All posts by ashlin

Horse racing in DE

Mark Davis came to out class to talk about the horse racing industry in Delaware. Horse racing is one of the oldest sports, and has been going on essentially since the horse has been domesticated, and little has changed about the race itself. However, there have been many regulations and standards that are now being made and enforced compared to the origins of the race. In 1750, the Jockey Club was created to set the standards of thoroughbred racing standards and regulations. Both the horses and jockeys are continuously tested for drugs, mostly the winning horses and horses that are suddenly performing much better or worse than usual. This is an effort to keep racing fair and to ensure the health of the horses. That being said, thoroughbred horses ten to have more health problems, as they are running at faster speeds and are carrying the weight of their jockey. Harness racing horses are at less of a health risk because they are trotting or pacing, and instead of carrying a jockey, they are pulling their driver, which is less stressful on joints. The peak of horse racing was in 1989, where it was the second most attended sport, just after baseball.

Industry and Academia in Agriculture

Dr. Dave Mayonado came to our class to talk about technology in agriculture. He works for Bayer, which bought Monsanto. He had grown up uninvolved in agriculture and majored in chemistry, which ended up being helpful in weed science and herbicides.

In the past, farming was very labor intensive and hands-on. Families would have lots of children in order to have enough labor to run the farm. Many kids did not go to school and instead worked on their family farm. In 1862, the Morrill Acts were passed, which funded land grant universities, which taught agriculture and science. Research stations were then built in ever state which were connected to the universities and researched crops. Increases in crop yields were a direct response to the data these research stations found. Advancements in chemical aspects of farms, such as fertilizers and pesticides, also aided farmers. Now, we have found advancements in the biological area with things like GMOs. Corn has been edited to protect itself from specific insects, which reduces the need for insecticides. Other corn has enhanced drought tolerance, which reduces crop losses. Soybeans have been made to produce a vegetable oil that is healthier and is more similar to olive oil, which is much more expensive.

UD Farm

We visited the UD farm on Saturday, a 350 acre farm dedicated to various research. The farm has crop fields, pastures, wetland areas, and forests. We saw cows and sheep, though they also have chickens, bees, and horses. I found the feeding system of the cows to be interesting. Each cow has their own radio collar that, when they stick their head in their bin, sends a signal to the gate blocking it and opens only for that particular cow. No other cow can get to a different cows feed. The cows, of course, must be trained to go to their spot and that spot never changes. We didn’t see the chickens due to biosecurity reasons. We pose a big problem to the health of the chickens, so we only drove by.

The farm does sell some of the food it produces on Star campus, but it does not go to the dining hall. The fields grow organic produce such as leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, and pumpkins. In their high tunnels, the farm can be growing plants 9-10 months in the year, which is important considering the length of time it takes some plants to grow and when students are typically on campus.

Livestock in DE

Dan Steverson came to class to talk about the livestock industry in Delaware. He told us that 40% of Delaware’s land area is in farms, which is a large percentage for just one general type of land use. 29% is dedicated to growing corn and soybeans. 98% of the farms are family owned. I was very surprised when he said that 9.7% of a person’s income is spent on food, I expected that number to be higher actually. But I guess with increase of cheap foods and big stores like Walmart, it is easy to get deals. It made sense, however, when he said that family farms have smaller herd sizes compared to commercial farms. Family farms tend to have family labor, while commercial farms can have tons of hired labor and can manage large herds of animals. Commercial farms also tend to be more profitable as you need less input per unit. If both a family farm and a commercial farm need barns, fields, and feeders, it takes less per unit to build one giant barn as opposed to a smaller one.

Misleading Labels

Dan Severson wanted us to find a product that had misleading advertising on the package of a food product. I found Popcorners, which is a snack that I often enjoy but have found that it has some unnecessary labeling. It is advertised as non-GMO, gluten free, and nut free. While labeling of non-GMO and nut free provide information to the buyer, gluten free is not necessary. It is made of corn, which is naturally gluten free, so labeling it as such is just to get another “buzz word” on the package. If someone has a gluten allergy or sensitivity, you would think they would know that corn does not contain gluten.

Tracy Wooten and Valann Budischak

Tracy Wootten and Valann Budischak guest lectured about Delaware’s Green Industry. The green industry includes producers, retailers, landscapers, land managers, golf courses, and equipment suppliers. In 2014 the horticultural product sales was $21 million just in Delaware. Nursery entails the growing of the plants, be it annuals in containers, B & B trees and shrubs, or anything in between. Floriculture crops are cut or potted flowers and garden plants. Nursery crops are evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. Together, these have a total of $13.8 billion in sales in the US. The retailers are the people who sell the plants after they are grown. This includes big box stores and local plant nurseries. Landscapers have a wide variety of tasks they might do, and what services they have will depend on the specific company. Some things that landscapers do are building, designing, and maintaining landscapes, mowing, fertilization, hardscaping, lighting, irrigation, and tree health to name a few. Land managers take care of public lands, roadsides, and state parks. I did not realize the importance of keeping plants away from railroad tracks, as there is a decent fire hazard if dry plants are too close. I found that pretty interesting.



Hoobers a third-generation family owned business that is essentially a mechanic shop but for large farming equipment. They gave us a tour of the facility, where we got to see tractors, combines, planters, and sprayers. Combines in particular are absolutely ginormous – one tire is taller than me. We talked about the different attachments you put on the front to harvest different crops. We got to see some farming equipment currently taken apart because it was in the process of being fixed. They showed us their main office and there were books and binders a plenty- they had manuals dating back 50 years and claimed that even the old ones get used on the regular.

Hoobers doesn’t just fix and sell to farmers, they also sell equipment for construction purposes. We saw a Quadtrac, which moves sand for things like dune building and beach reclamation. The advantages of the Quadtrac is that it can move more sand than a bulldozer and a dump truck could do, and that the Quadtrac is relatively fast. It can drive on a road unlike a bulldozer, which would have to be loaded on a truck.

I knew that farming equipment was big- I didn’t realize how big. I knew that farming equipment was expensive- I didn’t realize how expensive. The combine alone was about half a million, but it needs the attachments too so together it can be three quarters of a million dollars. That’s more than a house which is crazy.

Mark Lynas on GMOs

Mark Lynas was originally extremely anti-GMOs, or as he says, GM. He helped to start a successful anti-GM movement in the mid 1990s, which grew to a considerable amount of power and influence. Today however (or at least back in 2013),  Lynas is supportive of using GMOs in agriculture. He had held many beliefs about GMOs and was scared of them, describing them as a type of “living pollution” that he thought would spread and go terribly wrong. He believed that GMOs were incredibly unnatural and that this kind of technology was too powerful for humankind. His campaign was involved with a lot of anti-science themes, such as that scientists were “cackling demonically” as they tinkered with the backbones of life. Lynas was very pro-science when it came to proving climate change, so when a critic of his anti-GM mindset pointed this out and directly challenged one of his beliefs- that GMs were bad because it is marketed by big corporations, would he be against the wheel because auto companies market them- Lynas read up on the science of GMs. After reading the science, he realized that changing genes to make plants more pest resistant would mean farmers could use less chemicals, not more. He learned that genes from different species get mixed all the time thanks to viruses, so humans aren’t the only one messing with genomes. Even then, GMs change only a couple genes, where conventional breeding mixes up the whole thing. In short, Lynas read up on the science, and the science proved many of his fears wrong or unjustified, and he realized the incredible benefits of GMs.

Agricultural Irrigation

James Adkins came to us to discuss irrigation practices in agricultural settings. When he said that 20% of the world’s farmland is irrigated, I was surprised. I thought that almost all farmland was irrigated. I was expecting a number closer to 70%.

I immediately understood the pain of the first sprinkler systems where you had to take apart the aluminum poles to move them, and then put them back together in the new area. It didn’t seem fast or easy at all. Putting the same system on wheels so you could just roll them to the next area seemed like a huge improvement, at least from a convenience and headache point of view. What he didn’t talk about much though, in any method of irrigation, was how efficient it was in the amount of water was actually taken up by crops and how much either evaporated or left the rootzone before it could be utilized. I did find it a little shocking when he said that someone can purchase a plot of land and have no rights to the water on the land- be it a river or an underground aquifer. Once I thought about it, it made at least some sense. Water doesn’t listen to arbitrary property boundaries, and anything that happens upstream can greatly impact everything downstream. Farmers must be careful to not overtax the resources they are using in order to protect the health of the land for others and for the future.

Iowa and California

In this lecture, Ed Kee talked about agriculture in Iowa and California, ranked first and second in cash farm receipts in the United States. I thought it was crazy that 85% of Iowa’s land mass is used for agriculture- that doesn’t leave a lot of space left for house, roads, hospitals, schools, and natural areas for wildlife. Iowa farms 30.5 million acres, which blows Delaware’s’ 490,000 acres out of the water. Of course, Iowa is known for its corn, harvesting 13.1 million acres of it every year. I didn’t realize the Iowa also grows tons of soybeans, pork, and beef. I thought it was really interesting how the silt and clay were deposited by the wind- I usually only hear about sediments being deposited near bodies of water. California, on the other hand, is interesting topography wise because of how sandwiched the agricultural fields are. California is, of course, giant in both size, variety of climate, and economical power. However, California is having a major water crisis, which is hard to not know about due to all the fires that have happened in California over the past years. The aqueduct system in place is very impressive and must be very rigorously managed. I can only imagine how ugly water allocation can get between different farms and between farmers and the public.

Fifers Orchards

While I was unable to attend the field trip myself, my friend Mollie told me all about it afterwards. She told me that Fifers Orchards is a 3,000 acre family owned farm in Delaware. This farm is owned and operated mostly by the fourth generation of the family, who initially moved here from Virginia. Each family member has their own role in the operations of the farm and they stick to that role. Luckily, this has worked smoothly and everyone in this generation is happy with their role. On the farm, they grow strawberries, kale, cauliflower, peaches, apples, tomatoes, soybeans, and sweet corn. The crops are, for the most part, handpicked, which requires a lot of physical labor. The corn and grain crops are mechanically harvested. Luckily the produce is weighed and sized mechanically and stored in a cooler room kept at 31-36 degrees while the produce awaits shipment. Advancements in technology such as in irrigation, tractors to apply pesticides and herbicides, the cooler room to keep produce fresh, and of course the equipment to harvest the corn and grain crops have contributed to the success Fifers has had. Imagine carrying products out of the fields or spraying crops with pesticides by hand- that would take ages! Fifers is a family owned and very successful farm in Delaware through new technology, school outreach, and strong family relationships.

Professional Social Media

Michele Walfred talked to the class about professionalism and how to build a positive “brand” for yourself on social media. To help us understand our impressions, she showed us pictures of several well-known logos, company names, and people and asked us to say what our first thoughts were. Some were good, some were bad. Walfred then gave us some tips on how to build an image of ourselves so the first thing people think about when they see our face or hear our name it is positive. She told us to be consistent and have the same professional profile picture across our public social media accounts, so people know it is the same person when looking us up. Anything non-professional needs to go on a separate, private account. She also strongly suggested that we leave out anything that could cause polarized opinions such as anything political or religious. Someone looking to hire you wants to know you can be trusted and responsible.

Delaware: the Foodshed

Ed Kee described Delaware as the “foodshed” for the eastern United States, mostly due to the fact that 1/3 of the U.S. population is within an 8-hour drive, which I find fascinating. Delaware has about 2,500 farms covering 510,000 acres. About 41% of Delaware land is farm! This state has a long history of farming. Native Americans took advantage of the rich soil and grew corn, beans, and squash and Delaware has not been without farming since. Colonial settlers brought wheat, barley, and livestock to the fertile lands and from there, farming has only expanded. Canning factories were built and now fruits and vegetables could be preserved and eaten year round. Growing, shipping, canning, delivery, and selling of the produce was very labor intensive and required many many workers. Advances in science and technology allowed for greater yields per acre of land, but farmers still face challenges in remaining profitable. Farmers must comply with regulations to protect the environment and minimize their negative impact. The biggest challenge in the future is going to be feeding the growing population, which is up to our generation to find sustainable methods to feed a hungry planet.

Chicken Talk

Georgie Cartanza came back to our classroom to expand on the first discussion about growing chicken in Delmarva by talking a bit more about the evolution of the industry and it’s history. Between the 3 counties in Delaware, 8 counties in Maryland, and the 1 county in Virginia, Delmarva produces 605 million birds every year, which is 9.6% of the national production. That’s a lot of birds! How did this industry become so large?

The north-south development of first railroads and then the Dupont highway really facilitated the growth of the poultry industry. The Dupont highway allowed more chicken than ever to be transported to big cities nearby that had large demands for food sources. Cities have lots of mouths to feed, and you need roads to be able to transport your goods to the demand. Poultry companies became vertically integrated, controlling every step of the path from the hatching of the chicks to raising them on the farms to the processing, advertising, and delivery. This meant that the company had input on every step of the chicken’s life.

The housing of the chickens changed throughout the years. Housing the chickens in shed style houses to open barn yards to frame pole type construction evolved over the years. People even tried to house chickens in multi-story houses or “hotels”, which didn’t last long as it was difficult to move chickens between levels. The modern chicken house features several advances in technology to make the chickens the most comfortable possible. Ventilation and temperature control have come a long way since the first shed-style houses. Phasing from open drinking systems- which were hard to keep free of litter and waste- to nipple drinkers greatly improved sanitation and chick health. We all need clean drinking water! Delmarva was in the perfect place geographically to be able to grow and sell the thousands of chickens we eat today.

Poultry Farm

Georgie Cartanza owns and runs an organic chicken farm here in Delaware. In her 4, 65’ wide and 600’ long chicken houses, she can have up to 148,000 chickens at once, which can feed about 59,808 people a year! Being in the state of Delaware means that her farm is very close to a huge percentage of the American population, meaning the cost of transporting the chickens is much lower than in other places in the country, and the meat is fresher. Less transportation means less fuel which also keeps the carbon footprint of the birds lower.

But how does she raise these chickens? What makes them organic? A huge help in keeping the chickens healthy and comfortable is the technology she has on her farm. Large control panels keep tabs on everything that is happening, from the humidity to the temperature in each house. From these panels Georgie can adjust the temperature and humidity with ease. Her organic chickens must be fed GMO free, organic feed and must have access to the outdoors, which also must be organically certified. Her chicken houses have windows to allow in natural light and she must have the proper documentation to certify her chickens as organic.