It’s no question that GMOs are one of the most debated subjects in recent years. Whether you’re for or against them, there’s one thing that effects all consumers: labelling. As GMOs become more and more mainstream, more people want to know if their food is genetically modified. But would you believe that nearly 70% of all food in America has genetically modified components? There’s a good chance that you’ve eaten GMO recently without even realizing it – and most of these foods don’t tell you that they’re genetically modified. I believe that at this point, it’s redundant to label foods as GMO – similar to labelling chicken as hormone free (because all chicken has to be hormone free) or calling corn chips gluten-free (as corn doesn’t have gluten in it). It’s practically a given that, in the United States, most of your food is genetically modified to some extent.
Not to mention, changing labels on a large scale isn’t cheap. Especially since right now it’s a state’s decision on whether to force GMO products to be labelled. For example, last year Vermont was the first to make this ruling. So food manufacturers and companies that sell to other states as well as Vermont have to make a decision – either create new labels to be specifically printed on their products shipped to Vermont separate from the labels they put on products sent to everywhere else, or change all of their labels to exhibit their use of GMOs. Both of which aren’t great options: changing only a portion of your labels proves to be expensive, and a large majority of people in the US are weary of buying foods labelled with use of GMOs which would lead to a decrease in sales.
Overall it is a complex issue that many people disagree on – regardless of whether or not they know that there’s a good chance they’re eating GMO products without even realizing it.
After a few minor setbacks early in the semester regarding James Adkins he was finally able to come in and talk with us about agricultural irrigation in November. James Adkins works at the UD Carvel Research center with a focus in the technology surrounding irrigation. We received a brief rundown of his personal history and then an extensive lecture regarding many aspects of agricultural irrigation – how it was done in the past and how its changed, scientific advancements, several types of irrigation (center pivot, flood/furrow irrigation, drip irrigation, etc.) and much more. What continues to surprise me is how advanced farming is today. Irrigation systems can be programmed to water certain areas with more or less water depending on the plant’s needs, it can monitor the exact amount of fertilizers/pesticides that might be used, and can maximize water efficiency in an agricultural setting. As time goes on, water is becoming more and more of a scarce resource is many parts of the world, which means that James Adkins may have one of the most important jobs to face our future.
Early in the semester, we were given the opportunity to receive a guest lecture from Miss Georgie Cartanza, an organic poultry producer in Dover, Delaware. We learned about the history of poultry production, the entire process, what it means to grow organic chickens, and almost anything else you could imagine within the poultry industry. One of the things that most stood out to me was the economic impact of poultry production on the Delmarva peninsula. In the Delmarva area alone, there is over $3 billion in value of chickens alone, nearly 14,500 employees in the industry, and that the Delmarva area produces 6% of the poultry in the country (which may not seem like a lot, but coming from little ole’ Delaware, it is!). We also learned about the biggest problem in the poultry industry – public perception. Often times when people think about chicken farms, they think of the terms “factory farms,” animal abuse, etc. In fact, many organizations cherry pick photos, videos, and facts to show the public that make the poultry industry look considerably worse than it actually is. In actuality, it’s quite the opposite. Poultry houses are spacious and very comfortable, chickens get as much time as they want to roam, interact, play, and grow as they please. It is very important to teach people the real facts about agriculture, especially today in a time where people’s concerns about animal welfare and safety is ever growing.
On September 18th, we had the pleasure of receiving a lecture from former Delaware Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Kee. We learned about the history of Agriculture in Delaware, and got an in-depth look at Delaware’s importance as a food shed. What was most shocking to me was learning that Delaware’s number one industry is agriculture! When many people think of Delaware, they think of a place known for tourism surrounding our beaches, as well as the tax-free shopping that DE offers. Though if you take a closer look, it makes sense that the number one industry is agriculture – almost 50% of all land in Delaware is farmland! Not to mention, one third of the entire US population is within a 10-hour drive of Delaware – from New York City, to Baltimore, to Washington D.C., and almost every major city along the east coast. This makes it a perfect place for agriculture, as we are able to help provide fresh food to a substantial portion of the country. Overall, we were incredibly lucky to talk with a man who has experience in practically every field of agriculture that Delaware has to offer.
On September 13th, our class received a guest lecture from Michele Walfred about social media and creating our brand. In today’s age where everything and everyone is online, social media is becoming increasingly more important. Many businesses have social media accounts, and will do background check on a potential employee’s social media profiles before making hiring decisions. For example, if you often post on your Facebook about how much you dislike your job, your coworkers, etc., many employers are going to be less likely to hire you because it comes off as unprofessional. Some of the most important things you can do to build and maintain your personal brand are to be consistent (consistent pictures, descriptions, contact information, etc.), staying professional with good oral and written communication skills, having a professional e-mail address, and to always keep in mind that people you interact with, either professionally or personally, can see what you do online and can form judgements based on that information. It is also important to do your “due diligence,” in fact-checking articles before posting them, avoiding drama, thinking before you send, and various other actions. Lastly, and what I think is most important, is always taking an opportunity to teach someone. Whether someone has misperceptions about agricultural practices, are sharing false information, or just giving general information to someone who isn’t as knowledgeable about a subject as you are, teaching others is one of the most impactful things you can do in your life.
This past Saturday (the 4th of November) was our last field trip, though I must say it was also my favorite. I think it was because it hits so close to home – we received a tour of our very own University of Delaware Newark farm led by the farm superintendent himself, Scott Hopkins!
After waiting for a good 15-20 minutes for our bus to arrive, Scott took matters into his own hands and started the tour on foot. We first went to the dairy farm and got to see the milking parlor, the cow feeding area and the building where the cows are kept, as well as a sneak peek at the baby cows! We received a brief rundown of the whole dairy operation – how the milking works, how the cows are fed, studies that are sometimes done on the cows, and a general overview on how the University of Delaware raises their livestock.
Eventually the bus caught up with us and took us down Farm lane to Webb farm. On the way there, we took a detour past the poultry houses where we learned what kind of research is done relating to chickens, and drove past the entomology center before arriving at our destination. We were then taken into the equine building, which is mostly used for equine science labs, but also doubles as a pretty convenient teaching room. One thing he told us while we were in the equine building that stood out to me was that horses have the ability to put their birthing on hold – if they are somehow uncomfortable or startled (whether it be from a class happening in the building or a train passing down the road) they can pause the process until they’re more relaxed and then continue as if nothing had happened! He told stories of students coming in to check on the horses, leaving for less than an hour, then coming back to a newborn foal! After this we took a brief look at the composting operation, then saw the barn where sheep are held. Mr. Hopkins briefly vented his frustrations about student workers who couldn’t seem to remember something as simple as closing a gate to make sure no animals got out, but quickly got back on track and told us all about sheep mating, using their wool for blankets, and the general care of the sheep. Last, but certainly not least, we were brought to the barn that houses the angus beef cattle. I never realized how curious animal’s cows are – while he was giving us an overview of their beef operation a cute group of three or four young cows made their way over to use to check us out and see what we were up to.
The trip ended back on south campus where Dr. Isaacs treated everyone in the class to their choice of sweets from UDairy, the University of Delaware’s creamery. Considering it didn’t get up past 50 degrees, many of us decided to get a comforting cup of hot chocolate or apple cider – myself included! This field trip was by far the most interesting one to me, mostly because many people don’t realize how much actual farming is done in the middle of Newark, DE, and being able to see it firsthand reinforced my decision of pursuing agriculture.
I once heard a quote from an anonymous source that said, “to admit that you were wrong is to declare that you are now wiser than you were before.” This holds especially true for Mark Lynas, an environmental activist who focuses on the impacts of climate change as well as GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms. For many years, Lynas was anti-GMO – he believed it was against nature, assumed it would increase the use of chemicals, that it would only benefit large companies, and various other so-called “green urban myths.” But in 2013 at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas himself admitted that he was wrong in his beliefs. When it came to climate change, he would use science as evidence to prove that it did indeed exist, though when it came to GMOs he followed his personal beliefs. After doing thorough research, Lynas came to his own conclusion which was entirely different from the point of view he had only 5 years before. He shared that he once believed that genetic modification would increase the use of chemicals, and later learned that genetic modification could increase resistance to pests and disease, therefore reducing the use of chemicals; he believed that GM was only beneficial to big businesses, while in actuality billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs; Lynas assumed that GM was dangerous, and later learned that it was much safer and significantly more precise that conventional breeding.
Through analyzing his beliefs, doing his own research from trustworthy/science-based sources, and admitting to the public at one of the largest agriculture-based conferences in the world that his beliefs were wrong, Lynas seems to have set a precedent that more people should follow. That being: do not be afraid to admit that you may not be knowledgeable about a specific topic. It is never too late to stop learning, and by doing so you can come to a more accurate conclusion regarding the topic at hand – regardless of whether or not your opinion on the matter changes. In my opinion, it takes a strong individual to stand up for their beliefs; it takes an even stronger individual to change their beliefs when faced with new found information.
Our third trip was to the faraway land of Middletown, DE to visit the Hoober Farm Equipment store. Hoober is a company that sells and services all types of agricultural equipment, from planters to harvesters and everything in between. The tour started inside of the store where we met Brian Lam and Dave Wharry, who gave us a brief history of the company. We learned that the company was founded in 1941 and has been run by the same family for three generations!
I had always thought that farm equipment was relatively simple – big hunks of iron that plow, plant and harvest. But as we also learned, that isn’t the case! Almost all modern farm equipment is incredibly advanced and almost entirely run by computers. Tractors and other vehicles use satellites and GPS to farm land without even needing a driver! In fact, their most used tool in equipment repair and diagnostics is a small laptop – just plug it into your tractor and it can figure out what your problem is, and how to fix it. And of course, we can’t mention technology without talking about their drones. We were lucky enough to witness a demonstration of a $10,000-dollar drone that is used for surveying areas – just create a route for the drone to fly using the computer software and watch it fly! It can take pictures of distinct types of wavelengths to survey farmland and diagnose any potential problems that a farmer may have.
Before leaving, we all got the opportunity to drive tractors and sprayers around the lot for ourselves. I must admit that I was a bit nervous driving a piece of equipment that costs more than my house, but after a bumpy start I was able to complete the track and safely park it back in the lot. But as nervous as I was, I had a ton of fun and could absolutely see myself driving one in the future!
This weekend was the second field trip of the semester! Fall is just getting started, and I couldn’t have picked a better place to go: an apple orchard! Fifers Orchard is a 4th generation, family-run farm in Camden-Wyoming, Delaware, and we were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at the entire operation.The tour was given by Bobby Fifer, and started at the heart of the business: the farm. We were able to see a portion of the land where they grow and harvest their fresh produce. With nearly 3,000 acres of farmland they grow many different crops, including kale, cauliflower, strawberries and of course apples! We learned that they grow cauliflower of unusual colors, including purple and orange, as well as over 20 different varieties of apples. But by far, their biggest money-maker is sweet corn; Fifer’s supplies corn to the entire east coast, and nearly every state east of the Mississippi! After seeing the farm, we were taken to the packaging and distribution center. We learned about some of the technology that is used for sorting fruits, tomatoes, and peaches, and talked with Curt Fifer, Bobby’s brother and the man behind the shipments/sales. After talking with us about some of the challenges that can be encountered during the shipping process we were taken to their brick and mortar store and introduced to their cousin, Michael. We discussed the marketing side of the business and their CSA program. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s like a weekly subscription to fresh produce. Every week you receive a box of various fruits and vegetables that are currently in season, straight from the farm. CSAs are one of their most reliable ways of making sales, as well as great opportunities for advertisement and getting people to eat fresh.
At the end of the day we raided the store for all sorts of goodies – delicious baked goods, fresh ciders, and much, much more. Everyone went home with their hands full and pockets empty from this one-of-a-kind field trip.
On September 9th, the class took an exciting trip to Miss Georgie Cartanza’s poultry farm! After working in the poultry industry for nearly 20 years, with eleven years owning her own poultry farm, she had a wealth of knowledge to share with us. She owns four different chicken houses, with about 37,000 chickens in each house (almost 150,000 total chickens!)! On top of that, there is only one other worker who occasionally helps with the farm operations, so she’s raising that many chickens practically on her own!
Luckily the chicken houses are top-of-the-line, with an assortment of computers, machines, and equipment that makes her life much easier. Nowadays, almost everything is automated: there are computer systems to regulate the temperature, humidity, food, water, and practically everything else you could imagine within the house! This allows her to check in on her chickens from anywhere via her smart phone, and helps diagnose any potential problems there may be. We were lucky enough to get a tour of one of the chicken houses so we could get a firsthand look at the computers, feed systems, and a whole lot of chickens.
One thing that I found most fascinating was the inside of the chicken houses. I always imagined a chicken house would be loud with the clucking of the chickens, flapping of wings, and movement of equipment; and most of all I was expecting it to be smelly. But it was honestly the opposite! The chickens were very relaxed, it was surprisingly quiet (almost peaceful), and the airflow provided by the large fans made it so the smell was not an issue!
Ms. Cartanza ended the tour with some words of wisdom about the real world: being a good worker, having good communication skills, and always keeping a positive attitude will get you far in life!