This past week our class took a trip to Fifer’s Orchards in Delaware. One of the owners Bobby, toured us around the entire farm and talked to us about lots of different crops and how they keep all of them under control. They grows lots of different fruits and vegetables. This was a very enjoyable field trip because this is the type of stuff I am interested in. He explained all of the cool machinery and how they are able to grow all their crops. Their best crop to grow is tomatoes, strawberries, sweet corn, and pumpkins. Those are their best money makers. I would highly recommend Fifer’s to anyone because it is such a friendly and fascinating place.
Dave Mayonado, a representative of the Bayer company and their products and use, discussed with the University of Delaware’s students about the agricultural industry and how it has evolved over time in both efficiency with the advancing use of technology and as an industry as a whole. During the earlier centuries, Dr. Mayonado explained that the agricultural industry was very labor intensive and hands on. However, as the time moved forward, the advancement of technology grew which has allowed agricultural to become less labor intensive and farmers to produce steadily larger crops while at the same time improving soil quality and fostering an environment that supports a thriving wildlife population.
With the growth of technology, agricultural companies, like Bayer, who bought out Monsanto, were able to develop chemicals like glyphosate or round up that kill weeds and insects without killing the crop essentially allowing farmers to protect their crops from encroaching weeds and insects that effect the crops growth and development and produce a greater yield at harvest; as well as reduce the need of tillage and improve the soil quality of the field. With the development of chemicals, Bayer did further research in crop efficiency and increasing yield and found that modifying certain genes and adding beneficial genes to a plant (GMO and CRISPR), all regulated under the EPA, USDA, and FDA, allows for the plant to protect itself against specific pests which allows for the use of less chemicals as well as, the modification allows for the plant to produce a sufficiently greater yield at harvest which allows for the world to produce more food and reduce hunger across various states. As the presentation came to a close, Dr. Mayonado informed and cleared up the litigations about the product, round up, that was created by the former company, Monsanto, they bought out, which allows the students and myself to know the truth about the product and the litigations behind it. Ultimately, from this presentation, many things about the agricultural industry and the company Bayer can be learned, which can help the students and myself to develop a better understanding of the industry as well as develop a broader perspective of the company Bayer and the industry as a whole.
“It all is kind of interesting, we have a lot of interesting projects not just one” (Scott Hopkins). Scott Hopkins, farm superintendent of the University of Delaware’s farm, informed the University of Delaware’s students about the farm through giving the students of the understanding todays ag class a tour of each livestock as well as the organic farm and wetlands the university offers. UD’s farm is composed of 350 acres in which stretches part of the south campus, starting from the side of Townsend, with the organic farm, which is composed of 2 acres and grows the produce of kale, cabbage, and other vegetables that is grown and later sold to the star lab across the street, to the university’s livestock farm. With the university’s organic farm producing vegetables for food for the star lab, the university also has few acres of field corn and other crops such as rice for research and to feed the livestock it has which allows the university to feed and supply the livestock grown on the farm that consists of sheep, equine, dairy and beef cattle and poultry.
On the livestock farm, Mr. Hopkins explained that each of the livestock has different feeding and housing requirements and overall health requirements which makes it very crucial to understand each for efficient production of that specific species. Essentially, with these operations on the farm on campus, the need of students and faculty in certain areas has arisen which Mr. Hopkins explains leads to many opportunities for the University of Delaware’s student to gain experience in different fields. Additionally, the University of Delaware’s farm is a large operation that needs many people to make this operation successful as the years continue forward and with this trip, it provides an insight for the students about the plant and livestock industry which can help us further understand those two industries as a whole; as well as gain an interest which is that the organic farms produce is supplied to the star campus and local farmers markets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On September 26th, Ed Kee came back to our class to lecture about California and Iowa agriculture. He first talked about Iowa. 85% of iowa’s land is in farms and there are 87,500 farmers and 30.5 million acres. Iowa mainly produces corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs. It divides up into 13% of US corn acreage, 12% of the US soybean acreage, 32% of pork Production, and ranks 2nd in all red meat production. The soils and climate are the perfect conditions for corn and the soil is very fertile. The rainfall 24-36 inches a year, there is less rain as you go west. It is not really hot in the growing season in Iowa.
Next, he talked about California. Irrigation is critical, but water getting expensive. So, you have to grow crops that get the most return so that they actually make a profit. Some farm families pay not as much for water as others because they’ve owned water rights for over 100 years. He also said that tomatoes you find in the grocery store are probably from California because 95% of our tomato products come from California.
Fifer Orchards was a great field trip it was cool getting to ride around in the bus and get to see all the fields. Seeing the pivot irrigation up close was amazing. I’ve never realized just how big they really are. I also never thought about the tires going flat and the plastic tires are a wonderful idea and definitely makes farmers jobs a lot less stressful.
I wish would have been able to see the packing system working I can only imagine how efficent this machine is and he said that its really out of date but it still looks in great condition. Before we got to the packing system we walked through their freezer which was just packed with all their different produce. The diversity of fifers crops is really amazing they have from apples all the way to kale. I also really liked their store where I got a gallon of apple cider and donuts and they were both so good. That alone was worth the little drive.
While I was unable to attend the field trip myself, my friend Mollie told me all about it afterwards. She told me that Fifers Orchards is a 3,000 acre family owned farm in Delaware. This farm is owned and operated mostly by the fourth generation of the family, who initially moved here from Virginia. Each family member has their own role in the operations of the farm and they stick to that role. Luckily, this has worked smoothly and everyone in this generation is happy with their role. On the farm, they grow strawberries, kale, cauliflower, peaches, apples, tomatoes, soybeans, and sweet corn. The crops are, for the most part, handpicked, which requires a lot of physical labor. The corn and grain crops are mechanically harvested. Luckily the produce is weighed and sized mechanically and stored in a cooler room kept at 31-36 degrees while the produce awaits shipment. Advancements in technology such as in irrigation, tractors to apply pesticides and herbicides, the cooler room to keep produce fresh, and of course the equipment to harvest the corn and grain crops have contributed to the success Fifers has had. Imagine carrying products out of the fields or spraying crops with pesticides by hand- that would take ages! Fifers is a family owned and very successful farm in Delaware through new technology, school outreach, and strong family relationships.
On Saturday, the class took a trip to Fifer Orchards in Wyoming Delaware. We got to see what kinds of crops they grew, and what methods they used for growing them.
For instance, on a lot of their crops (such as broccoli and kale), a center pivot irrigation system was used. This is where a large machine pivots in a circular shape around the field and sprays water in order to hydrate the plants. On other crops (such as peaches), they used drip irrigation. This is where crops are hydrated from the bottom to avoid getting the leaves of the plant wet, which can increase chance for disease, but this system is more inconvenient to use.
Some crops had unique structures associated with them as well. Strawberries used plasticulture where their soil was raised off the ground and covered in black plastic, and tomatoes used a high tunnel where there would be fabric shading the tomatoes in a similar fashion to a greenhouse. These methods both protect the crop during cold weather.
This trip was interesting, and it shed some light on both the physical growth side of farming as well as the marketing side once the crop is harvested.
On September 28th the class took a trip down to Fifer’s orchards where we got to see in person the different techniques used to grow many of the different crops on their farm. We were taken on a tour of our bus around the farm with various different stops. On our first stop, we got to see the machine used in center pivot irrigation. On the next stop, we went to their strawberry fields and saw the raised plastic bedding they use to help with temperature control. afterward, we traveled to the storage center where we saw their loading facility where their products are loaded onto trucks and sent to their buyers. Then we entered the very chilly fridge where are all of their harvested crops are held at a much cooler temperature than the outside. in the end, it was a cool trip to be able to see many of the different techniques used to help with crop growth in person.
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.
During the tour of Fifer’s orchard, located in Kent County Delaware, our class was introduced to the wonder that is produce commercial farming. At Fifer’s, not only do they grow they’re specialty crops, such as strawberries, tomatoes, and sweet corn; they all supply a variety of experimental crops as well. On our tough we were able to see the different types of crops they have planted, such as their killage radishes. These crops provide good airspace, and can provide good mulch after terminated. However, as successful as the orchard is, they are not without their issues. Depending on the crop, they can deal with pests from a variety of brown rot, scabs, and bacterial leaf spots, all the way to internal break down, nutritional deficiencies, and moths/mites. The technological advancements that Fifer’s has put into their irrigation systems is astonishing. They have center pivots, drip and even linear irrigation. Now as interesting as being able to see the crops on at the orchard and learn about all the inner workings that goes into the business, the best part hands down is their store that sells all the goods that the orchards produce. At the store you can buy anything from beeswax candles to apple cinnamon donuts. All in all, the trip was a very delicious and enlightening experience.
Celebrating 100 years of family farming
Even though there are thousands of farms in Delaware, many cannot say they’ve been in business for over 100 years. In fact, only four in the state of Delaware can. One of them being Fifer Orchards, who is celebrating their 100th year in business this year. “Having a family farm for 100 years may not sound like a big deal but it is for people like us”, Bobby Fifer states. Having over 3,000 acres of farmland is a lot to maintain but as Bobby Fifer explained, “Each of us have a job that no one else wants to do.” Because they each do their part, everything gets taken care of without having to burden another with a different job. It’s a convenient system that works for the family and the farm. Fifer Orchards is known all throughout Delaware and has been for many years, myself included. As an Army brat, I have moved around the United States and other countries as well and have fond memories of every place I’ve lived. I lived in Delaware when I was 4 years old and remember going to Fifer Orchards in the fall to pick pumpkins to carve with my aunt and uncle. Going back after 17 years is an amazing feeling. I can only imagine how the Fifer family feels knowing that many families make it a tradition to go back every year.
Bobby and Curt Fifer are fourth generation family farmers that are part owners of Fifer Orchards. On Saturday, September 28th 2019, Bobby and Curt gave us a tour of their amazing family operation. When I first arrived I was very excited to see that the annual fall fest was going on. Ever since I can remember, my family and I would go to the fall fest together and we always a great time. They have activities from picking and painting pumpkins to a giant corn maze. At the country store they sell the best donuts and ice cream which is a must anytime you are at Fifers. Along with this event, Fifer Orchards does a lot more than what the public can see. As we took a tour around their farm we got to see all the different kinds of crops they grow. One of the crops that really stood out to me was the strawberries. These stood out to me because they are planted under a black plastic cover which helps prevent diseases. Bobby Fifer is testing a new theory this year with the strawberries. Bobby covered every other row with white plastic and the others with the normal black plastic. The purpose of this is to try and spread out the harvesting dates so they are able to harvest all the strawberries and not lose the crop. The black plastic which is typically used attracts the sunlight which will make the strawberries under the black plastic peak before the strawberries under the white plastic. We will not know if this theory was successful until harvest season but I am very anxious to see the results. Along with that theory, I also learned that most of their crops are hand picked which means they use no machinery. With not using machinery, you need lots of good labor to be able to keep up with the crops and Bobby has some great workers there.
Fifer Orchards is a 3,000-acre farm providing fresh produce to the Delmarva area since the 1920s. They currently grow a large variety of produce such as asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, sweet corn, strawberries, peaches, apples and much more! Sweet corn is their number one profit on a whole scale, shipping it out as far north as Boston, Massachusetts and as south as Miami, Florida. A new milestone for the farm happened this year, shipping sweet corn all the way to Mexico since Colorado took a hit in their corn production this season. On a per acre bases of profit; tomatoes and strawberries are their top contenders. Fifer Orchards has partnerships with local stores such as Giant to be able to sell local produce in supermarkets around the peninsula. They also do a great job marketing with the main farm store in Camden- Wyoming, Delaware and a produce stand in Dewey Beach, Delaware. While those two stores can only reach a limited population, they also offer a Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) club. This program allows consumers to pay upfront at the beginning of the season for a Delmarva Box full of local goodies with pickup every week. Next time you’re in the area, stop into Fifer Orchards to pick up some local treats or sign up for a CSA box!
“The thing we’re really blessed with is, none of us want to do the others job” (Bobby Fifer). Bobby fifer, the farmer of the Fifer’s operation, informed the University of Delaware students about fifers orchards through giving a tour of the different crops they were growing and the processes in growing and harvesting those crops for a successful product. Fifers Orchards, unlike many local farms, began during the early 19th century when the 1st generation moved from Virginia to Delaware, purchased land, and began growing various crops for profit. With the start of the farm from the first generation, over time the family began growing more crops and purchased more land in which has led to the fourth generation of the family to own and operate 3,000 acres and growing the crops: peaches, apples, strawberries, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, soybeans and sweet corn today; the corn and soybeans are mainly used as rotational crops.
On the farm, each family member has their own role which is part of the reason of why the farm has become very successful, along with the additions of technology contributes to the farm’s success as well. On the orchard, the orchard uses the technology practices of irrigation, tractors to apply pesticides and herbicides to the crop as well as harvest the corn and grain crops, trucks for transport of produce, cooler rooms to keep the produce fresh, and mechanical belts to size and weigh the produce has allowed the orchard to grow to the size of the current operation and further grow as time proceeds forward. Although there are various uses of technology on the farm, most of their crops produced are handpicked and packaged, as well as they have a running produce store that causes the operation to always have a need for labor; that is mainly received through a program of the government who provides the farm with people from out of country regions who are hard working and willing to work the tasks needed to produce a successful crop on the farm. Essentially, Fifers Orchards is a large operation that needs “all hands-on deck” to make this operation successful in the present and for future day time. Throughout this trip, many things can be learned which allows the students knowledge of the vegetable operation to further grow and expand.
Throughout this trip, the process of growing to selling produce, the roles of the family, labor, and how technology is used on the farm was discussed which allowed myself and the other students of the understanding todays ag class to develop a further understanding of the vegetable industry as well as gain new knowledge of the industry on the farm and the vegetable industry as a whole. During this trip, I learned that most of the crops were hand picked and were then weighed and sized through a mechanical belt operation as well as that each family member had their own role; which allowed me to come to a realization of just how close the family was and how the main part of the success of the operation was because the family stuck to their own roles. Essentially, reducing conflict and creating more focus on each part of the operation for “perfection” of each area of the operation so that their business is very successful as the result.