Mark Davis gave the understanding agriculture class a guest lecture on the horse racing industry in Delaware, beginning with a brief history of the sport. Horse racing is one of the oldest of all American sports and has gone under nearly zero changes to the practice over centuries. From the 12th century, when English knights returned from the crusades with Arabian horses, to 1989, when horse racing was at its peak as the second most widely attended spectator sport behind baseball, worth over 9.14 billion dollars. Currently, the U.S. stats for horse racing consist of 9.2 million horses and 4.6 million Americans that are involved in the industry as horse owners, service providers, employees, and volunteers. This business has a direct economic effect of 39 billion dollars annually. The horses are used for racing, showing, recreation, etc., and accounts for 9,222,847 horses in total that are related to the business. Most would assume that this sport is only for the wealthy, but it actually holds a diverse amount of people with different financial backgrounds. Recreational and show horse riders, moderate-income track, and show employees, as well as volunteers, are some examples. Not to mention that over 46% of these horse owners have an income between $25,000 to $75,000 annually. He also showed us the history of Delaware horse racing and the current regulations of it, which comprises of overseeing all aspects of each race as well as the tracks and paddocks. There must be post-race testing on winners and a pre-race blood gas analysis. Riders must be drug tested as well. Economically, horse racing contributes nearly $182 million and support of over 1,540 jobs in Delaware. Which is positive when considering citizens who need a job. The horse racing industry is definitely not as popular as it used to be in the ’80s, but it does have a social and economic impact on the U.S. and even the state of Delaware on its own.
On Monday, November 11th, we were given a lecture on the pest management industry by Dave Mayonato. He provided the class with insight on how important it is that American agriculture incorporates pest management to prevent disease and increase crop or livestock yield for consumers. Dave gave us a brief description of the history of pest control, which began at agricultural experiment stations that were built due to the Hatch Act of 1887. This act authorized the establishment of said agricultural experiment stations to research different crops. Today, intensive research on these plants and the adoption of technology is improving this production with every year. The adoption of various mechanical, chemical, and biological tools is the cause of this. At the beginning of agricultural processes, the land was labored by man and animal. As time progressed and steel was created, machine-powered agricultural kicked off. Then came chemical agriculture, where different chemical compounds were formulated to control pests. Lastly is the new era of agriculture. By manipulating the proteins/RNA in a cell, scientists have been able to produce the biotechnology for higher and healthier crop yields on farms. He then showed us a bar graph of the number of white-tailed deer harvests in Maryland, spanning from the years of 1927 to 2012. The white-tail deer populations have increased according to this graph because of the application of these agricultural technologies and techniques that allow these Mid-Atlantic farmers to produce larger crops, improve soil quality, and promote a healthy ecosystem. Commercial products of biotechnology such as “RoundUp” and “DroughtGard” corn have allowed for more effective control of weeds and drought resistance among plants to let farmers take a break and decrease their labor fatigue. Many of these companies today use biotechnology to provide for consumers, which are the farmers in this instance. Without pest management and different uses of technology today, farming would not be as effective or cost-friendly to those who cultivate that land.
On November 2nd, the class traveled up to Newark, Delaware to meet Scott Hopkins, a superintendent and crop manager of the researched-based Webb Farm on the UD campus. He introduced to us the importance of research done on the farm with livestock as well as crops. Currently, the farm contains Dorset sheep, an Angus cattle herd and equine herd with greenhouses and acreage used for leafy greens, tomatoes, okra, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and other produce. Large portions of the fresh fruit and vegetables grown there follow the Fresh to You segment which delivers organics to subscribing customer’s doorsteps. This farm also provides for farmers markets and shopping centers. Scott Hopkins works on and conducts research on cow milk, their feed, and sheep wool as shown in the photos below. He gave the class a tour of the areas where the livestock are kept and how they are taken care of. While showing us the farm on campus, he told us that his most favorite thing about working in his position is teaching students about the agricultural experience, because today, many people have become separated from knowing how their food made its way to their plate. He brought up the topic of agriculture and explained the scientific approach to it, which I think is very important to consumers to ensure the health of ourselves as well as the animals and plant products we consume every day.
Dan Severson gave us a quick homework assignment. We were told to provide pictures of misleading advertising of food products. These are a few examples I have found:
The Beyond Meat “Burgers” are a great example of misleading advertising. These patties are not burger patties, they are simply plant-based patties. To consider this a burger is incorrect, provided with the information that a burger is made with beef, not plant products.
Another important example that children and adults alike love is Welch’s fruit snacks. You can see that the entire box is covered with the phrases “real fruit” or “fruit is out 1st ingredient!” Fruit puree is the first ingredient, and there is fruit in these gummies. However, these are not healthy, they are actually quite comparable to candy. Over 40% of the contents in each bag are made with sugar and corn syrup. Which in large amounts is not healthy at all. The information is in a tiny format on the nutrition facts while the phrases about fruit are in larger format to reel in customers. Welch’s has deceptive advertising.
Lastly, there is the PowerBar. This brand is claiming it is packed with protein for “performance energy” but in reality, this product contains high amounts of sugar and fructose, which eaten continuously can produce visceral fat in the human body. This is definitely not something you’d want to be eating if that information was in bold on the front of the bar.
These examples provide proof that many companies will do almost anything, even if that means false or misleading advertising, to interest customers and basically fool them into wanting to purchase their product. This is a way that these brands make money, by hoodwinking the general population.
The class was given a guest lecture on the livestock industry in Delaware and the U.S. Currently, Beef has the highest consumption per capita and 6 million dollars in sales, with cow and calf production, feedlots, stockers, etc. Hogs are in second place, with 2 million dollars in worth, with farrow to finish, where pigs are grown to their harvest weight and slaughtered. Sheep raised are worth 178,000 dollars, normally raised in backyard operations for their wool, hair, and goats are worth 81,000 dollars from direct markets, etc. Dairy cows are worth over 16 million dollars through milk, ice cream, and conventional farming practices. Livestock that is less popular but still used in the U.S. includes bees, bison, alpacas, llamas, rabbits, deer and many more. An important part of the livestock industry is marketing. By knowing the farmer that is raising your meat products and buying local, consumers can get the best quality meats they desire. The topic of organics and farm to table agriculture has become much more popular in recent years because consumers want the healthiest meats they can find, and ways to market can include grass-fed beef that is all-natural with no GMO’s. The future of this industry is to be considered as well. Technology in robotics is improving every day, which makes cultivating these animals much easier for farmers. A problem that is currently being faced is next-generation farming. The livestock and other family-owned farming operations are beginning to die because earlier generations are passing away, while the newer ones are looking elsewhere for work. Climate change is a worry too. Farmers are going to have to provide for a larger population on smaller areas of land when considering the best steps they can take to protect the environment. According to this lecture, the livestock industry has a very labor-intensive workforce that is in need of people to help improve this industry and its productions. Humans need meat after all!
On Wednesday, October 16th, Tracy Wootten and Valann Budischak gave a guest lecture on the importance of the Delaware green industry. This industry, according to a 2014 estimate in sales, accounts for over 21,774,000 dollars in the state and supplies jobs to thousands of Americans as producers, retailers, landscapers, and cultivation equipment suppliers, etc. The most popular items in production are containerized floriculture and nursery crops worth over 13.8 billion dollars. These consist of bedding and garden plants, potted plants, evergreen trees, cut greens, ornamental plants and many more. The containerized plants are most profitable, accounting for 62.4 percent of purchases in Delaware. B & B trees come in second with 28.7 percent in production. We were shown many pictures relating to these businesses with mass production of annuals in greenhouses, and open-acre farms for evergreens, Christmas trees, as well as other trees and shrubs. Some may ask, “What is the green industry?”, It is the retailers and suppliers. From large companies like Lowe’s and Home Depot to the small ones like Cordrey Companies and Ronny’s Garden World, these businesses provide many varieties of plants that people of Delaware know and love.
On Saturday, October 12th, the Understanding Agriculture class went to Hoober Inc. in Middletown, Delaware. Hoober Inc. is a well-renown farm equipment supplier across the east coast. They sell reliable equipment like Kubota, Case IH, and JCB Agriculture products, as well as many more! We were given a tour of the workshop where technicians and mechanics repair tractors, combines, sand-separators, etc. and were shown various parts that make the farming equipment viable for crop production. The class was also informed about the importance of precision agriculture and the up and coming technologies that are used for farming, like satellite mapping and aerial robotics that are already being used by Hoober. Once we were done in the workshop, the class was given the privilege of riding tractors that are used for planting, tilling, and covering acreage on a farm. I had no idea that these things were actually auto-steer, making it so much easier for farmers to finish their hard labor, especially when they are fatigued from working their fields all day. Companies such as Hoober Inc. are very crucial to the agriculture industry, and with developing technologies every day, this company is proving that agriculture is becoming more environmentally and technologically sustainable and much more convenient for farmers when they need this convenience the most, and they are always on the farmers side when they need repairs or advice on their farm equipment. The farm industry would be nothing without companies like Hoober!
On Wednesday, September 25th, Ed Kee gave us a lecture on the two most important states in agriculture: Iowa and California. They are considered the “agricultural giants” of America. First, we were given information on the Iowa agricultural industries in the U.S. According to the most recent statistics, Iowa corn and soybeans alone rank number one in United States production, with over 13.6-billion dollars in cost combined. More than 92% of the state’s cash income is in corn, soybeans, beef, and pork products. Iowa is considered one of the most valued places for farming because of its soils and climate. It’s perfect for corn! The soil is extremely fertile and has a very high moisture-holding capacity with a climate that is mild during growing seasons. This state also has a huge agricultural industry in seeds, ethanol, meat processing, grain exports, farm machinery, etc. Ethanol in Iowa actually accounts for 25 percent of the nation’s ethanol, which is an estimated 4-billion gallons. It ranks second among all states in agricultural exports as well. While Iowa is best in agriculture for corn soybeans and meat, California is known for horticultural crops, milk, and cotton, with milk ranking first in commodities as a 6.29-billion dollar industry, almonds rank second with 5.33-billion in sales, not to mention 95 percent of our tomato products come from there. The exports account for 26 percent of ag production with a 21-billion dollar industry as well. This single state even has the tenth largest economy in the world, with a larger domestic product than Mexico, Canada, Italy, and Saudi Arabia. One conflict that both Iowa and California have in common is water and water quality issues. They are very dependent on water because both are dry and drought-ridden in some plots during growing seasons. Especially California, water is slowly getting even more expensive as the climate increases. Farmers have to grow crops to generate the most income relative to the cost of their water bills. Some farm families even keep water rights that date back to 100 years or more, which keeps their bills at a less expensive price. It is important to take away that if we didn’t have the production we did from these states, we wouldn’t have a thriving agricultural industry as we do now. The future of agriculture is bright with the technology and labor to produce fresh produce, meat products, feed, and fuel for all of America with help from California and Iowa.
Mark Lynas, an environmentalist gave a public lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference on his apology to scientists about his previous opposition to the production of genetically-modified organisms in agricultural biotechnology as well as for facilitating the ban of GM in Europe. In his speech, he exclaimed why his earlier claims and beliefs were bred from a place of ignorance, with no scientifical reasoning behind his opinion that GMOs were unnatural and wrong. Lynas originally assumed that Monsanto’s GM soybeans, the first product of genetic engineering introduced to the market in 1996 was an act of humankind acquiring too much technological power, but slowly he began to believe this form of anti-environmentalism did not coincide with his opinions of pro-science environmentalism when it came to the conflicts of climate change. He began to educate himself on the positive qualities of GMOs. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis because it just switched around a couple of genes whereas conventional breeding manipulates an entire genome. He used another example with the mixing of genes between unrelated species, the fish and the tomato, but viruses do that naturally during the process of gene-flow in plants, animals, and even insects. This concludes that this form of biotechnology may actually be a sustainable option for the incoming population that is currently estimated at over 9.5 billion people by the year 2050. According to Lynas, the planet is going to have to sustain feeding this amount of people on the same area of landmass that is used for farming today while also using limited water, pesticides, and fertilizer, with the context of climate change as well. I was definitely enlightened by learning that genetically modified organisms are not dangerous or unethical. According to Lynas, it’s crucial that we use this important production to feed future generations.
James Adkins visited the class last week to teach us about different forms of irrigation used for crop production all around the world. He first quizzed us on different topics relating to irrigation. According to one of his “quizzes”, while only 20 percent of the world’s farmland is irrigated, it produces over 40 percent of the planet’s food supply. The different types of irrigation he showed include flood irrigation, where water is distributed across the land naturally, with no pumps involved, this form of irrigation is used on about half of the 60 million acres of irrigated land in the U.S. He also included drip irrigation, and center-pivot irrigation, where equipment rotates around a pivot to water crops. Adkins showed us the historical evolutions of these irrigation systems and how they’ve improved over time as well.
Currently, Asia accounts for 68 percent of the world’s irrigation use, while America only accounts for 17 percent. Specifically, in India, over 90 percent of its freshwater is used for crop production, and one-fifth of the nation’s total electricity goes toward pumping this water for irrigation. From a global perspective, roughly 15 to 35 percent of this irrigation is considered unsustainable.
Lastly, Adkins showed us the new technologies behind irrigation with mapping and NVDI images to confirm a fully-functioning VRI system. As well as monitoring systems that can even be used from the comfort of your own smartphone. Watering crops is definitely more complicated than I thought it was in the past!
On September 28th, the Understanding Today’s Agriculture class was given the privilege of visiting Fifer Orchards. This company has been family-owned since 1919. That’s 100 years of producing delicious fruits and vegetables for people all across the United States! We were greeted by Bobby Fifer, the current owner of the establishment. He gave us a tour of the majority of the farm and showed us the different methods he uses to sustain his company. This brand alone sells apples, peaches, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, sweet corn, asparagus, pumpkins, and more. They are currently in the Delaware Community-Supported Agriculture program, which connects producers and consumers by letting custom to subscribe to harvested items from local farms. This allows for farming operators to offset the expenses of cultivating their products, and consumers are provided with fresh produce in return.
The class was also shown different methods Bobby used to grow his crops. High tunnels are a good example. They use the heat from the sun to increase fruit and vegetable production in earlier and later seasons, and since they are covered by plastic canopies, the crops have a lesser chance of becoming diseased because they are never rained on. He also showed us the drip irrigation he uses for his strawberry fields. This method reduces water waste and energy usage whilst directing water directly toward the root system, which prevents disease among the plants as well.
Lastly, the class met with Kurt Fifer, the owner of the sales management side of the company. We learned that he sells apples and other businesses such as Walmart, Giant, and even small-scale grocery stores such as Redners. He talked about the pressures of food safety in the passing years and how farming has become far more difficult because of it. I now definitely understand from the first-person point of view how difficult being a farmer really is, as well as the phenomenal technologies that are being used to facilitate the safety of our environment and the quality of the produce we eat every day.
On September 16th, we were greeted by Ed Kee, a retired Delaware agricultural secretary. He gave us a lecture on Delaware’s agricultural production and how it is considered a foodshed for the Eastern United States. This industry alone compensates for over 1/3 of the U.S. population! Today, there are over 2,500 farms in Delaware, which might seem like a lot for such a small state, but it is actually a 25% decrease compared to the 8,300 farms that were recorded in 1950. We learned about the history of Delaware agriculture and how it has diversified over time. At one point, Delaware had one of the largest tomato producing industries with over 83% in production compared to other fruits and vegetables, but that changed once the industry became overruled by poultry, soybeans, and corn. Sciences in agriculture have improved as well, with better technologies in genetics, weed and pest control, and management. Now farms have the ability to yield a higher amount of crop on smaller quantities of land. Today, there are many challenges that farmers face, such as sustaining the profitability of products and promoting the best practices of cultivation that meet consumer needs, especially for the growing population of the future.
The agriculture class was given a presentation on the importance of social media by Michele Walfred. We learned how to create our own consistent brand of personal interests while also reflecting professionalism in posts to the general public. She showed us her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, which all had a theme, the photography of nature. She used a proper headshot rather than a selfie on her profile and had her full name written in the caption of each account. This is a theme we were advised to follow to adhere to future employers interests once we finish college with a degree. Michele taught us how to be a leader with social media by demonstrating maturity in our posts as well as advocating for only true information to earn the trust of viewers on the platform. It turns out, the agriculture industry is heavily invested in social media, and we were advised to advocate for agriculture with our own. There are many job opportunities in agriculture that involve social media communications, such as becoming a specialist or manager for a farming company. The class was warned about the dangers of fake news and how to spot ads that are just used for clickbait revenue, especially the ones that are geared towards politics in agriculture, like the use of growth hormones and the opinions of animal welfare organizations. Lastly, we reviewed platforms that are commonly used and some qualities of each and the resources to obtain valid information about agriculture. I now know how to create my own brand with social media posts and be an active member of the local community over the internet!
On Monday, September 9th, the agriculture class was greeted by Georgie Cartanza, a Delaware organic poultry farmer and extension agent. She provided us with interesting information regarding the poultry industry in the first state, by giving the class a presentation with a brief history of how chicken farming became popular in Delaware, and the conventional methods that are no longer used in modern-day agriculture. She also showed us the economical impact it has on the U.S. For example, there are 14,500 people employed under poultry companies in Delaware that produce 3.2 billion dollars in birds each year. It turns out for every 1 job in the poultry industry, 7 jobs are created within the local community! She debunked the myths of fake news, like use growth hormones and antibiotics. In reality, there are no growth hormones. Technology has just improved to yield more bodyweight on the broilers faster than how it would have been in the 1950s. Under the organic poultry company she works for, Georgie must provide the chickens with access to the outdoors as well as enrichment in the chicken houses. This is based on consumer demand and the newly implemented technologies that are meant to improve bird welfare. Lastly, we were shown a slide on sustainability in agriculture and how to be mature and successful through mindfulness of the information that is shared with us. I definitely am more aware of the state I live in and the positive impact the poultry industry has on my community!
On September 7th, our Agriculture class visited Georgie Cartanza’s organic poultry farm. She informed us about the Delmarva Broiler industry and how it has become far more environmentally friendly than it used to be in the early 20th century. Currently, this production accounts for 9.6% of all chicken production in the United States. That’s 605 million birds! Before we entered the chicken house, Georgie taught us how she practices proper biosecurity with accommodation of her chickens and the consumer. She showed us compost drums used when replacing litter and the organic methods she must practice under the Coleman company and debunked the myths that many of the general population believes through the media. It turns out, organically grown birds must have access to the outdoors and enrichment, and they can only be treated with naturally occurring supplements such as citric acid for their digestive health. Obviously, these birds were exceptionally taken care of from an animal welfare standpoint. Students had to put on protective gear and step in chlorine powder, not only for our safety but more so for the birds, as the potential risk of disease could be detrimental to the flock and Georgie’s profit. We were able to hold the two-day-old chicks while she covered the topic of how efficient each chicken house can be. In a push of a few buttons, she can provide the chicks with food, water, and proper ventilation to ensure they are comfortable in each house. I am very thankful to have had this experience because I didn’t know much about the broiler industry. I had many false assumptions about how the birds are treated and if the chicken I was eating was actually good for me. This trip, however, opened my eyes to the real world of organic farming, and how much care and precaution is taken when growing a live crop. Georgie set an especially good example for other farmers out there and established faith in me, that not all farming is unsustainable, and agriculture industries are consistently trying to find better ways to be more eco-friendly with their productions.