Today, David Mayonado, who worked for Monsanto, came in and gave us a lecture on Industry and Academia in Agriculture. It was very interesting to learn about how the agricultural boom in the mid-20th century contributed to an explosion in the population of wildlife. I do live in Bucks County, PA, which is one of the deer capitals of America, so I thought everyone saw deer as often as I did. We learned about the 4 stages of Agriculture: manual, mechanical, chemical, and biological. With today’s agriculture being in the biological stage with manipulating genes, I didn’t think about the companies’ point of view. They must constantly be coming up with new products to demonstrate value to farmers because of our constantly competing society. As I am sort of interested in law, it was nice to learn a little bit about legislation in agriculture, like the Morrill, Hatch, and Smith-Lever Acts, which apply to land grant colleges.
This past Saturday, the class visited the UD farm here on the Newark campus. I had visited a small portion of it when I initially checked out the school last year, but I was not aware that there are multiple fields and operations that go on here. For example, I had no idea that there were any sheep on campus here, or that there is a whole equine building. A few weeks ago as part of my Organic and Sustainable Farming class I assisted in a round of milking of our campus cows, whose milk goes to Hy-point dairy. It was nice learning a real skill that I can use outside the classroom anywhere in the world. I really take for granted the fact that there is a farm here on campus, where some schools must travel hours for experience in the field, while we just walk outside. Overall, the field trip was nice to reiterate the farm’s layout with myself and learn more about agriculture.
On Monday, Dan Severson lectured the class on the Delaware Livestock industry. I was not aware that world red meat consumption is down, and poultry consumption is up. This is a benefit for Delaware farmers because the chicken industry is booming here. Next, I learned about food security, and how in the United States we spend less than ten percent of our income on food, compared to fifty percent in other parts of the world. One thing that shocked me from this presentation is that we as a country cannot meet the goat demand. Because of the diversity in America, there are many ethnic preferences for goats, and goat farmers simply cannot keep up. Sadly, dairy farms in America are on a decline, and there are only 21 left in the state of Delaware. One organic product people are buying more of is honey, and the industry is hot. Mr. Severson finished with talking about being a cooperative extension and how it heavily relies on people skills.
Today, Tracy Wootten and Valann Budischak presented Delaware’s Green Industry, which includes producers, retailers, landscapers, and golf courses. This industry adds about $20 million a year to the state economy, through floriculture (bedding and garden plants) and nurseries. Because of Delaware’s small size, its horticulture industry is very close knit with many connections between occupations. The class learned about how plant experts are working to reduce the maintenance needed for public land, for example, planting something other than grass that needs to be mowed once a week compared to trimmed once a month. I was intrigued when Wooten and Budischak said that the hardscaping industry is going to grow in the coming years. In fact, of my friend’s dad is a landscape architect back home, and I had always had a vague interest in that profession. Overall, I never thought much of the horticultural industry before today, but now I see how big of an impact it has on the state.
One of the biggest problems facing the world is our potentially growing world population and how we are going to feed it. With GM technology and research, we can feed the soon to be 10 billion people with the same amount of land we are currently using for 7 billion people. Two minutes into the video, Mark Lynas admitted that his anti GM movement was anti-science, and that his group denied scientific data in the process and focused on fear reactions. Lynas pointed out that GM cotton and maize both needed less pesticides and chemicals than the non-GM versions, which shows their benefit. Also, not all the money goes to the big corporations; billions of dollars of GM sales go towards small farmers, especially in developing countries. GM foods are much safer and precise than conventional breeding and takes out a large portion of the time it would take to create the hybrid naturally. Golden rice is a vitamin rich rice that is very easy to grow, and could help feed and give the essential nutrients to many starving people worldwide, but it can’t be distributed because it is labeled as a GM. In the beginning of any movement, change is not taken nicely, but once the facts get out to the public about GM, there will be a new perception, and we need to thank people like Mark Lynas for speaking out.
Today, Mr. James Adkins informed the class on irrigation, which is arguably one of the most important aspects of agriculture. In many ancient civilizations, like Asia and the Mayans, terracing, planting on hills with step-like plots, was a very way innovative, early version of the irrigation we have today. The class learned that thirty percent of American agriculture is watered using flood irrigation. This is mostly used in the West (not Delaware), for very heavy soil is required for this because 3 to 4 inches of water are applied at a time. The pressurized, or sprinkler, system became very widespread after the end of World War 2, because aluminum could now be used to build things other than planes. Surprisingly, Asia has 68% of the world’s irrigation, because the sheer numbers of small farms in China and India overwhelms the numbers. About 30 percent of Delaware’s land is irrigated, which translates to about 150 thousand acres. Lastly, we learned about the future of irrigation, with advanced systems and being able to start your watering from your smartphone.
On Saturday, class visited Fifer’s Orchard in Wyoming, DE. We were told that the biggest money makers are tomatoes, followed by strawberries, sweet corn, and pumpkins. We took a nice tour to 2 fields, one of which was growing strawberries, and the farmers were experimenting with laying out a white plastic tarp instead of a black one, to see if it will lengthen the harvesting “season.” We also saw the Orchard’s new greenhouses and heard about the future experimenting with crops. One thing we learned about Fifer’s is that none of their crops are organically grown. Organic growing is very hard to do on the east coast to begin with because of the humidity, then with Fifer’s scale added in, it’s just not attainable. We were told that the 2 biggest challenges facing Fifer’s future is government regulations, like filling out too many forms, and finding labor to pick plants (there is a whole complicated process to this). We finished the trip with a stop at the gift shop, where I got a lot of apple cider, 6 gallons to be exact, for everyone on my dorm floor.
Before today, I never thought much of Iowa, maybe some corn jokes here and there but nothing else other than that. After Ed Kee’s lecture, I was more informed about this proud state. 87,500 farmers manage eighty five percent (30.5 million acres) of the state’s land, which leads the country in corn, soybean, hog, and egg production. The loess, wind blown deposits of silt and clay, in Iowa’s soil makes it very fertile and moisture holding, which when paired well with its annual rainfall, produces an abundance of crops. The loess is particularly helpful for corn production, for Iowa produces a lot of ethanol, which is in gasoline (15% now). We also learned about California, which is the largest agricultural selling state ($47 billion) and how water prices are causing a change in farming techniques. Some families have water rights dating back decades, which allows them to get water for a very cheap price. The tremendous production of these 2 states feeds millions across the country and globe, and are necessary to keep healthy to ensure the food safety of the country.
Today, UD alum (and former Delaware Agriculture Secretary) Ed Kee taught us about the “Foodshed” of the Delaware area. One very surprising fact I learned was that 76% of Delaware’s land is preserved open space, which is way more than my home state of Pennsylvania. Our area, in relation to agriculture, is super important, because a third of the US population lives within 8 hours of the area, with NYC, Boston, and Philadelphia nearby. The most shocking statistic I learned was that 60% of farm families have other significant incomes, like having someone in the family work in town as a teacher or mailman. Kee’s lecture taught me about the mega trends that we, the future of agriculture, will face soon, such as climate change, shifts in economic and trade flows, and rapid urbanization. Climate change is obviously a big deal, and the shifts in economics and trade will just over complicate taking care of this massive problem. Lastly, rapid urbanization means that we will have to feed more people with less space, so the challenge of vertical farming will be dealt with.
On Wednesday, September 11, the class learned about the importance of having a professional social media account. She really stressed not posting obnoxious party pictures of yourself, for businesses do not want someone who builds themselves like that. One thing that Ms. Michele pointed out that stuck with me was having a consistent headshot (as your profile picture) across all your social media platforms. As well as a headshot, we were told that we should have a descriptive bio, so professional peers or just people who want to be informed can know who you are. I’ll probably have trouble with the whole headshot and long bio things, because my own social media account has 1 post and my profile picture is not myself. Apparently, Twitter is a very fast rising platform in the Agricultural industry, so having young people who know how to use it and communicate misconceptions or truths well is essential. Multiple times throughout the lecture, we were told that everything we post is around forever, so being careful is recommended.
Ms. Georgie’s lecture was very interesting, and I learned quite a bit about the chicken industry. First, I was unaware that Sussex County is the number 1 chicken producing county in the whole country until Monday. Not only is the poultry industry massive, but it also has just as big an economic role; for every 1 job in the poultry industry, it creates 7 jobs in other areas. Ms. Georgie taught us about the vertically integrated industry, which is when farmers, who supply the labor, housing, power, etc., are contracted by companies, which supply the feed (the biggest expense), to raise the chickens, which guarantees that farmers will be able to sell their chickens, while the company gets the kind of chicken they want. The myth of genetically modified chickens was debunked in the lecture, and it was explained that it was improvements in genetics, nutrition, housing, and health that contributed to the average chicken’s weight to skyrocket in half a century. Lastly, Ms. Georgie slammed home the message that Agriculture’s number one challenge is its image, and that the future of Ag needs to build a strong image for itself to succeed.
On Saturday, September 7, the class went to Ms. Georgie’s organic poultry farm. We learned about the life of a broiler chicken, the kind that is grown for its meat, which is typically around 8 weeks. We learned that chickens are very good at turning their food into body weight, it only takes 1.7 pounds of food to gain 1 pound of body weight. To me, the most interesting part of the trip was learning about the tunnel composting of the chickens that do not survive their early life. I found it crazy how the chickens and pine tree shavings were reduced to so little material after just 2 weeks in the vessel. This amazing progression in technology drastically reduces the volume of Ms. Georgie’s compost, but there is a lot less effort in the whole process, thus saving valuable time. Overall the whole trip was a pretty eye-opening experience, seeing where my food really comes from gives me a different perspective on the whole food safety debate. I very much enjoyed the look of a hairnet and full body suit (pic related), completed with a pair of shoe bootie cover things, and appreciate the treat of Chick-Fil-A for lunch.