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UD Building Sustainable Agriculture Seminar

On November thirteenth, Bill Cowser and Bill Northey visited the University of Delaware to discuss biofuels and modern agriculture. Bill Cowser produces corn, beef, soybeans, and ethanol in Nevada Iowa. Cowser’s farm has grown from accommodating 50 beef cattle in the early 1900s to accommodating a couple thousand beef cattle. Cowser has worked with the EPA to accommodate the high levels of rainfall in Iowa through a multi-step filtration and reuse program on his farm. Cowser also raises his beef cattle on concrete so he is able to retain and use the manure produced on his farm. Agriculturalists are also looking at the way that they are affecting the environment through water management and nutrient management. A variety of cover crops are utilized to protect the soil from erosion as well as absorb excess nutrients in the soil. There is also research and development occurring to reduce nutrients that wind up in rivers and other bodies of water. Currently there is an issue with hypoxic zones in bodies of water that wind up killing aquatic life.  Thanks to technology, crop fields are no longer blanketed with fertilizer or pesticides. Technological advancements have allowed farmers to tailor the application of sprays and other materials based on the needs of different areas of a field. This technological advancement has also saved farmers money. Corn is the crop that allows processing plants to produce ethanol. There are 42 ethanol plants in Iowa presently and these plants produce 4 billion gallons of ethanol a year. Half of the corn being produced in Iowa goes to the production of ethanol. Ethanol is produced for less than traditional gasoline. Agriculturalists are finding a way to utilize all components of the corn plant. Husks and other components can be used as feed, fertilizer, and the production of charcoal and other products. It was interesting to learn about aspects of modern agriculture and biofuels from Bill Cowser and Bill Northey.

Monsanto Overview on Agriculture with Dave Mayonado

On November 12, Dave Mayonado,  a long term Monsanto employee, spoke to AGRI 130 students on the topic of agricultural technology, working in the agricultural industry, and Bayer/Monsanto. Agriculture is commonly seen as a simple, low technology, and low stress job. In reality, agriculture is a field involving cutting edge science, technology, and modern methodology.  Many laws have paved the way for agricultural development through land grant universities, cooperative extension, and research farms. The agricultural field has grown from human and animal labor to steel tools, chemical tools, and presently biological advances. Biological research has led to the first GMO seed in the 1970s. Through genetic modification research, Monsanto has developed traits for pesticide resistance, built in pesticide for corn borers, enhanced drought survival, and the production of an olive quality oil from soybeans. Genetically modified products are regulated by the USDA, FDA, and EPA. Public and private companies conduct research to develop and sell GMO crops. These crops are more successful in harsh environments and result in higher yields. American business is all about evolving and continually providing a customer base with products and services that are valuable. Through innovation on behalf of a company and its employees, an industry will be successful. Agriculture is a field in need of innovative individuals that are knowledgeable and educated in the field. Monsanto was established in 1901 as a chemical producer, but the company moved to the development and sale of crops involving biological technology. Today, Monsanto is the biggest seed producer in the world. Bayer bought Monsanto in 2017 and the deal finalized in 2018. Thank you to Dave Mayonado for sharing agricultural knowledge with AGRI 130 students.

UD Research Farm Field Trip

On November tenth, the AGRI 130 students had the opportunity to tour the University of Delaware’s Webb Farm with Scott Hopkins. Webb farm consists of 350 acres of land for crop and animal production. Webb farm features wetlands and forested areas for wildlife and insect populations as well as areas for agricultural production. The students had the opportunity to tour all of the animal facilities including dairy cattle, beef cattle, poultry, equine, and sheep. We also had the opportunity to learn and observe UD’s research areas with bees, hopps, and rice patties. The USDA has an entomology building on the farm, which gives students the opportunity to work with and research a variety of insect species. The entomology building is also used to study the effects of agricultural pests.  There are a variety of research projects being conducted on Webb farm, and UD has the facilities and animals to make these projects successful. For example, in dairy, a group can conduct research with feed through utilizing UD’s kahlen barn, in which each cow has been trained to eat at a specific feed troth and the RFID tags on the collar of the cows lock and unlock the feed troughs. The forage being stored at Webb farm is kept in plastic silos and can be utilized for teaching the importance of anaerobic fermentation of cattle feed as well as providing nutrition to the livestock. Over time, livestock can become too dependant on humans for basic functions such as parturition. Through a selective process, the managers at Webb farm have only kept individuals that are independent and successful for the purposes of teaching, production, management, and research. Webb farm provides the opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to gain hands on experience and enhance their agricultural education.   Mr.Hopkins provided a unique perspective on farming, animal management, and current agricultural issues during the tour. Thank you to Scott Hopkins for educating AGRI 130 students through a tour of Webb farm.

Delaware Horse Racing Industry with Mark Davis

Racing is a pastime that has existed since man began to ride horses. This pastime has become a sophisticated sport that financially supports thousands of jobs around the world. Harness racing is a sport in which the horse is hooked up to a cart where the driver is seated. Harness racing is a prevalent part of the Delaware horse industry. In 1945, the Delaware Harness Racing Commission was established. Dover Downs is an establishment where some of the Delaware harness races take place. In order to have a successful harness horse, owners will hire grooms, drivers, and trainers. The hired staff will care for and work with the horse to have it prepared for races. If a horse wins a harness race, the owner receives 50% of the total amount of money offered for the race. 10% of the owner’s earnings from a race are given to the trainer and the driver. Over time, the popularity of harness and thoroughbred races have gone down, this decrease in public interest prompted the Delaware government to pass a law allowing casinos to be established in the state. The casinos can only be established along with a racetrack. This law sparked the public’s interest and caused more people to come out to the horse races. Some of the earnings from these casinos are offered as a breeder’s fund, to encourage people to raise and breed horses in the state of Delaware. Since the establishment of this law, the industry has gained a steady income. Harness races occur on 180 days of the year, and 2300 races within the racing period. Beyond owning, grooming, and training race horses, there are other career opportunities in this industry. Veterinarians are utilized to ensure the health and welfare of the horses, as well as check for the presence of performance enhancing drugs, such as  EPO. Veterinarians check the race horses for these drugs at the track before and after a race, as well as random checks throughout the year on the farm. EPO is a drug that enhances the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, thereby enhancing the sport performance of the horse. I look forward to attending a harness race in the future. Thank you to Mark Davis for sharing information on the Delaware horse racing industry with AGRI 130 students.

Genetically Modified Crops in America

According to the USDA, America grows and uses genetically modified varieties of corn, upland cotton, soybeans, alfalfa, canola, and sugar beets. These crops have been modified to be resistant to disease, pesticides, bad weather and other factors. Genetically modified crops are utilized to maximize yield and be as successful as possible in an environment full of challenges. Genetically modified crops were commercially introduced to the United States in 1996, and this agricultural advancement has grown since that time. Companies like Monsanto have developed and distributed genetically modified seeds for agricultural use. Many trusted research organizations have published articles on the environmental, economic, and social impact of genetically modified crops in America. GMO crops allow desirable traits of crops to be introduced and incorporated into the genetics of crops being grown. Research has been performed  to test the food safety of GMO crops. There is a push to grow genetically modified crops for energy, food security, and environmental improvement purposes. Genetically modified crops continue to develop and the genetic changes made to these crops are beneficial to American agriculture.

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Delaware’s Livestock Industry with Dan Severson

The livestock industry of America consists of beef, dairy, horses, swine, poultry, and other animals. The number of farms have declined since WWII, but modern technology has enabled the present farms to maximize production. Many farmers raise specific animal species in response to the wants of the public. Over time, the average amount of beef, pork, lamb, goat, poultry, and veal has fluctuated and production has adapted to meet these trends. A lot of money and time is invested into raising quality animals, but only a portion of the monetary gains from these animals return to the farmer. Much of the money earned for food products goes to the restaurant or supermarket selling the product. The development of farm to table programs has benefited the farmers and the community by connecting the two and removing the middleman for the purchase of food. Farm to table programs allow the farmer to connect with the community and the customers get a piece of mind on the quality of products that they are buying. Identifying the wants of a community is also beneficial to farmers. Dairy farmers have the opportunity to make ice cream or cheese to be sold. Meat producers can sell delicacies to customers of different cultures if those people live in the area. The production of animals is a promising industry that will continue to develop with technological advancements, the wants of the community, and other factors. Thank you to Dan Severson for teaching AGRI 130 students about animal agriculture in America.

Hoober Agricultural Equipment Field Trip

AGRI 130 students in front of a sprayer.

On October 20, the AGRI 130 students had the opportunity to visit Hoober Incorporated in Middletown Delaware. We learned about the history of the company and its growth over the years. Hoober now has multiple locations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, but it is still a family owned business. Hoober is successful in the sale of specialty landscape equipment, tractors, and combines, as well as other equipment and parts. We had the opportunity to walk through the repair shop and see Hoober employees servicing a variety of agricultural equipment. It was cool to see a corn combine attachment up close and the engine of a tractor removed from the vehicle. After walking through the shop, we viewed the inner structures of a new Case IH combine. Crops are cut by the attachment and a spinning drum removes the grain from the stalk. The harvested grain is stored at the top of the combine while the rest of the plant material is shredded and spread back into the field. I had the opportunity to drive a large tractor and a sprayer around a field. It was interesting to see the amount of technology involved in modern tractors and sprayers. The vehicle I had the opportunity to drive also had the capability of driving itself using GPS implemented technology. After driving the vehicles, we watched a drone demonstration. Drone technology can be used to map crop fields and much more. Once programmed, a drone can fly (legally) up to 400 feet into the air and navigate a field to take pictures. The images are then used for field analysis so the farmer can specialize water, nutrient, and pesticide application depending on the needs of specific areas of the field. Drone operators must be certified by the FAA for flying commercially or recreationally. Thank you to Hoober Inc for giving AGRI 130 students this experience.

Horticulture and Greens industry with Tracy Wootten and Valann Budischak

The horticulture industry is a lucrative business that involves the work of producers, retailers, landscapers, land managers, suppliers and other horticulturalists. There are a variety of career opportunities working in the horticultural field. One part of the horticulture field is the nursery business. Nurseries are plant producers that generally grow trees, shrubs, ornamental plants, fruit plants, and floriculture crops to be sold to the public. The nurseries grow the plants for sale and they employ knowledgeable individuals to satisfy the wants of the public. Nurseries either sell plants directly to the public, or the plants are sold to plant retail businesses for public access. Plant retailers can be local or commercial operations and their goal is to meet the horticultural desires of the public. Retailers also hire knowledgeable employees that are able to provide trustable information to the customer. Retailers have adapted to making their plant products desirable through advertising, specialty plant lines, and other methods. Landscapers utilize their knowledge and expertise of trees, shrubs, grass, and design to create enjoyable outdoor spaces for their customers. Some landscaping work does not involve plants, but instead the landscapers complete work on outdoor kitchens, water features, lighting, irrigation, patios, and stormwater management.

Land managers analyze areas and plants within them in order to preserve natural resources, remove invasive plant species, and preserve native plants. Land managers in Delaware have worked to help the environment by planting native species in highway medians to prevent highway hypnosis and improve the environmental condition of those spaces. Suppliers provide the necessary equipment, fertilizer, nutrients, and materials in order to aid in the success of horticultural businesses and the public. All of the horticultural businesses and careers depend upon each other for success and serving the public for their horticultural needs. Thank you to Tracy Wootten and Valann Budischak for talking to AGRI 130 students about the horticulture industry.

Mark Lynas on Genetic Modification

Mark Lynas, an environmental expert, gave a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference in 2013 on the topic of genetic modification of crops. Upon initial development and implementation of genetic modification in the 1990’s Lynas began to advocate against the technology. As time progressed, Lynas continued to push against GMO development. A critic of Lynas’s writing on the topic of GMO’s prompted him to research the subject and learn more about the scientific aspects of it. Lynas discovered the purpose and importance of the use of genetic modification to support food growth in a challenging environment. Crop producers must face the challenge of limited water, climate change, insects, weeds, fungus, and a variety of other factors that inhibit the success of a crop growing operation. Genetic modification allows crops to be more successful despite these factors. GMO crop fields do not require as many pesticides and are more successful in hot and dry environments. In order to face the expanding world population, producers must identify challenges and adapt to them by working with genetic modification technology. GMO crops also aid in protecting the environment by producing more product with less land and reducing the amount of pesticides that have to be used on the land. Lynas also acknowledged the methodology of organic crop farming by commenting on how this method has been a health safety issue in the past and how some of the organic methodology is useful in some instances. GMO crops have not been scientifically proven to cause health safety concerns and this technology is the key to providing for the growing world population.

Based on this speech and what I have learned so far, I am at a crossroads between the support and rejection of genetically modified crops. I understand the reasons why individuals support GMOs, they allow producers to be successful with a long list of challenges to growing crops in today’s environment. At the same time, I also acknowledge the concerns of individuals who are not in support of GMOs. I plan on learning more about this technology before taking a side on this issue.

CRISPR/Cas9, a new system in genetic modification

CRISPR-Cas9 is a recently developed technological advancement for the addition, removal, or alteration of the DNA of an organism. This new methodology is faster, cheaper, and more accurate than previously existing DNA alteration technologies. Through scientific work done with the biological functions of bacteria, the CRISPR-Cas9 system was created. Bacteria has the ability to identify the DNA structure of a virus and replicate the DNA to create a CRISPR array. CRISPR arrays allow the bacteria to identify the DNA of viruses and produce an enzyme (known as Cas9) that attacks the virus based on the DNA identification. Scientists have been able to use CRISPR-Cas9 in a laboratory setting to retrieve specific sequences of DNA for alteration. This technology is being used to develop new treatment methods for human diseases. The replication of this bacterial function will allow gene therapy procedures to be provided to people in the near future. This technological advancement will improve the lives of cancer and disease patients around the world.  

Field Trip to Fifer Orchards


Water wheel planter being used to plant juvenile strawberries.

On October sixth, the AGRI 130 students had the opportunity to visit and tour Fifer Orchards in Camden Delaware. Fifers is a multi-generation farm that produces grain and horticultural crops. The farm’s production of sweet corn, pumpkins, peaches, and asparagus bring in the most revenue of over seven different crops produced on the farm throughout the year. Fifers consists of 3000 production acres that feature pivot irrigation, drip irrigation, and hard hose irrigation systems depending on the type of crop. In order to ensure the success of their crops, fifers sprays pesticides to prevent the growth of weeds, insects, bacteria, and nematodes in the fields. To further the quality of their horticultural crops, the fruits and vegetables are picked by hand and occasionally picked by customers. A portion of the yield is sold to grocery stores and the rest is sold at the farm. Food safety certificates and USDA food safety audits allow Fifers to sell their products to supermarkets. Precision agriculture, growing tunnels, water wheel planters, and other technological advances have allowed Fifers to become a successful crop producer. It was very interesting to see the water wheel tractor attachment being utilized to plant juvenile strawberry plants. The diversification of the crops grown at Fifers are also an attribute to their success. Each new crop goes through a three year trial process before the plant is grown regularly at the farm. The experience concluded with a tour of the cold storage facilities on the farm; specific products are stored at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and other products are stored at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. I enjoyed the tour of Fifer Orchards, and I learned a lot from the experience. Thank you to Bobby and Curt Fifer for giving AGRI 130 a tour.

Importance of Irrigation and Water Management with James Adkins

On October third, the AGRI 130 students had the opportunity to learn about irrigation and water management with James Adkins, an irrigation engineer for the University of Delaware. During the lecture, the students learned about the different methods and technologies of irrigation. Each irrigation method has different downfalls and benefits, depending on the soil quality, incline of the land, and other individual factors. It was interesting to learn how irrigation systems have gone from furrow irrigation, which is digging out areas on inclined land to run water through, to center pivot irrigation, which is a technology that distributes water above the crops in a circular fashion. Technological advances have allowed agriculturalists who irrigate to conserve water and reap twice the crop yield of a traditional farm. Current issues have shown that responsible water management is the key to feeding the growing world population. Field research has enabled agriculturalists to develop and improve irrigation methods. Current advances include crop mapping systems, electronic data collection based on irrigation, and the development of drones for mapping.  The eastern half of US crops receive more water than what is required for growth whereas the western half of US crops receive the minimum amount of water for survival. This is due to the amount of rainfall that occurs on the two halves of the US. The difference in rainfall in the US has caused changes in the methodology of irrigation based on a farm’s individual needs. Thank you to James Adkins for teaching AGRI 130 students about irrigation.

Iowa and California Agriculture with Ed Kee

On September 26, Ed Kee, former Secretary of Agriculture for the state of Delaware visited University of Delaware’s Newark campus to speak to AGRI 130 students about the agricultural wonders of Iowa and California. Iowa is the top producer of corn in the United States. The success of Iowa corn production is attributed to fertile soil, an optimal climate, and good land management practices. Iowa has a large amount of topsoil that is mixed with loess (wind blown deposits of silt and clay). The presence of loess increases the quality of the soil and decreases the cost of crop production. Iowa is also known for their soybean, egg, pork, and beef production.  California is a state that is known for milk, almond, grape, lettuce, strawberry, tomato, walnut, hay, and ornamental flower production. The state gets an average of only 10 inches of rain in a year, so water is valuable and expensive. To combat the water issue, man-made aqueducts were constructed to deliver water to farms and citizens. Despite the agricultural challenges of California, the state is the 10th largest general economy in the world and it generates a larger gross domestic product than some countries. Both states covered in the lecture have made a positive contribution to American agriculture.

Organic Poultry Farm Field Trip with Georgie Cartanza


AGRI 130 students posing in biosecurity coveralls with Georgie Cartanza in front of one of the chicken houses.


On a sunny Saturday in September, the AGRI 130 students travelled to Georgie Cartanza’s broiler farm in Dover Delaware. We started the experience by sitting outside of the houses and learning about organic farming, broiler production, and other poultry related concepts. Then we put on disposable coveralls, plastic booties, and hairnets. My fellow classmates and I had the opportunity to step inside one of Cartanza’s chicken houses and see what a USDA organic certified poultry farm looks like. Organic chickens are fed organic feed, are antibiotic free, and are given access to an outdoor area, and other special accommodations.  Despite there being 37,000 chickens within the house, it did not smell bad because of the ventilation system installed. Industrial fans are used to circulate air through the house. The house is also equipped with nipple waterers, gravity powered feeders, and a control room to monitor and manage the environmental conditions within the house. The broilers start life in the center of the house on starter feed. As they get older, more of the house is opened until the birds have the run of the whole area. After eating starter feed, the chickens are given two different grower feeds and a finisher feed. Once the chickens are ready to be processed, they are collected by hand at night. This reduces the stress level of the flock. The individuals not picked up for processing are humanely euthanized and placed into the ecodrum for compost. An ecodrum is a plastic structure that aerates and rotates compost material to aid in the decomposition process. The manure produced at Cartanza’s farm is collected, stored in manure sheds, and sold to a local dairy farmer as fertilizer. The processes used for compost and waste management is a piece of the nutrient management plan for the farm. The plan is implemented to ensure that the farm practices are not negatively impacting the environment. At the end of the tour, I had the opportunity to hold a chicken and have my picture taken. Thanks to Georgie Cartanza for giving AGRI 130 students an opportunity to visit her farm.

The Importance of Delaware Agriculture, a Foodshed of the Eastern United States

On September 17, 2018, AGRI 130 students received information about the relevance of Delaware agriculture from Ed Kee, former Secretary of Agriculture for the state of Delaware (DE). A foodshed is defined as a geographic location that provides food for a population. Delaware is a foodshed that is conveniently placed within an eight-hour drive of one-third of the US population. This centrality gives Delaware the opportunity to produce poultry, crops, and other agricultural products for shipment to major cities. Since Delaware is an important agricultural asset, the state is preserving agricultural land through the Aglands Preservation Program which prevents participating land from being developed.
Over time, Delaware became known for their poultry and fruit production. Products would travel by train and boat to large cities on the east coast. Canned products also became a part of the agricultural success for DE in the 1800’s. Many canning factories within Delaware canned tomatoes which fulfilled nutritional deficiencies in the 1800’s. The canned tomato industry has since moved to California. Agriculture has deep roots in Delaware; Woodside Dairy which was established in 1796 is still in business today.
Although the agricultural history of Delaware is long, agriculturalists have grown with modern technology to meet the need for agricultural products. Agriculture is an important part of Delaware and the United States. In order to meet the needs of a growing population, we need to make sure that agriculture stays profitable and that agricultural job positions are filled. Thank you to Ed Kee for coming to the University of Delaware and speaking to the AGRI 130 students.