Category Archives: Photos & Scenery

Fifer Orchards

On September 28, 2019 the class took a field trip to Fifer Orchards at the very beginning of the farms Fall Fest‘commemorating it’s 100th year.  This trip would commence very differently than the last one, with the majority of the tour spent on the bus.  We would ride around to various fields before visiting the sorting and packing area, taking our obligatory class picture, and finally checking out the farm’s country store.

1st stop on the tour…

The first talk about irrigation…

Our host, Mr. ‘Bobby’ FIFER met us in the parking lot before climbing aboard the bus.  He began the tour by giving the class a cit of backstory on himself and the farm.  Mr. FIFER was a Virginia Tech graduate who continued to work at the farm after college with his two other brothers and cousin for the past 15 years.  Together they encompass the fourth generation of the families now 3000acre farm.  Mr. FIFER stated the family once owned more land after they moved from Rehoboth to Dover in 1904 after the drowning of a child, but those Milford and Magnolia parcels were either sold or lost to time.  The third generation, made up of Mr. FIFER’s father, now in his 80’s, and Mr. FIFER’s Aunt remain active with the help of two or three female staff members working in public relations.  Every family member has their own role to fill n the farm and no one is vying for the other’s job.

An unexpected traveling companion…

A sleepy traveling companion…
Hmm, Interesting…

Mr. FIFER notes that each family member does what he or she is best-suited for and comfortable with.  Mr. FIFER really enjoys working amongst the people and being at the front of the farms public brand. His brother, Mr. Kirk FIFER, worked for Sargenta right out of college in the 1990s, so he handles a lot of the sales- ‘whether a consumer wants 10 or 10, 000 case of product’, as well as wholesale to Walmart. Mr. Michael FIFER, the cousin, handles the public relations angle of the business, handling retail in Dewey Beach and Dover, booking entertainment, and coordinating ‘Fall Fest’.  Another, older brother, prefers to work behind-the-scenes, out int he fields, in a harvester, or just doing maintenance.

‘Velvet Leaf’, or ‘Elephant Ear’ weed
Very fuzzy leaves…
Kohlrabi

No matter the role, there is always plenty for any one member to do because Fifer’s is a very diversified farm.  At the start of the growing season, they are packing fruit, off-season asparagus (a fern and early spring crop that stores energy in it’s roots), and one of their most profitable crops per acre, tomatoes.  Strawberries often complete for the most profitable crop per acre, but overall, corn and pumpkins generate the most money. Surprisingly, the tree fruit for which the orchard is known, has the lowest profit per acre, because Delaware’s warmer temperatures and humidity is not really conducive to growing the best peaches or apples.  Peaches are prone to get stink bugs, scab, brown bacteria, leaf rot, and scale, with apples fairing a little better, subject to fire bight, wart, black rot, as well as scab, scale, and nutrition deficiency.  Both crops are subject to daily pest struggles and require different pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides to stay viable.  The harvest season runs from April to December, and also includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, beans(in rotation with corn), and sweet potatoes.  Most of the crops are sold locally, though the corn may be shipped as far a s New Mexico, Walston (PA?), Miami, Mississippi, and Colorado.

Crop duster hard at work…
Strawberry fields
Raised beds, plastic, and row covers…
The re-used row cover…

The high temperatures and humidity create the constant threat of disease, making it very difficult to grow anything organically in this state, so Fifer’s is not an organic farm.  Mr. FIFER says it’s not worth the ‘headache’ to try and it’s too time-consuming.

Despite the high level of Inputs required for conventional production, Fifer’s has a reliable way to manage their equally high levels of output.   They farm utilizes mechanical harvesting for it’s sweet potatoes and corn, along with other harvesters and mowers.  Other crops that require hand labor is often supplied by immigrants through the H2A Program, which supplies guest workers on Federal visas to harvest and pack produce. The Fifer’s must pay for the workers living expenses, providing housing, laundry, rides to Walmart and work, as well as $1, 400 per month for the employees to go to an from Mexico from September 1 to November 1.  It’s is a great expense, but Mr. FIFER asserts that working through the government program means they only need about 70 people versus the 100 domestic workers they once hired, even as the farm has grown and expanded.

A Hi-tunnel…

To facilitate this growth, Fifer’s has employed a variety of different growing methods, such as double cropping, or growing 2 crops in one year, cover cropping, and reduced tillage. They have also employed the use of ‘protected agriculture’, implementing hi-tunnels with measurable success. Mr. FIFER stated that the practice is easier in New York and Vermont, but in New Jersey, E. PA, and further southward it’s ‘impossible’.  Hi-tunnels were utilized to extend the growing season and sell on the ”shoulder season’.  Cultivars like strawberries and raspberries were grow first, but tomatoes were the ones that proved most lucrative. The Fifer’s could produce 2-3× the yield in tomatoes when no other local farm has them well into the month of December- but from November into December consumers are often thinking of squash and kale and other ‘fall foods.’  Hi- tunnels are most cost effective than a greenhouse for the Fifer’s as their expense is based on length- they only cost $10, 000-$40/50, 000 per acre.  They are a big deal in other states like PA, Maryland, & Virginia.  The only caveat is the tunnel cultivar must be rotated and the physical structure moved, or the land it sits on must be fumigated, i.e., the soil must be injected with chemicals to kill and sterilize it of everything- which is an added cost.

Additional growing methods like raised beds and bed covers are used for weed and pest management, as well as on-farm experiments.  Raised beds can prevent the wetting of leaves, which promotes bacterial growth.  Mr. FIFER spoke of his efforts using plastic bedcovers, namely with strawberries, to keep the soil warm and prohibit weed growth as well.  Mr. FIFER said he intended to try alternating between black and white plastic on different rows to stagger the crops soil heat absorption by a few degrees and extend the harvest season with equally ripe berries.  The bedcovers, used in tandem with 0.9-1.2oz. re-used row-covers, can be used to retain heat and trick the plants into, ‘thinking they’re in NC’- Delaware strawberries are planted the 1st-3rd week of September, but NC strawberries are planted well into October, with a harvest by the end of April or early May.

Outside the packing facility…

To maintain soil health, the Fifer’s plant oats, whose roots grow up to 1ft. long and absorb and excess nutrients and prevent soil erosion.  They may also plant, ‘Tillage Radishes’ that aerate the soil by breaking up the hardpan and create mulch to increase the soil’s organic matter. The Agricultural Stabilization & Conservation Service(ASCS) will pay farmers for planting cover crops, which is particularly important for sandy soil.

Inside the refrigerated packing facility…

One off the most important aspects of farming that Mr. FIFER covers, was the orchards extensive use of different irrigation techniques.  Citing Mr. James ADKINS and his expertise on irrigation, Mr. FIFER stated the farm uses 600-12–gal per min wells to power their system of Drip Irrigation, Underground Drip Irrigation, Linear and Center Pivot Irrigation, and Hard-Hose Irrigation. Drip irrigation was displayed on the surface of the peach orchard and used because the farmers experience less of a problem from rodents, groundhogs, and foxes gnawing the lines than they would with an underground system.  To run the drip irrigation, the water source must be free of iron and scale, or the hoes nozzles will become plugged, so clarification and filtering are used.  With the linear and center pivot irrigation, seen in a field of Kohlrabi, cauliflower, and collards, the system works with automatic pressure release valves and is positioned on plastic wheels that, while more costly, don’t go flat and bolt onto the hub.  The hard-hose irrigation system must be hooked to a well, unspooled with a tractor for 200ft and then dragged and relocated, unhooked, and re-hooked to different hydrants along tramlines.

Just outside the refrigerated section…

Looking out on ‘Fall Fest’…

Another aspect, pest management, was covered throughout the tour.  One method discussed was airblast and airplane spraying, which requires highly trained trick flyers who can maneuver at low altitudes and often train more than commercial pilots.  Aerial spraying can be used to manage weeds, but vigilance by those who work in the fields is needed as well.  Prof. ISAACS showed us a ‘Velvet Leaf’ or ‘Elephant Ear’, an example of a weed that when not handled properly and treated quickly, can result in a long-lasting problem- the plant contains large seed pods with up to 50 seeds that can go dormant for up to 50 years.  Another method was a deer management strategy in which the Fifer’s allow a set group of hunters to come in and kill deer for free at no liability to them under the State Quality Deer Management Program.  Mr. FIFER stated the greatest pest statewide would undoubtedly be the four-legged, white-tail deer- a herd can eat 30 acres of soybeans and 20acres of strawberries.

Additional challenges would be the paperwork and documentation that goes into processing. Every product must be labelled with a GN and LOT# for distribution.  The Fifer’s must pay $10, 000 for an audit, flying an inspector in from Idaho.  There are also additional expenses that must be covered for any new or changing government regulations- Mr. FIFIER stated that the family would often look for loopholes to avoid the intense scrutiny increasing regulations can bring.  Also, without a properly established market for their cultivars, like the Kohlrabi, the plants are just wasted space and must be tilled under to make way for a different crop next season.

Guest workers filling boxes with ice….
Mr. Kirk FIFER takes over…

One topic that has seemingly become the subject of every class discussion at some point is the sighting and eventual spread of the Spotted Lantern Fly.  Mr. FIFER said that although the invasive insect had found it’s way to Sussex County from Pennsylvania, they had yet to see the pest on their property, but as Prof. ISAACS reminded us, according to the rules of the Department of Agriculture it is up to the farmer to treat any known threats.

Overall, I enjoyed the trip. I would definitely like to come back to Fifer’s for the events as well as the interesting foods in the store that I didn’t get to try or purchase.  I was told there was boar, bear, and alligator jerky, and I saw a large selection of jams and jellies with inventive flavors I’d love to sample, but would have no clue how to use.

Ms. Michele WALFRED on Professional Leadership for Agriculture in the Social Media Era

On September 11, 2019 Ms. Michele Walfred spoke to us about managing social media.  She began with a bit of history about herself and her educational background. She was also a UD alum who wanted to major in art but switched to creative writing because the writing classes were offered later in the day and she felt she would be able to sleep.

Through a series of events that occurred while she was pursuing her education, she ended up altering her plans once again, pursuing a ‘real job’ instead of the Bohemian-style artist life she had envisioned.  She ended up at the UD Agricultural Extension office with no what the 4H program was, believing she might be working with children or seeing eye dogs.  She managed to land a position and earned her Associates and Masters, but along the way she stated, she always tried to take jobs for, ‘what she wanted to do, not what she was good at.’

It was at this point she mentioned Professor Isaacs, a professor who recognized her strengths and directed or recommended her to tasks accordingly.  Ms. Walfred also took the opportunity to go to weekend and evening events on her own volition, looking to increase her skills whenever possible.

After the brief bio, Ms. Walfred showed the class screenshots of the homepages of three of her own websites on different platforms. She noted that across all platforms, her image or headshot was the same.  She recommend we all try something similar to ‘brand ourselves’, expressing creativity through banners, but keeping our message clear on our own ‘search-able’ public sites.  She recommended any potentially controversial images or writings go on separate private accounts, but reminded us that the internet is forever and we must behave and conduct ourselves in a professional manner when putting information and images out into the great wide Web.

Ms. Walfred also stated that complete absence of any digital platform can hurt and then championed Twitter as the platform of choice. She told us that by sharing on our social media we can also champion causes and issues that we care about- an example she used was an article about the highest U.S. suicide rates occurring among veterinarians.  She then showed us a YouTube clip from a movie called, ‘A Bronx Tale’to illustrate a point about how all the ‘little’ actions matter and first impressions count.

Ms. Walfredconcluded by telling us how important social media can be for us in agriculture and to agriculture in general.  First, she stressed the importance of being an, ‘Ag-vocate’ helping the environment in different ways, such as participating in, ‘Meatless Mondays’.  She also mentioned ‘Delaware Ag Week’ and the impressive salaries of Social Media Managers at around ≈$75, 000.  She also touched on the controversy that farmers often face- citing back to Ms. Cartanza’s presentation, namely the damage farming causes to the environment.  A crowd of young males with SmartPhones will not post to their social media about how they are actively learning how not to pollute, the very thing a consumer might accuse them of.

Ms. Walfred ended on a quote that essentially said, ‘“To tell someone they’re wrong, 1st tell them how they’re right” – Blaise Pacal (Paraphrase)’She encourage us to stand up to mis-information while combatting misinformation with facts.

UD Farm Tour Fieldtrip

Our last field trip was close to home, the UD Farm tour! We spent the day learning about what the University of Delaware had to offer its students and community. Scott Hopkins, the farm superintendent, guided us on our last tour. Although I have been on the farm many times before, I learned many new and valuable things that we’re doing at UD. I never knew that we were growing hops and rice patties, so that was an interesting fun fact to learn. We toured both the main farm and Webb farm, with the day ending at UDairy Creamery.

My favorite part of the day was when we got to enjoy our ice cream while watching our classmate put on a fiddling concert. Max nailed the performance and it was a great way to wrap up our final field trip together. Overall, our forth field trip was very educational and a lot of fun!

My 4th tour of UD’s farm

One of the big bonuses of helping Mark Isaacs with Understanding Today’s Agriculture is accompanying the class on the tours.  I always absorb something new, and on this cold and blustery Saturday, learned that Farm Superintendent Scott Hopkins is responsible for planting all the trees that line the gravel road approaching the livestock portion of the farm. Scott incorporates beauty and function Into everything he does—a terrific example of establishing balance on a working, teaching farm.

This fourth trip ended with a special treat — the musical talents of first year student Max Huhn, who has been playing for 12 years. As an aspiring guitarist and mandolinist myself, I appreciated his command of the fiddle, and his passion for traditional Irish and Bluegrass music. After a morning of encroaching winter weather and a delicious dose of UDairy Creamery (thank you Mark) our hearts and bodies were warmed! Dr. Limin Kung was on hand to open up the Commons where Max took center stage! He treated the class to a half hour concert, and a segment of that performance provides the soundtrack to this short recap of our tour.   I could have listened to Max all day! Max opens with his own original composition, “Ghost Cow” and transitions into a traditional Irish tune entitled “Tam Lin.”  Enjoy!

Guest Lecture: Tracy Wootten & Valann Budischak

The Green Industry Guest Lecture was my favorite guest lecture of the course! I majored in Landscape Architecture, and I currently have a minor in Landscape Horticulture and Design. I also interned at Longwood Gardens, and so I have a passion for the Horticulture industry. I loved hearing these two women speak about University of Delawares horticulture programs and opportunities, and also the industry as a whole. They covered a lot of very interesting topics such as nursery production, green house production, liveable lawns, landscapers, florists, and crop production. I loved learning about each of these sectors in the industry separately, and how they work together like a puzzle piece. It was also interesting to be informed about their efforts to educate the public about smarter gardening by utilizing native plantings. It makes me feel very hopeful to know that there is a unified effort to create a sustainable earth! I even enjoyed learning about the Christmas Tree business, because I never realized how involved it is. I thought these two women were incredibly knowledgable, and I enjoyed their lecture very much!

Webb Farm Field Trip

During the field trip the farm superintendent of University of Delaware, Scott Hopkins, gave the class a tour of the agricultural field’s mechanical devices, identified the poultry houses and how they are used for research, demonstrated another form of research students focus on for dairy cows regarding a controlled ration being fed, explained the high tunnel and it’s purposes in operating as organic even though it is not verified organic, etc…Additionally when we rode the bus to Webb Farm, the research farm for UD students, Mr. Hopkins took us into the equine building and we briefly discussed how the mares could easily stop giving birth if there was the slightest disturbance during this time such as a student talking while waiting. I personally enjoyed the part of the tour where Scott picked up a handful of the ration being fed to the dairy cattle in controlled research classes because it smelled nice- I believe the ration was a cut up hay forage. Next we moved on to the sheep which I felt was the coolest part of the research farm because I’ve taken classes and learned about equine, poultry, beef and dairy cattle, but learned very little about sheep over my time at UD. During this part of the field trip, Mr. Hopkins talked about the male sheep having a device attached to his body that would spray paint on the back end of the females he would mount in order to check if the population was successfully impregnated. I found this interesting because he would change the color of the paint after a number of days which demonstrated if the first round of sperm was a hit or miss- if the first round impregnated the sheep, it would not have the new paint color demonstrating that the first attempt did not work.

Next we looked at the black Angus beef cattle in which Mr. Hopkins talked about the factors that come into consideration when he decides whether or not to cull a cow. For instance, if a cow decides it no longer wanted to mother a calf, he would remind this cow of it’s protective instinct to protect the cow, as a second chance before considering culling. Also, he briefly mentioned why the bulls were castrated before slaughter and why this was important for a consumer point of view. The reason being that a bull produces testosterone and when the bull is being slaughtered for it’s meat, the stress is shown in the meat because testosterone is produced which causes the color of the meat to turn into a dark blood red color, which is not favorable to consumers when they purchase the final product. I also learned that UDairy Creamery sells the meat that was raised on Webb farm, which is pretty cool because consumers of this generation care about factors such as how their food was raised by the farmer and what went into the process of making their product. Overall, this was a fun field trip and I learned a little more about how the animals are raised than I knew before.

Class trip to UD’s research farm

On Saturday, Nov. 16, 2014 students from Georgetown traveled to Newark and joined their Newark PLSC167 classmates for an in-depth tour of the UD Research Farm and Webb Farm.

Scott Hopkins, farm manager provided an overview of the farm’s research topics and hands-on teaching labs.