States such as Vermont are demanding that foods now be labeled as to whether or not they contain GMO’s; this has been a controversial debate the affects many parties such as farmers, food companies, and consumers. Many consumers want these labels although studies have shown many people are still confused about what GMO’s are and many aren’t aware that non GMO foods still contain genes. Though there is no evidence to support the claim that GMO foods cause harm, many consumers are against them or are skeptical, therefore labeling everything that is a GM food or not could hurt food companies. The companies don’t want people to see the label and assume their not safe or not as healthy. Many are also under the assumption that non GMO means it is also organic, healthier, and tastes better, although none are true. If trends begin to lean more to non GMO it could hurt the farmers that don’t have the money or resources to switch. However food labeling does help consumers make decisions that aligns with their personal beliefs and preferences. This could lead to a stronger trust between producers and consumers because they feel more informed. This could also lead to niche markets, which in many cases consumers will pay more for.
Dave Mayonado gave a great lecture about agriculture and one of the most controversial companies around, Monsanto, where he is a technology development representative. He talked a lot about GM crops and biotechnology, which is huge in todays politics and public perception. He explained how safe, but also necessary gmo’s are in todays agriculture. Many people don’t know exactly what gmo’s are, or the good they do, such as lower pesticide application rates. Many crops are now being modified by “silencing genes”. Monsanto became successful early because of cell biology research starting in 1972 and round-up ready crops in 1996. Monsanto has many seed brands such as Asgrow, DeKalb, Channel, and Hubner seed. Monsanto has the fewest employees compared to other agricultural companies, but has made many more advances in technology. Annually, Monsanto invests 1 billion+ in research and development, 400 facilities and 60 countries, and $14.86 billion is sales in 2013. It was a great experience to hear Dave Mayondao’s lecture and to learn more about such a controversial company.
James Adkins, the irrigation specialist at the UD research farm, gave a guest lecture to our class about irrigation. He showed us how irrigation systems have evolved through the years and which methods are the most efficient. It was amazing to see how advanced the technology was that could tell farmers when to apply and how much. This is especially important in some states where water is becoming harder and more expensive to resource to aquire, such as California, the biggest agricultural producer in the U.S. All the new irrigation technologies use precision ag for field mapping, data collection, and many other things. Irrigation has a very significant impact on yield, but soils and nutrients and rain fall also influence yield. Delaware for example has no where near the amount of topsoil as Iowa, therefore Iowa’s soil can hold a lot more water for a longer time period. It was interesting to hear a lecture from someone with such an increasingly important job.
On Saturday our class took the last field trip to the research farm at Newark. Scott Hopkins gave us a tour of the farm which had livestock such as cows, sheep, and horses, and also fields for vegetable production. He explained how they have a section they grow basically organic so that students can experience how much more work it is to produce organic crops. It was amazing to see how the cows were trained to eat at the same place everyday and all the tests they did on them. The horse barn was also interesting because they built it to make the horses feel more comfortable. The farm is roughly 350 acres split between all the different sections, it was very well maintained and pretty. Despite the very chilly and windy weather, it was a great experience. Mr. Hopkins was very passionate about his job and easily connected with the students. He had so much knowledge about so many topics and was so easy to talk to. This field trip was a great way to end.
On Monday Tracy Wootten and Valann Budischak gave a guest lecture on Delaware’s green industry. They had an abundance of knowledge on the industry and were very passionate about it. In 2014 the horticultural product sales were $21,774,000. The green industry encompasses producers, retailers, landscapers, golf courses, suppliers, equipment, etc. We learned about the species native to Delaware and how through modifying species, non-native crops can be grown here as well. It was very interesting to learn how specialized most landscapers are because of how many services fall under landscaping. They also taught us more about the Master Gardener Club, which is a group of people, mainly retired, who are interested in gardening and receive free training from the university, to go help people who have questions about their gardens. It was amazing to see how big the green industry is in Delaware.
Whether you agree with genetically modified crops or not, everyone should watch Mark Lynas’s lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference. He was against GMO’s for years before discovering the science behind it, and admitted he assumed it was bad because it was under Monsanto, a big American business. After doing research, he realized GMO’s were actually beneficial, required less pesticides to be applied, were safer the traditional modified crops, and were necessary to feed the growing population on the amount of land we have. GMO’s have tremendously helped developing countries who need larger yields and more nutritional content. GMO’s also benefit the farmers rather than the big companies, contrary to what most people believe. Mark Lynas did a great job of explaining his ignorance to GMO’s and explaining that when you understand the science behind it, that they are necessary and beneficial.
Mr. Kee gave a very insightful guest lecture on Iowa and California agriculture, which are the two biggest agricultural states in the U.S. Iowa is number one for corn, soybean, pork, and egg production. 85% of Iowa’s landmass is used for agriculture, about 30.5 million acres, with 87,500 farmers! 92% of Iowa’s cash farm income comes from corn, soybeans, pork, and beef. Iowa grows about 13 million acres of corn, about 2.5 billion bushels.Iowa grows about 9.8 million acres of soybeans, about 553,7 million bushels. They produce 968 million dozen of eggs, and raise 20.9 million hogs, 32% of the nations pork production. The owner of Stine Seeds is located in Iowa, which is the largest family owned seed company. Harry Stine developed the soybean genetics that accounts for 63% of seed in North and South America. Iowa is also recognized for its hand in ethanol production and the 15% that is now incorporated into gasoline. California is the biggest agricultural producer ranking first in Milk & cream, almonds, grapes, lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, flowers, walnuts, and hay. California’s biggest problem is water, which they get from snowmelt. Farmers have to grow crops that will at least return the cost of water. They export 26% of their ag products, valued at about 21 billion. California is the 10th largest general economy in the world. They can produce strawberries 9-10 months out of the year, where most states have a very short growing period. 95% of processed tomato products come from California, where they have mixed breeds to create a crop that can be mechanically harvested. It is unbelievable how much knowledge Mr. Kee possess about agriculture and how much he has impacted Delaware agriculture during his time as the vegetable extension agent and as Delaware’s Secretary of Agriculture.
On our class trip to Hoober’s, we learned how important technology is in agriculture and how that trend will continue to increase. They explained what precision ag entails and how much easier and efficient it has made farming. Hoobers biggest sellers for precision ag products are sprayers and retrofitting old planters with the newest technology, making it more economically viable. They explained how the always changing technology makes their job exciting, but also how keeping up with it is one of the biggest challenges. The burnout rate for working with precision ag was only 18 months! It was amazing to see how specialized the mechanics at Hoober’s were; they had combine mechanics, sprayer mechanics, planter mechanics, etc. and it made sense after seeing how many parts went with each piece of equipment. It was also interesting to see how advanced drones have become and how they have become a big part of agriculture. The trip really showed how essential it is to be computer competent if studying agriculture because that is unquestionably the future.
I live in Delaware and I have been to Fifer Orchards many times, but on the field trip I learned so much more about their business. The Fifers till 2800 acres; sweet corn, strawberries, and tomatoes being their biggest money makers. They grow a huge variety of crops in alternating seasons which is rare for a Delaware farmers market. I was shocked to learn how far they ship their produce and that they have contracts with major companies such as Walmart. I also enjoyed learning how they run their CSA program; I work at a smaller produce market and we ran our system differently, but Fifers incorporated promotion of their market in the weekly boxes, and had a variety of different boxes to choose from. It was very interesting to see that they also had acres for testing new crops. They grew all different varieties of cauliflower and kale by customer request, and understood very well how the trends were moving, and as a result changed the varieties they grow to the ones gaining more popularity. The tour of the farm really showed why Fifer Orchards was such an success and what makes it stands out from other Delaware farmers markets.
Georgie Cartanza owns a poultry farm in Dover, Delaware, she has four houses, which each hold 37,000 chickens. She has been raising chickens for eleven years, starting out with roasters, but has now switched to organic chickens. Organic chickens have a lot more requirements such as the need for natural light, enrichments, outdoor access, and must be antibiotic free. Organic chicken feed comes from Argentina and Turkey and must be GMO free. No pesticides can be used around the houses, no outside water sources can be in the free range area, and when the chickens develop gut problems only oregano, vinegar, and other organic approved ingredients can be used. It is very clear how much thought Ms. Cartanza put into her farm, the fans on the houses are pointed in different directions so that they don’t blow towards neighboring houses, and she planted trees around the perimeter to create a vegetative buffer to further the air filtering. She switched to organic chickens because she saw the trend increasing and believes all growers will eventually be switched to organic. Ms. Cartanza is very passionate about what she does and has an abundance of knowledge about the poultry industry.