. HOPKINS explains that while the while this lamb could not undergo the additional stress of that procedure, tail docking is done for health reasons. Lambs are usually born with rather long tails- because sheep don’t lift their tails to relieve themselves or swat flies, the can develop a, ‘Fly strike’, or necrotic area on their backsides. Mr. HOPKINS says the procedure is usually done early when there are less nerve structures for minimal pain for the lamb. Each ewe had two lambs, as it is typical for the species to have twins or triplets. Because the mothers only have two teats, the added demand from a 3 young one can lead to mastitis. To avoid that complication, a farmer might remove the third lamb to be fostered by another mother. If the mother has difficulty accepting the lamb, a dog may be brought in overnight to encourage the mother to protect the lamb. The lambs receive milk for about 60 days and take around 2 weeks to ween- during maturation a female will gain .7 to .85lbs per day will and intact male will gain .9 to 1lb per day. The adult sheep can live up to 23 years. Sheep use only their bottom teeth when they begin grazing, keeping close to the ground. This intense grazing was the sources of the infamous, ‘Range Wars’, from a few years back- the sheep would leave no food for the cattle and cowboys could be shot be sheepherders. This does not happen today because sheep are sequestered to their own feeding grounds for better land management. Lamb is popular among the Greek Orthodox, Haitian, Halal, Islamic, and Latin American communities, many of which prefer mutton, which comes from an older sheep and has a stronger flavor.

Beautiful pastoral scene…

The, ‘Animal Management Teaching Facility’…
Too cute!…

Goodbye!…

Challenges in running the farm include the many supplies needed, such as grain bins, augers, pans, chains, and other equipment. Farmers must continue watching feed trucks and sprayers, so that they don’t enter organic growing zones. Bacteria die with desiccation but viruses live a long time. A well-managed farm layout can track where trucks go- no need for trucks to go through spreading unwanted contaminants. Specific applications stay on designated sides of the farm.

People often look at a farm like a park– they let dogs run around in sprayed areas. They also view livestock more like pets or comfort animals. Prof. ISAACS mentions that on his farm, near the UD Research Station off Rt. 9, beachgoers and people will stop & hand harvest sweet corn, watermelons, and lima beans on fence lines & property lines. Doing this without the proper background, they can expose themselves to harmful chemical treatments and weed killers. Farmers also face arguments with their neighbors, Mr. HOPKNS tells the story of when the farm trimmed a neighbors’ white pines planted on the property line. Years later, when one of those trees falls on the neighbors’ shed filled with Barbie dolls, the tree suddenly belongs to the farmer, when the neighbor is seeking financial compensation. Mr. HOPKINS then goes on to state farmers often receive negative feedback for taking down trees, often to meet the need of utilities companies running lines. He says that this is really, ‘no big deal’- when they cut down trees they plant new ones.

Another ongoing problem is pest management. Foxes as pest are not as great a threat as 3 or 4yrs ago. Red Hawks, Coyotes, Fox & birds have largely decreased. The biggest pest to date is deer. Deer can void research plots for an entire year, which is a big deal as those are not refunded, They can spread Leptospirosis, which can lead to infertility in livestock. The challenge for farmers is how to eliminate them. One law within the city of Newark prevents the usage of projectile weapons- that means no shot guns, but also no slings, BBs, or bows.

Mr. HOPKINS gives us a short forecast for the future of the farm. He predicts the growth of hydrophilic plants that retain water. He says the farm is on-track to diversify its production to include fermented commodities like Kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut for a new market.

Overall, I enjoyed this final trip and lecture. I enjoyed seeing more parts of the farm I hadn’t seen before. The most memorable part of the trip for me was when Mr. HOPKINS went to pick up one of the lambs to the class could quickly pet it. It was somewhat upsetting to hear the lamb bleating in distress with a very clear, ‘Mahhh’, and the ewe bellowing back. It didn’t feel justifiable to me to take the opportunity to pet the lamb just because we humans wanted to, when the lamb and mom were clearly very distressed. It made me think of people request to pet working service dogs and feel angry when they are denied, or when someone feels entitled to touch a pregnant woman’s abdomen.

Understanding Today’s Agriculture, AGRI130 Guest Lecture #9- Equine Industry

On November 18, 2019 Mr. Mark DAVIS gave a lecture on the Delaware equine industry.  As the Executive Director of the Delaware Harness Racing Commission, Mr. DAVIS was able the class all about the history of the industry and how it operates today.

Although Mr. DAVIS could thoroughly explain the mechanic of the industry today, that was not always the case.  In fact, before he took on his current position, he, ‘knew little about horses and noting about racing’.  But he did have good writing and management skills as well as a good work ethic.  After, ‘putting his nose to the grindstone’, he was able to pick-up the states’ horse racing industry, which he inherited in a state of disarray.

Mr. DAVIS provided a brief history of horseracing.  The practice of racing horses can be traced back to the Arabians, who held distance races over the desert.  These horses, acquired as spoils of war, were eventually bred with European horses. In 1750, the Jockey Club was created in America for the management of thoroughbreds.

There are two main types of racing- Quarter racing & distance racing.  There are two main breeds of American horses- thoroughbreds and standardbreds. Thoroughbreds typically race once a month with a galloping pace that places all a horses’ weight on one hoof at a time.  Standardbreds are typically use for the less popular, harness racing.  Harness racing has a lower point of entry and the horses race twice a week at a faster pacing/trotting pace.  Because they undergo physical exertion more frequently, these horses are usually heartier, with a slower breakdown.

Mr. DAVIS presented somewhat older data from 2005, but the statistics remain relevant.  Less people are going places.  People are able to engage in races via computer or TV, so physical attendance at horse races has gone down.  The low attendance is not however, because of a significant price barrier- 46% of horse-owners have an modest income, so the sport is not strictly reserved for the wealthy.  People are spending however, as evinced by a landmark wager on October 26, 2019 in which about $4million was bet in one day on a single horse.

The horse population has also gone down within the sport. Prices, therefore, continue going up.  This year marks the 1st time a horse sells for $1million. $100, 000 for a thoroughbred is not uncommon, but that same amount for a standardbred is quite unusual.

In 1934 the Delaware Racing Commission was established. In 1946 Harrington Raceway is built and continues operating as the oldest harness racing track in country. Other raceways include, the ‘Brandywine Raceway’, which closed because slots weren’t used to fund the establishment.  Video Lottery is a requirement on a racetrack, thanks to the, ‘Delaware Horseracing Revitalization Act.

Mr. DAVIS informed use that the harness racing industry is managed by the Fair board, which consists of 88 people, as well as the Raceway and Casino Board.  There are distinct boards for both the standardbred and thoroughbred horses. The Harrington Raceway runs April to October, with a 6 week summer break.  Ocean Downs, a racetrack in Maryland, hosts races in the period from June to August when Harrington isn’t having races.

In previous generation, modern horseracing as we know it consisted of a trainer, and owner, and a driver who divided the profits among themselves.  Today, there are owners and investors. The owners own less than 5% of a horse with a share of the profits and don’t require a license. Trainers however can earn six figures. There are also Paddock inspectors, nicknamed, ‘Pee catchers’ who analyze the urine and blood of the horses, and veterinarians, who are the only professionals in contact with the horse before races.

In Japan, regulations are more stringent, with horses brought to the track a full week before their race, the only people in contact with them are the groomer and/or trainer, and fed strictly hay and water.  In the U.S., drivers, who are still exclusively male, are tested as well- the procedure is imperative when a person is travelling 35mph behind a 2000lb aluminum chariot and horse with eight other people, no one should be under the influence.  Owners and groomers are tested once a month.  Anyone with a license to be in contact with the horse is subject to tests, ‘out of competition’.

The horses run two miles once or twice a week.  The demanding performance can tempt many of those involved in horse-racing to use the blood-building agent erythropoietin (EPO)- ‘the same drug [cyclist] Lance ARMSTRONG got in trouble for [using]’. EPO acts as a trigger to produce more red blood cells, aiding in the recovery of the animal after a race. Paddock inspectors are often checking for doping of the horses- EPO given the night after a race generates antibodies produced for recovery, which wear off before the next race, but already have an effect on the horse’s ability to recover from the previous race. Initially Bovine EPO was given to Equine animals before the switch to Synthetic EPO, of which there are now 37 types, with tests for only 2.

500 full-time jobs are generated by horseracing, which generate money via, ‘Purses’. Better horses race for more money- a better quality horse creates a larger, ‘purse’. Of a $100, 000 purse, a winner gets 50%, and while the owner/owner(s) get money, the driver and trainer receive just 5%. Race operators must also pay training bills, veterinarian bills, food, water, and more and somehow generate some salary.

The lottery money generated by the casinos is put into a large pool.  With the casinos and the state operating as partners, the money is distributed between Delaware’s three casinos and the state in a, ‘weekly sweep’.  Despite popular belief, Mr. DAVIS informs the class that the casino doesn’t take all the money, instead only keeping vendor fees for itself- the headline, ‘State bails out Casino’ is false. In 2015 the casino formula reapportioned the percentages each party received from the, ‘weekly sweep’, with the casino receiving 50% casino and the state receiving 30%.  In 2020, the formula was re-adjusted 2% to help casinos recover, but this was just the state re-correcting the problem they initially caused with the first formula change that gave casinos 50%.  The state largely uses their percentage for state infrastructure.  Even though casinos receive a specific amount of money, the Horse Racing Commission still receives phone calls from betters who complain about the outcome of races.

To close out the lecture, Mr. DAVIS answers the classes questions.  One question concerned the weight requirements for harness racing drivers.  Mr. DAVIS informed the class that drivers are typically in the 150-300lbs weight range, but that unlike jockeys, because of where the drivers are situated, there are no real height and weight requirements for the harness racing drivers.

 

Extra Credit #4- ‘Misleading Label’ – Reflection

During our October 21st Class, after Mr. SEVERSON gave his lecture on the Livestock Industry, he tasked the class with finding a, ‘misleading label’. He defined these labels as a marketing ploy used to trick consumers into paying more or simply buying a product for supposed added health benefits or desirable traits said product may have already possessed. Three examples he came across that we were not permitted to use were, ‘Gluten-free tomatoes’, ‘non-GMO salt’, and ‘organic? cat litter’…

Here are some products that I found in the health food section of the nearby PathMark (now ACME):

 

‘Gluten-Free’ & ‘non-GMO’ water

‘Blackwater’? – Horrible Brand name, but if this water only contains minerals- instead of what traditional blackwater has- there should be no organisms, modified or otherwise… & no gluten!

‘Non-fat’ Prunes

Prunes (& plums) don’t have fat…

‘Gluten-free’ Hazelnut Creamer

Nuts don’t have gluten…

Extra Credit #2- Mark LYNAS, 2013 – Reflection

During our October 7th Class on Agricultural Bio-tech, we were asked to post an Extra Credit assignment to the blog on Mark LYNAS and his apology at the January 3, 2013 Oxford Farming Conference for condemning GMO’s.  We were asked to reflect upon his amendment of earlier statements condemning the technology after reviewing and valuing the scientific findings for the methods over his personal opinions.

A self-professed environmentalist, Mr. LYNAS originally condemned the use of the technology in 1995.  He reacted to the technology based on fears that were perpetuated by non-government organizations and special interest groups to ban the technology and it’s use across the globe.

He then found that his very anti-scientific message on GMOs clashed with his pro-climate change stance establish in 2008, where he became an expert on the topic by reviewing peer-reviewed research and gathering his own data and imagery.  He found he was being hypocritical however, as he lectured others on their dismissal of a phenomenon he knew to be true through extensive scientific investigation, he was also dismissing the science of GMOs in favor of propaganda and fearmongering.

He sat down to do some reading and found GMOs decreased the use of inputs like pesticides to farmers, saving them money, and that countries were clamoring for GMO seeds to increase their productivity and profits. He also found to his surprise that gene flow, or the mixing of genes between species, occurs as part of natural processes all the time.

By 2050, the global population is projected to reach 9.5 billion that’s to decreasing infant mortality and increasing infertility rates.  The amount of food produced today will need to increase over 100% to meet the growing demand for food, especially in developing countries. Growing environmental challenges include preserving biodiversity and growing more with less water, land and land conversion.  Population grown is not a new concern, but scientists like Norman BORLAUG decided that biotech should be used to feed the world, resulting in countries like India becoming food self-sufficient.  But when affluent countries starts speaking against biotech simply to further political views, the pursuit of knowledge becomes, ‘prohibitively expensive’ and people could needlessly die.

The acceptance of new technology and advancements in general serves as more of a barrier to global food security than the technology itself, according to LYNAS.  Affluent countries willing to pay a premium for ‘organic’ food and aesthetic farming practices of old may be prohibiting the advancement of biotech as well. Organic is not more nutritious or beneficial for the environment- it simply stays tech advancement in the 1950s. The use of chemicals also purportedly saves land that would have been used for farming. Mr. LYNAS suggests that land would go untouched and not structures of any sort might be placed on it, however.

Mr. LYNAS uses the example of ‘Golden Rice’ as a shameless example of an affluent country preferring their standard white rice over the healthier GMO variant designed to protect children from Vitamin-A deficiency in developing countries.

Mr. LYNAS ends his apology in a plea for those of all viewpoints to question their beliefs and see if they stand up to science.  He desires to quash the anti-GMO lobbyist in favor of biotech advancement that to his mind, has been delayed far too long.

 

 

Understanding Today’s Agriculture, AGRI130 Guest Lecture #8- BAYER and the Ag Industry

On November 11, 2019, the class received a guest lecture from Mr. David J. MAYONADO, a technology development representative for the BAYER Company. The lecture followed the accompanying PowerPoint very closely, with few personal anecdotes or additional information.  The lecture provided an overview of the agricultural industry and a brief discussion on the recent acquisition of Monsanto by BAYER.

The discussion of the agricultural industry as we know it took us back about 300-400years to cement the idea that, ‘hands-on farming with people involved’ has evolved.  At the turn of the century. 80% of the population was involved in agriculture.  To perform the intense manual labor, families would often have 6-10 kids to provide additional labor.

The Morrill Acts 1862 & 1890 were established to raise funds via granting Federally-controlled lands to the states to establish land-grant institutions.  The agriculture industry became partnered with academia, and has remained so in the U.S. to this day- this, ‘innovative partnership,’ is just being developed in other countries. Thus began the birth of the research station.  With the Hatch Act of 1887 established the agricultural experiment station and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Co-operative Extension Services, charged with disseminating information to farmers.

With the new research came the development of more efficient manners of high-yield product.  In the late 1800s to around 1940, the small farmer might only produce 50 bushels (of corn & soy) per acre, whereas today they could produce 3-4 times the amount on the same amount of land. This dramatic increase in yield was largely due to biodegradable chemicals and biological technology.  The ‘biotech’ improved the quality of food production & quality of environment.  One measurable change in the Delaware rural environment is the increase in wildlife, most notably in White-tailed Deer from 1927-2012.  Data shows the deer as well as other creature’s populations are thriving today, thanks to an abundance of available food.

The chemicals facilitated the use of soil-conservation practices like no-till, but there where additional enhancements to commercial production as well, namely the move from muscle and manpower, to mechanics made of steel and operating with diesel-powered motors.

Biological technology is the next, current iteration of agricultural technological innovation. Scientists are creating Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) by altering protein/RNA information with processes like CRISPr, GWS, & RNAi. A proteins nature determines an organisms nature.  Outside a living cell, these proteins are unstable and are rapidly biodegraded & rapidly digested.

GMO utilizes components from other organisms. GMOs intentionally make a copy of a gene for a desired trait, for example, disease or drought-resistance. CRISPr, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, is a GMO process that is part of precision agriculture, and so is Genome Wide Selection (GWS), and Ribonucleic Acid interference (RNAi). These processes handle plants cells by altering the proteins in the genes, either turning traits off and on, on inserting new ones that didn’t previously exist within the plant itself. Scientists edit plant cells by working within the nucleus, where cell information is stored, and the cytoplasm, were proteins are stored.

CRISPr guides RNA used to silence or edit genes.  With RNA interference technology, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) genes created from bacteria found in soil are placed into specific crops like corn. This results in gene-silencing for specific applications such as corn Rootworm control. SmartStax PRO was bio-engineered with toxic proteins that only effect certain pests.

GMOs are widely marketed today for commercial production in the form of YieldGard Corn, DroughtGard Corn, and Vistive Gold/ Plenish Soybeans, which contains more oleic acid, much like olive oil.  Olive oil, while the healthiest oil, is much more expensive than the modified soy bean oil.  Despite the controversy, the USDA deems GMO crops safe for growers to plant, as they, ‘act like the non-GMO [crops]’. The FDA deems the products made from those crops generate, ‘safe food to eat.’ And, the EPA deems GMO, ‘safe for the environment, nutritious like non-GMO.’ Over 200 scientific studies assessing the safety of GMO crops found, ‘no evidence found on harm to people or adverse effects.’ A book, ‘Genetically Engineered Crops – Experiences & Prospects’, by The Nation Academies Press goes into greater detail.

Despite the broad scientific evidence in favor of the technology, there is still fear from consumers and the general public.  In regards to the RoundUp Ready pesticide containing the chemical glyphosate, there are a growing number of cases- 4, 000 at the time of the lecture- citing injury or harm by the widely-used Monsanto product.   As Professor ISAACS explained in our October 7 lecture, glyphosate, ‘is a product that stops plant enzymes from making three essential aromatic amino acids, causing the plant to starve.’ A human ingesting these plants would be unaffected as humans, ‘don’t make amino acids’.  Prof. ISAACS also stated RoundUp, ‘is also not applied to vegetables and fruits’.

Mr. MAYONADO spent 31years at Monsanto, which was recently bought by BAYER.  He shares some of the risks and benefits of working in the industry, as well as the recent RoundUp safety & litigation controversy.

It is Mr. MAYONADO’s job, along with that of the universities, is to share information about new and potentially innovative products.  He also decides how to market those products, as well as oversees the training of government officials in the use of said products.

With the controversy and skepticism surrounding anything new and sheer length of time it can take to gain public approval, private industries are key in moving product research forward in a timely manner.  In addition to government entities like the Department of Defense, large companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing help to identify and supply the initial funding of research.

Monsanto had a lengthy history of product development and innovation before it was purchased. In1960, Monsanto establishes its Agricultural Division, in 1972 the company begins researching cell biology, and by 1976 RoundUp is developed.  By 1982 Monsanto begins modifying plant cells and by 1996 some of those modified crops are available for commercial crop production.  Monsanto receives the National Medal of Technology from the President of the United States in 1999.

BAYER purchases Monsanto for the company’s integrity inheriting the new controversy over one of Monsanto’s longest-running products, RoundUp.  Mr. MAYONADO tells the class the Monsanto’s original speaker did not handle the fall-out as effectively as he would have desired, but that speaker is learning to, ‘be more flexible.’

RoundUp components glyphosate and other chemicals have been surmised non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Mr. MAYONADO says the evidence of Monsanto’s growth over the years has, ‘infuriated certain people’. Despite this, GM crops are the most studied crops in the world, and the, ‘demand for agricultural scientists outstrips the demand for clients.’

Extra Credit #3- Center for Food Integrity ‘Gene Editing’ – Reflection

On October 9th, after a class discussing precision agriculture technology and data management, we were asked to do a reading from November 2018 on the Center for Food Integrity‘s ‘Gene Editing, Engage in the Conversation’ about speaking to opponents of gene-editing – namely the pre-2013 Mark LYNAS” of the world, anti-GMO supporter.

In the article, it is explained that gene-editing is the key to producing, ‘healthier, more affordable, and abundant food with less land and water-use’ and that consumers are, ‘inherently curious’ about the source of their food and how it’s produced.  It is the job of ‘Ag-vocates’ to explain biotech to those who are curious or misinformed.  It is helpful to provide tangible examples, and real-world visuals and anecdotes to aid in communication.

First, it is helpful to explain what gene-editing is, which is ,’the precise, intentional, and beneficial change of the genetic material of plants and animals used in food production for additional health, nutrition, and environmental benefits.’ Many consumers don’t believe plants even have DNA or contain genes.

When presenting knowledge about the gene-editing technique CRISPr to those consumers, finding experts whose knowledge is easily digestible is key.

Secondly, explain how gene-editing is beneficial to human health, i.e., use common ailments like cancers (leukemia, sickle cell, lung cancer) to frame gene-editing in a positive light.

Third, talk about how gene-editing has evolved with time. The process of cross-breeding plants with trial-and-error is a lengthy procedure that can take decades, while targeted editing is much quicker.

Fourth, find benefits that align with public desires.  Honing in on what consumers want, be it improved animal welfare or protecting the environment can be the key to swaying dissenters to the side of biotech.

Two analogies used to explain gene-editing are, ‘The Blueprint’ and, ‘the Encyclopedia’ to explain how making small aesthetic changes to a house does not make it structurally unsound or uninhabitable and can make it increasingly easy to find where the right resources are located, respectively.

Ultimately values, and not facts, are typically what sway both hearts and minds.

Finally, the article ends with a helpful glossary of terms and online resources, as well as the relatively recently established in 2016, ‘Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture‘. The Coalition is a collection of various entities from different fields who have shared values about gene-editing.

 

Understanding Today’s Agriculture, AGRI130 Guest Lecture #7- Livestock Industry

On October 21, 2019 Mr. Dan SEVERSON spoke to the class on Delaware’s Livestock Industry. He covers the large-scope of the industry and the varied number of animals that are cultivated in agriculture.

Less than 2% of the U.S. population is involved in agriculture- a farm is any family that makes $1, 000 a year from agriculture. 98% of farms are family-owned and account for 87% of all agricultural value generated.  In Delaware, more than half of the farms are less than 50acres. More than half of farms have sales that generate less than $50, 000 in profit.   $3.5 million is generated in  direct-to-consumers in products and Delaware is the #1 state in the U.S. for value of products per acre. Delaware is also the #1 producer of lima beans in the U.S.

In the U.S., the livestock industry occupies .5mil acres land, with 500, 000acres in farms accounting for 40% of the gross domestic product.  With an average of 200 acres per farm, the industry generates about $8 billion in profit for agriculture.

Before going into the specifics of the Delaware livestock industry, Mr. SEVERSON gave the class a quick history overview. In 1914 WW1 takes shape & so begins the birth of agricultural extensions. In the 1930s Depression & Dust Bowl hit. And in 1939 WW2 starts, encouraging farm hands go to war. When the farmers return, they bring training & technology. No young man is willing to work for $0.50/week when they might earn $7/day at a factory.  In1950, Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer increases crop yields, aiding in a 265% increase in production and decreasing inputs by 2%

As a result of the wars ‘advancements’ the average annual per capita consumption of meat has changed over the years- beef, pork, and lamb have decreased while poultry has increased. 29% of Delaware’s land area is planted in corn & soybeans, and most of that produce goes towards the poultry industry as chicken feed. Goat & veal consumption has not been tracked ‘til recently. In the U.S. family food costs on average represent just 9.7% of a households income, that food typically consisting of what is most affordable, safe, & abundant. Compare that percentage to Russia’s average family spending 14-15% of their income, or the average Ethiopia n family spending 45%.  Much of that reduction in cost is due to the way that the meat is produced.

In Delaware there are 235 beef farms with 14, 000 cows/calves between them. Many of the cows are fed a Total Mix Ration (TMR) for more efficient and tailored nutrition. An example of a Delaware cattle farm would be Power’s Farm in Townsend, Delaware. Cattle are often the topic of Animal Welfare discussions.

Pork is soon to be vertically integrated. Swine production, Mr. SEVERSON notes, is a subject taught by UD’s Dr. Lesa GRIFFITH. Hogs may be raised farrow to finish, farrow to feeders, or feeders to finish. When keeping pigs, it is important to note white pigs are prone to sunburn, making the black breed Berkshire better for bacon. Part of the processing of hogs involves a scalding trough to skin the pigs, which Mr. SEVERSON notes is very hard to do. A popular value-added product made from pork is, ‘Artisan Scrapple.’   Mr. SEVERSON interjects the lecture to pose a question to the class on why pork shoulders are referred to as, ‘Boston Butt’.  When no one is able to provide an answer, he moves on.  Conducting a quick search after the fact define the pork shoulder is the ‘skinless, boneless upper part of a pigs front shoulder’.  A common cut, a quick Google search notes the name came from barrels the pork was shipped in and the region that made the cut popular.

Sheep are typically raised for wool. He notes that ‘Hair sheep’ are a type of sheep with wool that falls out.  The upcoming Delaware Agricultural Week in January 2020, a Maryland farmer with a sheep milking operation is slated to come.

Goats are raised for three things- Angora, milk, and meat.  There is no certified meat & milk facility in Delaware. In New Holland PA, the 2nd largest goat auction in country is held- Texas hosts the biggest auction.  The U.S. cannot support it’s ethnic population’s demand for goat meat, namely Islamic, Jamaican, & Jewish where goats are used for celebration. Mr. SVERSON says that goats are browsers like deer which eat above their heads.  The reason for it’s lack of broad popularity might be because goat meat doesn’t marble. Mr. SEVERSON proudly mentions that he received $280 for small (60-80lbs) goat in New Holland, where the price is based on the amount of meat. While attending the National Goat Conference in Montgomery, AL, where ice cream and cheesecake are popular forms of value-added goat products for a niche market. Lotions & soaps are easier in Delaware without a certified dairy.

Dairy is dying in the U.S.  In Delaware there were once 80 dairies, which decreased to 50, and now just 21 dairy farms operate today with 4 creameries- Woodside, UDairy, Hopkins, & Vanderwende Creamery. Natural by Nature & Hy-Point are the remaining processors. Farm fresh, homemade ice-cream is a popular commodity. Mr. SEVERSON notes Amish youth prefer construction to milking with it’s regular hours and consistent work. Whole milk contains 3.25% milk fat, while skim milk contains just 1%, but there is no raw milk available in Delaware. To generate a profit, dairy cow numbers are increasing- it takes 1000 cows minimum to make profit. For farms that are struggling, the cows are either moved to farms or shipped to different states & countries.

Other livestock farmers may keep for commercial production include bees, bison, alpaca, llamas, rabbits, water buffalo, deer, chickens, turkey, & emu. Mr. SEVERSON informed that class that he was unwilling to raise alpaca or llamas because they look ‘strange’ to him…

Lastly, Mr. SEVERSON discussed growing agricultural trends in the livestock industry. The number of farms is increasing while overall farm size has been cut in half- total production covers 8, 000 acres in Newark. The industry is also seeing a growing number of young farmers.  Farms and CSA’s are becoming increasingly diversified and catering to niche markets.  Many of these smaller farms are selling value-added products to direct markets. 10 current GMO crops include, corn, soy beans, cotton, papaya, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, canola, alfalfa, & sugar beets

The future of the livestock industry depends on new technology like GMO’s and robotics for labor, and investment in the next generation to cater to the environment, government regulations and animal welfare. Mr. SEVERSON states he has seen an increase in young females without and agricultural background pursuing knowledge to enter the industry. It takers 3-4years to establish a farm working with grants for funding. Mr. SEVERSON often conducts experiments on his own farm first. With that, he informs us of the skills and traits needed to work for the Extension agency. The following soft skills are preferable- listening, compassion, working with others and reading them. Other skills include agricultural skills, professional skills, & education.

Webb Farm

The UD Webb Farm is located near main campus in Newark where it houses farm animals. This farm allows for not only students, but the general public to come learn about agriculture “through hands on experiences”. On this farm, research is conducted on sustainable ag and how to face current issues. Furthermore, this location is home to the backgrounds of UDairy where they get their actual dairy. The trip allowed for students to learn about the farm, what is done there, its purpose, and to allow for students to get a hands on experience. I find it interesting the location of this farm as it is in the city of Newark which does not have many farms. Lastly, this farm allows for a different kind of learning opportunity that gives students at the University an advantage when applying for jobs later on and assisting on this farm could even lead to a job on its own.

Livestock Lecture

Dan Severson came to discuss livestock with our class along with the Ag industry both in Delaware and domestically overtime. I thought it was very interesting when he brought up points about the World Wars and their impacts on farms in the US along the working population. I personally though the ag industry in Delaware was bigger. I know we are a small state, however, I was still surprised by some numbers as I would have imagined them higher such as our product revenue. I found it interesting that we produce so many Lima beans, I would never have guessed that. I also never thought about how expensive it was to feed farm animals, I would have thought that other expenses would have topped feed. I enjoyed his presentation to the class and was able to take a lot away from it. 

Horticulture

Tracy and Valan spoke to our class about Delaware horticulture which embodies a lot more than most would think. I found this to be very interesting because a lot of what they spoke on are things I encountered daily and were constantly surrounded by during my internship. IPM is crucial in our state and many others which stands for integrated pest management. I enjoyed their presentation especially due to Tracys high energy and excitement to present this topic. Furthermore, I enjoyed learning a little bit more about both of their back stories and how they ended up in their current job roles. 

Hoober field trip

The class was fortunate enough to take a field trip to the Hoober Tractor dealership. I, unfortunately, didn’t make it to the field trip but I did get to talk to some of the other students about the experience and looked at some of the pictures. Hearing about how impressive the machinery was in person and they even got the opportunity to sit in the tractors and experience the auto-steer. Technology like this may seem like small leaps to most but it is allowing for tremendous progress within the industry. By continuing to make advancements like this to the tools used in agriculture, we are simultaneously bettering the quality of life of farmers and other workers in the industry while also continuing to increase yields and efficiency. Hoober and many other companies are constantly furthering this progress by implementing constant innovation into their products.

David Mayonado

 I found this class guest lecture to be very intriguing as a lot of current events were discussed. In this session we were able to learn about the agricultural industry at a deeper level along with understand all that goes into these companies and their products. I never know how much money and time it took for these companies to produce ag products, usually it is about 10-15 years and millions of dollars. His discussion with our class really emphasized that the ag industry is heading in the right direction and that the advancements being made are crucial to feeding our population and keeping a promise to sustainable ag

Horse racing industry

Mark Davis presented a guest lecture on the horse racing industry and went into further detail about its history in Delaware. As he went into a brief history lesson about the industry, we learned that British settlers brought the sport to America in the early 1600s and began on Long Island. We also learned that Newark Delaware had its first horse track opened as early as 1760. The industry has been a large part of the area since the very beginning and now generates around $182 million a year in Delaware alone and has a yearly average of $102 billion impact on the U.S. economy. With this much money being generated it is slightly less shocking to learn statistics on the demographics within the industry. He explained the inaccuracy of the common misconception that the horse industry is reserved for the wealthy. In reality, the industry has participants from all walks of life. Along with the money generated and crowds it allures, the industry also offers a wide range of jobs and in the small state of Delaware, the industry is reported to support over 1500 jobs. It is always interesting to have working professionals come and speak to our class because the insight they can offer to us is always endless.

Horse Racing Industry

Mark Davis guest lectured to our class about the livestock industry. From his presentation I learned a lot about the horse racing industry and horse racing in Delaware. Horse Racing is one of the oldest sports, beginning in the 12th century. Currently, there are 9.2 million horses in the United States and 2 million people own horses. Some horses are for showing, racing, recreation, and other. Most horses are for recreation. Harrington Raceway is the oldest continuously operating harness racing track in the country. Harness Racing has about 145 days per year yielding about 2,000 races.

Livestock Industry

Dan Severson guest lectured to our class about the Livestock Industry in Delaware. I learned that there are 14,000 cows and 6,000 hogs in Delaware. Cows and hogs can both be sold for direct market or used as show animals at the Delaware State Fair. I also learned that most sheep in Delaware are back yard animals, most farms do not choose to raise sheep because the profit just is not there like it is for cows and hogs. Sheep can be sold for wool, dairy and also show animals. I learned that most of the goats in Delaware are for meat and only a few are for milk. Lastly, Dan talked about the different marketing trends like farm to table and buy local, eat local.

A Class Journal for UDel CANR AGRI 130