Fifer Orchards

Posted on behalf of Bradley Evans

The field trip to Fifer Orchards was another really great experience. It was cool to see such a huge farm produce such a multitude of crops for profit. They really have a great system in place for crop rotation and experimentation. It is a family run enterprise which manages to use each others strengths to lead different departments of the business. The farm had been handed down through multiple generations with each trying to advance the production and technology. It was good to see their implementation of technology to make things easier for them in the harvesting and shipping areas. They kept track of what was selling and adjusted there planting schemes to maximize their earning potential on a yearly basis. They had an attitude of always evolving which was prevalent in their onsite country store and the development of festivals to draw their customer base into the farm. This is how you run a successful farm. They did have some concerns for the future and unfortunately they are the same concerns that most people we met on our field trips had. The concerns where in government regulation and standards that are always evolving and resulting in extra expenses to the business. There other concern was in the cost of energy. Something that I learned which was interesting was how heavily they relied on migrant workers to harvest their crops. They said Americans didn’t want to do the job.

The Livestock Industry

Throughout the semester, the class has been fortunate enough to have multiple visitors who work in agriculture. One of these people was Mr. Dan Severson who lectured on livestock in Delaware. The class was informed of how many farms are in the state, how large they are, and the average age of a farmer. Only about two percent of the American population is involved in farming. Furthermore, the class was informed of the most eaten livestock in the country. Beef is the most eaten meat in America with a cash receipt around six million dollars per year. Pork and poultry follow closely behind with two million and ninety-two thousand dollar cash receipts.

I was interested to learn that Delaware does not only have traditional livestock such as hogs, cows, and chickens which are the state’s largest livestock cash receipts. The state is also home to honey bees, water buffalo, and emus.

The GMO projects

Thanks to Monsanto farmers are able to feed more people. It was surprising to know that farmers during the 1960’s were only able to feed up to 25 people. Where now farmers can now feed up to 155 people using Monsanto biotechnology. This company was able to break down the structure of a simple plant and seed and create a new stronger seed. I learned that they have created Roundup ready crops that are weed resistant and yield gard corn that is insect resistant. Even an vistive gold soybeans that are able to produce more healthy oils like olives. Monsanto has been able to evolve farming techniques from the 1920’s to now. Transitioning to labor intensive farm work of plowing with animals to Biological farming. Focusing on the proteins and RNA of plants has been the key to monsanto’s success. Adding and removing genes with inside the plant has lead to huge improvements in yield growths and efficiency.

Visit to University of Delaware’s Farm

Our last field trip was spent at University of Delaware’s farm. We received a tour from the farm manager Scott Hopkins. In the beginning of the tour he explained how lucky the University was to have that big of a farming operation that is walking distance from our classes. This is something very unique to UD. Not only does the farm offer hands on experience for the different majors, it allows some jobs and internship opportunities for students.

We were given the opportunity to tour the dairy portion of the farm. We saw the parlor, and the milk tanks. Not only is this milk contracted out, it is also used to make the ice cream at the UDairy Creamery. We also saw the test feeding boxes, and the manure processor. Next we saw the chicken houses and passed the Allen Lab that is used for poultry research. Afterwards we saw the new equine learning facility, as well as the sheep and beef portions of the farm. Personally I loved this trip. I enjoyed seeing all of the aspects of the UD farm and the resources available to us students. It really is a unique quality for a university to have, and it is important to utilize it and enjoy it.

Ed Kee’s Guest Lecture

Ed Kee’s lecture about the Department of Agriculture educated the class on what the Department of Agriculture does that we do not usually link to them. It was very interesting to learn that the Department of Agriculture inspects the states gas meters, and I have checked for the Department of Agriulture sticker on every gas pump since. Mr. Kee also explained to us what Delaware is doing to protect its farmland, and to keep enough farmers to support our state. The Farmland Preservation Program was a pleasant surprise for me, as I have always worried about the future of Delawares farm land with our steadily rising population. The young farmers program also surprised me, learning that the Department of Agriculture is looking for ways to aid young people into the farming industry. I enjoyed knowing that the secretary of the Department of Agriculture took time out of his schedule to come talk to college students and that he made every effort to make the students understand what he and the Department of Agriculture does for Delaware.

Comments on Mrs. Michele’s lecture on Technology.

One Guest lecture that I found particularly interesting was Mrs. Michele Walfered’s lecture on how social media works in agriculture. Before this guest lecture I hadn’t put much consideration into how many different kinds of jobs pertained to the agriculture industry. Mrs. Walfred talked to us about the many sites that are used to promote agriculture and explained how each site could be used. The people in my generation are considered to be very technologically advanced, and I was amazed by how many businesses (such as Fifer Orchards) used that knowledge to their advantaged and were able to use social media sites as a way to advertise and inform the public about events or new things that were taking place. Also, although I personally am very cautious about what I post, I think she made a very important point when she told us that when we create a profile or post and comment on social networking sites that we are creating a brand for ourselves. What someone posts online never goes away and it is important to portray a good public image. This is an extremely important lesson for someone who is transitioning into adulthood because many colleges and nearly all employers look into ones social media accounts. Mrs. Walfered did a great job explaining to the class just how big of an impact technology has on the agricultural industry.

Mark Lynas Shift in Views on GMOs

At the 2013 Oxford Farming Conference, Mark Lynas, author of High Tide, Six Degrees, and The God Species publicly changed his stance on Genetically Modified Organisms. This was quite a shift in views, as he had previously worked on several Greenpeace campaigns, including a global campaign against GMO crops, which was successfully caused many European, Asian, and African countries to ban GM crops. At the time, GMOs were seen as a taboo form of dementing nature in a laboratory, acquiring the name FrankenFoods.

However, in 2013, Mark Lynas no longer believed this. He states that science changed his mind. Lynas notes that before his third book, The God Species, that he hadn’t done any academic research on the topic at all. He even openly admits that Greenpeace’s successful campaign against GMOs was strictly based on emotion, rather than fact. It played up the idea of scientists using their technological power to create the unnatural. Such imagery left a large negative impact on the agricultural industry, mostly which promotes the use and practicalities of GMOs.This anti-tech stance no longer applies to Mark Lynas.

Science changed his mind. Mark Lynas goes on it his well written and thoroughly explained speech that not only do GMOs provide more accuracy and precision to farming, keeping costs low for producer and consumers alike, as well as higher yields, reduced use of pesticides, and the transfer of only necessary genes from one crop to another in fewer steps (it’s not trial and error, as conventional breeding usually is). He then goes on to state that GMOs are the only practical way to continue to feed the growing population on the limited amount of land we have with the limited amount resources we currently have available. Using GMO crops would be the most responsible way to continue to feed the globe as it minimizes environmental impact while maximizing crop yield, nutrition, and quality of life.

Mark Lynas then reminds his audience that diversity in the agricultural industry is good, but that organic farming is less effective and less than safe than previously believed. He essentially shames the anti-tech movement for trying to destroy GM technology before even fully understanding it, citing Greenpeace’s destruction of a GM wheat crop in Australia that later when on to increase yield by 30%, as well as Greenpeace’s slander of Golden Rice in Asia, ultimately preventing poor vitamin deficient areas from receiving the nutrition they need to survive. Mark Lynas also makes sure to address the environmentalists against GMOs, stating that there wouldn’t be an Amazon Rainforest, or various other threatened/endangered animals because those habitats would be destroyed for increased farmland.

I fully support this revision in stance made by Mark Lynas. Investigation into the science behind Genetically Modified Organism disproves many, if all, myths and concerns about GMOs. The problem is that people are too busy or do not care to do educate themselves on GMOs, so they listen to what mass media informs them on such topics, many of which are untrue because the media itself thrives on emotion, rather than scientific evidence in many cases similar to this. The only way to stop this cycle is for important public figures, like Mark Lynas, to open up about the truths of GMOs and change the perception of GMOs in the media. Maybe then GMOs will stand a chance.

The Public’s Stance on GMOs

This time last year, a video from Jimmy Kimmel’s show circulated online with some of my “agvocate” friends. You can watch it for yourself here. But in brief, when random people on the street are asked simply what GMO stands for, they have no idea. I also remember a video that was a similar format as this, however the question asked was “Are you in favor of biotechnology?” Guess what – everyone said yes, even though they said no to the next question “Are you in favor of GMOs?”

Mark Lynas explained in this video how he took a scientific approach to understanding GMOs and was one of the more interesting stories on how he changed his view. He was known for “attacking the science of GM” in many editorials even though he had  “done no academic research on the topic and had a very limited personal understanding.” This all changed when one of the commenters said this.

“So you’re opposed to GM on the basis it’s marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because it’s marketed by the big auto companies?”

Lynas was intrigued and began researching into GMOs and made his own science-based conclusions from them. He went out of his way to understand them instead of continuing to vilify the science behind them. In his talk, he also said this notable quote which has stuck with me.

“Thus, desperately needed agricultural innovation is being strangled by a suffocating burden of regulations that are not based on any rational scientific assessment of risk. Indeed, the risk today is not that anyone will be harmed by GM food, but that millions of people will be harmed by not having enough to eat because of the vocal minority in rich countries who want their meals to be what they consider to be natural”

It is my dream that one day the general public will be able to accept and understand the science behind genetic modification. I wish that one day the public will be able to understand the possibilities that GMO crops could have. It might not be possible to ask this generation of politicians and decision makers to make rational decisions on biotechnology, but I have high hopes for the millennial generation. It is going to be an uphill battle, but we will need strong “agvocates” to speak on the behalf of science and reason.

Mark Lynas and the GMO Controversy

I think the speech that Mark Lynas gave at the 2013 Oxford Farming Conference is very informative and interesting. His updated views on Genetically Modified Organisms ,or GMs as he calls them, are extremely relevant to today’s society.  His current position, that GMs are beneficial and not harmful, is something that more people need to come to terms with instead of blindly opposing. Mark Lynas honestly admits that he was wrong in his previous stance on GM’s and that he did not actually know the facts behind his opinion, but just followed other people’s ideas.

Mark Lynas’ complete 180 change of heart was sparked by one comment on his anti-GM Guardian article from a critic who said,

“so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?”

That was all it took for Lynas to do some research and realize his views were incorrect all along. In his third book, The God Species, he was able to take a look at the bigger picture on a planetary scale instead of basic environmentalist orthodoxy that so many people believe. Lynas brings up points throughout his speech such as the fact that we are going to have to feed 9.5 billion people on the amount of land we use today while using limited resources. The truth is that organic food and the way food is produced today is not going to be enough to feed all of those people. GMs provide the opportunity to grow food with more nutrients, stability, and resistance to insects and disease without the use of so many pesticides.

With the world’s “trendy” idea that GMO’s are bad and organics are so healthy and beneficial, Lynas’ speech is something that needs to be shared and understood. The population needs to stop being afraid of change and instead must open their minds to the facts and try to understand the truth about GMO’s.


Welcome to Understanding Delaware Agriculture

Dear University of Delaware Students enrolled in PLSC 167,

Welcome to the Fall 2014 Semester and the inaugural offering of PLSC 167, Understanding Delaware Agriculture, taught by Dr. Mark Isaacs.

We encourage you to use this platform to share your discoveries of Delaware agriculture as you progress through this course.

Your are invited to share photographs with captions, reflections, thoughtful comments, questions and topics of interest.

You are encouraged to share video of your discoveries about Delaware agriculture, to comment on your classmate or professor’s posts and share anything you think might be of interest to others.

You may wish to reproduce your composition book journal entries into a blog post. Whatever you contribute, please select a category for your post – choices will appear on the right side of the post editor when you sign in.  If you don’t see a category, suggest one and we will add it! Feel free to add keyword tags (optional).

We hope you share your posts and those of your classmates on social media! Please use hashtags #FarmDE and #UDel if possible!

Express yourself and have fun!

If you are not familiar with WordPress, please direct any “How do I…? ” questions to Michele Walfred.

A sample post might look something like this:

As I was driving to class this morning it was very foggy and I thought this was an interesting shot of watermelons in the field as the fog began to lift. Delaware and Indiana are the two highest producing states for watermelon crops in the northern U.S.

Photo by Lori Ockels
Photo by Lori Ockels

A Class Journal for UDel CANR AGRI 130