Dave Mayonado is an expert in the agricultural industry. Having worked for Monsanto for decades, he has witnessed first had the rapid innovations in agriculture that have occurred in recent years. These innovations began to take root with the development of land grant universities and agricultural research stations. Through the research conducted in these institutions, gene editing technologies have been created, such as RNAinterference, CRISPR, and Genome Wide Selection. These technologies have increased yield and nutritional value in produce, while minimizing agriculture’s environmental impact. Furthermore, consuming these crops have been shown to have no negative impacts on consumer health. Dave also provided interesting insights into what it is like to work in the industry. With Monsanto recently being bought by Bayer Crop Sciences, the agriculture industry has surely been shaken up. In a time like this where agricultural companies are growing to match the growing world population, it is crucial that we develop young agriculturists that will join the industry.
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Tour of the University of Delaware Farm
On November 10th, we took a tour of the University of Delaware farm by the farm superintendent Mr. Hopkins. At the university, we are extremely fortunate to have a fully-operational farm on campus. This is something very few universities in the area can claim.
Our tour began by going through the UD organic farm where the Fresh 2 You gardens and high tunnels are. This garden provides produce to restaurants and the University. From there we moved to the milking parlor. Knowing very little about dairy operations, I was shocked at how much technology goes into the process. The milking machines are capable of testing many different qualities of the milk to ensure that the product is sufficient. Furthermore, those who run the parlor are very meticulous about checking for many health standards in the cows, like mastitis. We then went to the dairy barn where we learned about how UD can conduct research on dairy nutrition and how various diets can impact milk production. Through this experience it became very clear how multifaceted dairy production truly is.
Next, we transitioned to the Webb Farm where we first focused on equine production. UD has a few horses, a small arena, and a teaching stable. We then moved to the sheep barn, where we learned about various nutritional and breeding strategies being used in the sheep production. The herd also provides wool used to create blankets at UDairy. Finally we saw the beef cattle herd from afar.
Despite being a very cold day, the tour was extremely engaging and made me very excited for my next 4 years in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Delaware’s Horse Racing Industry
Last week we were visited by Mark Davis, a leader in Delaware’s harness horse racing industry. Mark’s career took a winding path to land in the racing industry, from initially majoring in marine biology, however he has found a passion in this position. Mark told us about the progression of the industry, from its roots in medieval England to its recent decline in popularity here in Delaware.
Although racing might not be the first enterprise one may mentally associate with agriculture, it is hugely economically impactful. The equine industry itself contributes 39 billion dollars to the economy annually. In Delaware, the racing industry contributes 182 million to the state’s economy. Furthermore, it adds 1540 jobs of a large variety to the market. With advancements in online streaming and gambling, it is unclear what the future may hold for this industry.
Livestock production in Delaware is extremely diverse, with each enterprise facing its own unique sets of benefits and challenges. While Delaware is clearly known for its poultry, beef, pork, sheep, goats, and dairy all play a role in Delaware’s agricultural output.
The beef industry in Delaware is very prevalent, especially in the lower two counties. Beef steers are raised for feedlot, cow/calf, stocker, show/genetics, and market purposes. There is similar stratification in the production of hogs, however hogs are a much smaller industry in our state. Similarly, sheep production has also declined, as the demand for wool has fallen. There are only 69 farmers in the state raising sheep. For goats, however, there are over 150 growers, doing either meat or milk production.
Beyond direct markets, livestock production in Delaware is used to fulfill many niche markets. Dairy products often go towards ice cream. Goat and sheep meat is used to supply the ethnic markets in the many urban centers surrounding Delaware. Furthermore as any native Delawarean would know, many livestock are raised for showing purposes at the one and only Delaware State Fair!
Contrary to what many people think, not everything we eat has been genetically modified. In the US, the world leader in genetic engineering, only 9 crops have been genetically modified. These include majors grains, such as maize and soybeans, and other specialty fruits and fibers such as cotton, squash, papaya, canola, sugarbeet, alfalfa, and potatoes. While some of these crops are major feed components, there are plenty of alternative options. For that reason, organic markets are still completely viable despite the presence of genetically modified produce in the economy.
Hoober’s and Precision Agricultural.
Our classes latest field trip brought us to Hoober Inc. in Middletown Delaware. Hoober’s is an agricultural mechanics business originating from southeast Pennsylvania. From successful business management to adaptability, Hoober’s has been a thriving enterprise. The company has been able to expand to many different locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
Our tour began by going through the mechanic’s garage. Here, the technicians at Hoober provide maintenance and guidance to the owners of various types of machinery. The expertise these workers have is so invaluable to agricultural producers and is crucial to the success of the industry. We then moved to the yard where a variety of tractors, combines, combine heads, and sprayers were on display. These technologies have come such a long way within the past few decades. Farmers now have significant control over what and how the treat their fields due to the innovations of agricultural engineers.
Finally, we got to get our hands on some pieces of precision agriculture. One of our tour guides brought in a drone and flew it for us. The resolution of the picture, accuracy of the flight pattern, and responsiveness to direction from the drone were astounding. The implications this technology could have on agriculture, from crop scouting to pesticide application, is just incredible. Then the students had the opportunity to drive a tractor or a sprayer. Both machines had self driving capabilities. Though it was nerve-wrecking at first, the vehicles were able to drive by themselves along a line created using GPS technology. This innovation allows farmers to be much more precise and limit human error in the planting or harvesting processes.
Delaware’s Greens Industry
Delaware’s agriculture is extremely multi-faceted, and one growing aspect is the greens industry. Two experts of the field, Tracy Wooten of Sussex County and Valann Budischak guest lectured to us on the ins and outs of Delaware horticulture. While horticultural production is not often the portion of agriculture that first comes to mind, in 2014 Delaware’s horticultural product sales totaled around $21,774,000. This revenue comes from a variety of different sources through the sale of nursery and floricultural crops.
In Delaware, there is much diversification among the markets for greens products. Many big-box wholesale retailers exist in Delaware, such as Lowes or Home Depot. However smaller companies also play a large role in the industry, such as Ronnie’s in Smyrna. Farmer’s markets are also a convenient way for consumers to access these nursery crops and flowers.
Furthermore, there are many active landscaping businesses in Delaware. Some of these landscapers have become renowned throughout the country. Many landscapers work with state-run programs to aid the beautification and preservation of our natural resources.
Mark Lynas on GMOs
Mark Lynas, a respected environmentalist, gave a lecture at the 2013 Oxford Farm Conference. As a former pioneer of the anti-GM (genetic modification) movement, Mark used his speech as an opportunity to apologize for his false advocacy. After fully investigating the ins and outs of genetically modified crops through a scientific lens, Mark became a strong proponent for this biotechnology. As an environmentalist, Mark was very glad to learn that GM crops require less pesticide application and can lead to less deforestation (due to having higher yielding crop lands). Nutritional benefits, like vitamin A supplements in brown rice for example, can have significant impacts on global health especially for those in impoverished countries. Furthermore, Mark learned that the processes used in genetic modification are not as “unnatural” as he thought. In fact they mimic natural processes used by bacteria and viruses.
As an advocate for agriculture, I think it was very valuable to watch this video. When delivering the true message of agriculture, it is crucial to understand both mindsets on every issue. Mark was able to provide important insights from both sides of the debate, and he used scientific and logical assertions to back up his claims. As the world population continues to grow, the environment continues to deteriorate, and nutrition continues to be a pressing issue, creating a global consensus on such topics will be imperative. The only way we can come to such a resolution is through effective communication, research, and advocacy.
The world is facing a massive dilemma. In order to feed the massive predicted population of 2050, agricultural output will need to increase by 70%. Scientists are addressing this issue through genetic modification technologies.
The CRISPR/Cas9 technology is a method for genetic modification that is currently being utilized. This system is modeled after a naturally occurring process in bacteria. In simple terms, this technique involves synthesizing a certain specific RNA strand that will bind to the targeted DNA section. This RNA serves as an indication for a certain enzyme, the Cas9 enzyme, to come along and cut off this part of the DNA strand. This loose DNA is then transferred to different organisms involved in the modification.
This technology is growing in popularity because it is relatively inexpensive to do. By the year 2025, Citi GPS predicts that CRISPR will be a $10 billion market. What is more important is that CRISPR allows scientists to create higher yielding and more nutritious crops, which is extremely crucial to feeding the global population.
On Saturday, October 6th, our class traveled down to Fifer’s Orchard in Camden, DE, for a behind-the-scenes tour of the operation. Fifer’s is a multidimensional business, so we were very fortunate that we had the chance to meet with two of the Fifer’s brothers in spite of their undoubtedly busy schedules.
On the farm they grow a wide variety of crops, including notably sweet corn, pumpkins, peaches, and asparagus. A large variety of crops involves a variety of management practices. Echoing this point, the family uses basically every type of irrigation system from trickle to hard hose irrigation. Beyond production, the farm utilizes a wide variety of markets. They have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and an on property market. They are also involved in farmer’s markets throughout all of Delmarva.
Family-run agribusinesses often have many unique challenges and advantages. However after seeing how this family manages production, finances, weather, and regulations, it is clear that Fifer’s Orchards is an extremely impressive operation.
James Adkins on the Importance of Irrigation
James Adkins, an irrigation professional in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the University of Delaware, came to our class last Wednesday to share some insights on the relevance of irrigation in the agriculture industry. Currently, 20% of the world’s farmland is irrigated, but still amounts to 40% for our global crop production.
Irrigation technologies, like many other areas in the agriculture industry, have been rapidly innovating. From uses of flood irrigation in ancient societies, crop farmers now utilize drip and center pivot irrigation techniques. These technologies provide the needed amounts of water to the crops, while being precise in the output. This form of precision agriculture limits excess water waste.
Ed Kee on Iowa and California Agriculture
In order to provide a more comprehensive view on American agriculture, Ed Kee returned to our class to speak on the agriculture industries of Iowa and California. These two states are giants of the industry, as they rank in the top 2 in agricultural exports of the United States.
Iowan agriculture is primarily based on corn, soybeans, pork, and beef production. The fertile loess soils, moderate temperatures, and sufficient rainfall makes Iowa the ideal location for many types of crop production. Iowa continues to be at the forefront of global agriculture. They engage in a variety of innovative industries, such as ethanol production.
California is also a leader in global agriculture, however they operate in different enterprises. Fruit, vegetable, nuts, dairy, and hay production is very active in California. However unlike Iowa, California has to combat the challenges caused by the climate. To overcome drought, they have developed an impressive network of aqueducts to provide all agricultural lands with irrigation water.
By gaining expertise on agriculture across the nation, we can become a much more informed agvocate for agriculture as a whole.
Cartanza Farm Visit
This past Saturday, our class had the opportunity to visit Georgie Cartanza’s poultry operation, which is located just outside of Dover. Georgie operates 4 poultry houses with 37,000 birds per house. During a year Georgie raises 5 1/2 flocks of broilers. Throughout the trip, it was overwhelming how many facets are involved in production. Georgie manages flock health and nutrition, nutrient management, and environmental regulations. In regards to flock health and nutrition, Georgie uses organically certified feed. To increase efficiency, the chickens have nipple drinkers and automatic pan feeders. To also maintain aligned with environmental standards, Georgie has to manage nutrients. Georgie has recently invested in an ecodrum, a machine that composts bird carcasses in a sustainable method. Furthermore, she sells manure to dairy farmers to reuse. It is clear from our tour, that poultry producers in Delmarva are active producers and stewards of the environment.
Ed Kee on Delaware as a “Food Shed”
Former Delaware Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Kee, visited our class on 9/17 to deliver an insightful guest lecture on numerous components on Delaware agriculture. Delaware agriculture plays an extremely important role in feeding America because 1/3 of the national population lives within 8 hours of the state. To meet the nutritional needs of these people, canning, grain, vegetable, and poultry industries took off in Delaware. In order to maintain this tradition of Delaware agriculture, Ed Kee himself spearheaded an Aglands Preservation campaign that offers economic resources to ensure that farmland remains farmland. This initiative, along with innovations in technology and management practices, are key components to keeping agricultural systems sustainable for future growing generations. It was very reassuring to here that influential people, such as Ed Kee, are addressing these pressing issues.
Michele Walfred on branding through social media
In today’s world, perception is reality. One of the simplest but most significant ways to build a positive and professional perception of yourself is through the platform of social media. Michele Walfred, a communications specialist for the University of Delaware, stressed the importance of personal branding through social media during her guest lecture to our class.
From a professional viewpoint, Michele shared that employers often use the social media image of applicants as the initial vetting process. Due to this fact, it is crucial to maintain appropriate and respectable on the internet. In addition, it is advantageous to be active on social media, sharing your own unique perspectives and showing appreciation when others share theirs.
From an agricultural viewpoint, social media has become a powerful for and against the industry. Fake news sources have been effectively able to diffuse false information against farmers through media in recent years. It is crucial for this upcoming generation to remain literate on agriculture and share the truth of the industry.