UD sets symposium on global challenges in agriculture, environment, energy

February 19, 2014 under CANR News, Events

A group of CANR students and professors at UFLA in Brazilsymposium highlighting the global impact of work by University of Delaware and Brazilian faculty, graduate students and undergraduate interns will be held May 21-22 at the Trabant University Center on the UD campus in Newark.

Widely considered one of the world’s most important emerging and developing countries, Brazil has one of the largest and fastest growing agricultural economies in the world and is a major U.S. trade partner.

nterest in Brazil’s rapid transition to global leadership in food and bioenergy production, along with the environmental and economic issues surrounding this transition, has led to partnerships between UD and the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA).

Led by UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) over more than three years, a wide range of research projects, faculty and student exchanges, study abroad programs and collaborative workshops have been held.

The symposium will bring together a large and diverse group of UFLA and UD faculty and students to share knowledge on key themes in Brazil that have global impacts on food security and the environment.

Keynote presentations will be made by Luiz Roberto Guimarães Guilherme, professor of soil and environment at UFLA, who will speak on “Brazil’s Role as a Global Food Basket: Challenges and Opportunities.”

Other keynote presentations will be made by Paul Thompson, W.K. Kellogg Chair in Food, Agricultural and Community Ethics at Michigan State University, who will discuss ethical issues related to biofuels, and Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee, speaking on the importance of building agricultural links between Delaware and Brazil.

Important themes of the symposium include agricultural innovations for global food production systems; food safety and security in the global food chain; ecology and sustaining and protecting fragile environments; and ethical and public policy issues concerning biofuels.

The symposium is co-sponsored by CANR; UFLA; UD’s Center for Science, Ethics, and Public Policy; UD’s College of Arts and Sciences; the Delaware Environmental Institute; the Institute for Global Studies; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture International Science and Education program.

To obtain more information on the symposium and to pre-register, visit the website.

The institutions have worked cooperatively on a USDA-funded agricultural research project and UD has hosted UFLA speakers.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Charter student completes research in Seyfferth’s lab

February 19, 2014 under CANR News

charter student completes research in Angelia Seyfferth's labWhen Rohith Venkataraman, a junior who attends the Charter School of Wilmington, decided to search for research being conducted by University of Delaware professors, he did not know what he would find. By chance, he came across Angelia Seyfferth’s research and sent her an e-mail asking if he could help out in her lab.

Now, about a year since that e-mail was sent, not only has Venkataraman completed his research with Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Gang Li, a postdoctoral researcher in Seyfferth’s lab, but that research helped him place first in the plant science section of his school’s science fair. He will now be presenting his research project at the 19th annual Delaware Technical Community College Science Expo in February.

“It’s safe to say that email was a great decision,” said Venkataraman. “Dr. Seyfferth has been encouraging and helpful right from the get go and I have had a wonderful research experience under her guidance and Dr. Li’s tutelage.”

The research began last summer when Venkataraman worked with Seyfferth and Li on a plant science project dealing with the arsenic uptake mechanism in rice plants. Venkataraman said that Seyfferth’s previous work suggested that one can decrease the amount of arsenic assimilated by a plant if one adds silicic acid to the growth media of rice plants.

“This promising research could lead to new ways of growing rice in areas with high arsenic contents in the soil,” said Venkataraman. “As a means to confirm literature and test our own variables, we designed and grew plants over a period of 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 9 weeks. The plants were then flash frozen and stored in a freezer for further RNA analysis of oxidative stress genes and total arsenic content analysis.”

Venkataraman said that the procedure for extracting RNA and analysis was “quite complex. There were many steps each requiring careful attention to details. The procedure required adding small quantities of many solutions and centrifuging the tissue numerous times.”

As for his favorite part of the project, Venkataraman explained that he enjoyed assisting Li with changing the nutrient solutions for the plants and assisting with the liquid nitrogen flash freezing.

“The attributes of chemicals and their properties have always amazed me,” said Venkataraman. “I have always looked forward to Dr. Seyfferth’s insight on scientific aspects of the research, which she has enthusiastically shared with me. Dr. Li has guided and explained about various processes that we were working on. Both of them have expanded my horizon of knowledge and made my experience at the lab and research something that I have looked forward to.”

Seyfferth said that she was “impressed by Rohith’s questions and scientific inquisitiveness, he is a highly motivated young student.” Seyfferth added that she is “eager to continue providing research opportunities for high school students across Delaware.”

As for his plans for after high school, Venkataraman said that he is not sure what he wants to do yet but that he is exploring studying molecular biology along with a pre-med track.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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CANR’s Summer Institute accepting applications for 2014 session

February 18, 2014 under CANR News

CANR summer institute is now accepting applicationsThe University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) will offer a 10-week Summer Institute for underrepresented populations of undergraduate students who have an interest in pursuing graduate degrees in the agricultural and natural resource sciences.

The Summer Institute will be held on the UD campus in Newark from Monday, June 9, through Friday, Aug. 15.

The program is now accepting applications and the application deadline is April 1. The program is open to students at UD as well as other universities. Enrollment is limited to five undergraduate students and preference is given to students who are completing the junior year of their academic program.

The Summer Institute is intended to provide participating students with an opportunity to learn about the varied and exciting opportunities available in graduate education in the college.

Past Summer Institute scholars conducted research in a variety of topics at CANR, such as studying rice blast disease in rice, heading to coastal communities to poll beachgoers on their opinions about offshore energy production and looking at arsenic in mushrooms and its effect on the human diet.

To read more about past Summer Institute sessions, click here.

Since 2009, 21 students have completed the Summer Institute program.

Maria Pautler, program coordinator, has kept in touch with Summer Institute alumni. “Former participants have found the program quite helpful in discerning their future education options. Several students are now enrolled in graduate programs within the CANR,” said Pautler. “Other students have been accepted into graduate schools in the agricultural and natural resources sciences, such as Ross University Veterinary School, George Washington University and Michigan State University.”

Travel expenses and housing costs provided in University residence halls will be covered. Transportation from residence halls to CANR facilities will be discussed. All students will also receive a stipend to help cover costs of participation.

For more information, contact Tom Sims, CANR deputy dean, at jtsims@udel.edu.

To download an application, click here.

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UD alumna studies leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica

February 17, 2014 under CANR News

UD alum Lauren Cruz studies leatherback sea turtles in Costa RicaIt’s not every day that you get to see a creature that has been around for 110 million years emerge from the ocean and lay its eggs on the beach. Unless, of course, you’re like University of Delaware graduate Lauren Cruz, who spends her days in Costa Rica with the Leatherback Trust studying leatherback sea turtle nesting ecology.

Cruz, a 2013 graduate who studied wildlife conservation in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is tracking the demographics of the turtles that nest at Playa Grande and Parque Nacional de las baulas — which translates to the park of leatherback sea turtles — and spends her nights with a team patrolling the beach looking for nesting turtles.

When they find a turtle, they will scan it to see if it is a returning turtle. If not, they will outfit the turtle with a tag in order to track it.

“We also count the eggs, and sometimes we have to relocate the eggs, depending on whether they’re close to the water, close to the vegetation, and then after they lay the eggs, we monitor their nests and see them through until the hatchlings grow out of the nest,” said Cruz.

Cruz has worked with the organization since October and said her favorite part of the work is the turtles, but that she also enjoys learning about the Costa Rican culture.

“What’s great is that out here they have a good ecotourism program where the locals — a lot of them who used to be poachers — found that it’s more sustainable to take tourists out to see the turtles rather than take their eggs,” said Cruz, who explained that the organization will work with groups of locals to help locate nests.

“When we find a turtle, we tell them so they can grab their tourist and it’s just a great experience working with the local Costa Ricans,” Cruz said. “And my Spanish has gotten much better since I’ve been here. So it’s a cultural experience and I really like working with the community and the education aspect of it.”

Cruz said that so far this winter, they have had 24 individual leatherback sea turtles nest on the beach. She said that this figure is in line with the amount they had last year, but they are hoping to see an increase any time soon. The nesting season lasts until March so there is still some time and Cruz is optimistic that they will have more turtles nest on the beach.

Still, when compared to numbers from the past, it becomes obvious why leatherback sea turtle conservation is of the upmost importance. “When they first started doing this project, 20 years ago, they’d have 1,000 individuals or so on the beach so it’s sad that it went from 1,000 to 20,” said Cruz.

Cruz said that while the leatherback turtles who nest on the Caribbean coast have seen a population rebound in recent years, ones that nest on the Pacific coast are still critically endangered. “A major facet to their endangerment is the development because so many people want this beach,” said Cruz. “They want to develop on it and they want to build hotels, and when they build hotels they emit a lot of light and also change the topography of the beach so it makes it unusable for turtles to nest on it anymore.”

Cruz also said that climate change is a threat to leatherback sea turtles, as the species is temperature dependent on determining if a turtle will be male or female. “The pivotal point for the sex ratio of leatherback sea turtles is 29.4 degrees Celsius, so any nests that incubate above that temperature will be mostly female and any nests that incubate below that temperature will yield mostly males,” said Cruz.

Because the sand heats up sooner and there is a shorter wet season, the turtle clutches are hypothesized to yield more females than males, which will ultimately lead to a population decline. Cruz also said she has observed the eggs in the nest have been heating above their critical temperature which has cut down on nest success.

The other big threat is long line fisheries that catch leatherback sea turtles in their hooks.

As for how she got interested in turtles, Cruz said that it happened during her time at UD. “It’s definitely something that came about at UD. While at UD, I was able to participate in a lot of different research projects to figure out what I was really interested in because I knew I loved wildlife but I wasn’t sure what kind of animal or what kind of area I wanted to work with,” said Cruz.

Cruz said that it was while at UD on a study abroad trip with Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at UD, that she fell in love with sea turtles and with Costa Rica. “I think that’s a big factor as to why I’m here and was selected for the position, because I had known of Costa Rica and had traveled here before. And also, the first time I came to Costa Rica with study abroad, I wasn’t really into birds until the end of the trip and then I really got into birding and really just fell in love with the place.”

Cruz said that it was on that trip that she gained hands on experience with sea turtles, as the group spent couple of nights on a research station and released olive ridley sea turtle hatchlings.

She added that while she loves working with sea turtles, she is “trying to keep my options open and get experience working with other species. I know that I’m interested in coastal environments and studying sea turtles is just kind of what happens naturally,” said Cruz. “But I’m also interested in shore birds and I think a lot of that interest was sparked at UD with ornithology classes.”

Cruz recently accepted a position for the summer as a “Teen Team Facilitator” with the Earthwatch Institute, where she will supervise high school students as they travel on environmental research based expeditions abroad in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

“I’m excited for this opportunity because it is similar to the UD study abroad program that sparked my interest in this type of research,” said Cruz. “Additionally, I believe education is a major driver of conservation and am pleased to be able to pass on this similar experience with other students.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lauren Cruz

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD Cooperative Extension aids UD researcher at Delaware Ag Week

February 10, 2014 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Professor Kent Messer and his team of researchers poll farmers at Ag WeekSometimes, an offer can seem too good to be true. The University of Delaware’s Kent Messer was worried that would be the case with his latest research project — one that promised land owners in the state who owned more than 10 acres of land $50 simply for completing a 30-minute survey and offered up to $40,000 worth of funding to support cost share and landowner incentives to help implement nutrient management practices on private property.

Luckily for Messer and his research team, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension — in conjunction with Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture — was holding Delaware Ag Week in Harrington at the Delaware State Fairgrounds and welcoming around 1,900 visitors, many of them land owners.

“We were able to piggyback on Extension’s work and trust with the farmers,” said Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC). “Our research was more believable because we were at Ag Day.”

“This is an excellent example of outreach and engagement within UD,” said Michelle Rodgers, associate dean for Cooperative Extension in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Cooperative Extension is a key partner in the Ag Week event which provided over 97 educational sessions with over 1900 attendees. Students involved in the survey were introduced to Cooperative Extension programming and through the event were able to meet face to face with their desired survey participants. This is was a win-win for the researchers and the research participants.”

Messer’s project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economics Research Service and at Ag Week, his team conducted a field experiment on nutrient management practices and landowners’ attitudes toward and adoption of those practices.

The USDA project had funding to support cost share and landowner incentives to help implement nutrient management practices on the ground. Messer’s team asked landowners about conservation buffers, areas that are vegetated along streams and ditches either by grass or forest, and asked the landowners how much they would be willing to share the costs of those practices.

Messer singled out Jennifer Volk, extension specialist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, for helping to identify practices relevant to Delaware for the survey that are not currently available for cost share. “We didn’t want to fund practices that were already supported by state or federal programs; we want to learn about landowners’ attitudes and behavior related to new practices,” said Messer.

Messer said he combined this project with another one of his National Science Foundation (NSF) projects that focuses on the Murderkill Watershed, which has issues surrounding nutrients. If participants had property in the watershed, they were eligible for an extra $25 for taking the survey.

Survey team members included Walker Jones, a master’s degree student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Maik Kacinski, a postdoctoral researcher in APEC, Linda Grand and Seth Olson, both seniors in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, and Michael Griner, a student from Delaware Technical Community College.

The research team set up shop in Harrington for four days during Ag Week. With four and sometimes six tablet computers available for survey participants, the team members set up through each day of Ag Week and was able to attract 80 people to participate in the survey, which Messer called a “home run.”

“One of the reasons I love Ag week is that it helped ensure our validity. Our booth had a bright blue University of Delaware sign on it. We were in a UD event. Because, in many cases, you could say that this was a too good to be true offer — $50 for a 30-minute survey. We’ll pay up to $40,000 for you to do nutrient management on your land. Most people will see that survey and throw it in the trash because they think there must be a catch.”

Messer said that he was very happy to be able to conduct his research survey at a Cooperative Extension event.

“I’m fundamentally committed to good research that has Extension components. I think that’s a wonderful pillar of the land grant and these are exciting opportunities to collaborate. This is a time when the Extension efforts helped the research project,” said Messer. “We wouldn’t have been successful without having Extension do what it does and having this program that is servicing the landowners. And we were really just able to take advantage of it and participate in it.”

The next steps for Messer and his team include collecting data via mail from participants who were not at Ag Week and finalizing the results of the study.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Seaford’s Sarah Bell wins inaugural 4-H Diamond Clover Award

February 7, 2014 under Cooperative Extension

Sarah Bell wins 4-H Diamond Clover AwardDelaware 4-H has announced that Sarah Bell of Seaford is the first recipient of the Delaware 4-H Diamond Clover Award, the highest honor a 4-H member can earn.

The 4-H Diamond Clover Award is Delaware 4-H’s formal acknowledgment of Bell’s achievement in making a significant difference in the community and state through her “Read to Success Delaware!” project, designed to combat illiteracy.

Delaware 4-H has long acknowledged excellence with blue ribbons, trophies and project pins, and has awarded many scholarships to its 4-H members. However, as the largest youth program in the nation, 4-H did not have a signature capstone award to honor members who demonstrated extraordinary, sustained and focused service learning in their community.

Bell, it turns out, was Delaware 4-H’s diamond in the rough.

Before a crowd of adult 4-H volunteer leaders, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and 4-H staff, family and friends, Bell, a member of the Stateline 4-H Club, was officially presented with the inaugural award on Feb. 1.

“The Boy Scout Eagle is the gold standard of youth awards and it was used as the model for the Diamond Clover,” said Dan Tabler, a retired 4-H agent with a long career in Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia. “As with the Eagle, a very small number of members achieve this ultimate level of recognition.”

Tabler authored the concept and first suggested the Diamond Clover Award idea to his colleagues with Maryland 4-H, where it has become the premiere 4-H award.

To attain the Diamond Clover Award, a 4-H member must progress through several stages. Upon completion, each stage is marked with a gemstone award designation – amethyst, aquamarine, ruby, sapphire, emerald and diamond. “The sixth level requires the 4-H member to propose a major community service project that must be approved by a local Diamond Clover Committee and the state 4-H project leader,” said Tabler.

Tabler explained the process is completely voluntary, “but it is something that 4-H members choose to strive for.” At present, the Diamond Clover Award has been adopted in Maryland, Delaware and Nebraska, Tabler said. The Delaware 4-H Foundation sponsored the award for the First State.

At the ceremony, Delaware 4-H program leader Mark Manno described the award process as intense, noting that the final level will likely take more than one year to complete. “It is not a race, it is a journey,” Manno said.

After Bell’s presentation, Manno held up his index finger and acknowledged the power of one. “That’s one 4-H’er. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of youth who are capable of making a difference like Sarah has made,” he said.

Manno told the audience that approximately 80 Delaware 4-H youth are presently working on one of the six levels toward a Diamond Clover Award.

Bell’s project

Bell selected childhood illiteracy as her sustained service-learning project after hearing a presentation from Read Aloud Delaware given at Sussex Tech High School, where she is a member of the Class of 2014. She titled her project “Read to Succeed Delaware!” and through exhaustive research discovered that one in five Delawareans are functionally illiterate.

Bell learned that illiteracy rates could be positively impacted if children are reached at a young age. Her examination of the issue also revealed that families with low income had few or no children’s books in the home, a significant contributor to illiteracy.

Bell conceived a plan to establish a means by which families could obtain free children’s books. She partnered with the Delaware State Service Centers, operated by Delaware’s Division of Health and Human Services.

The centers help families in need with a variety of services. “I thought the idea was perfect. I contacted all the service center administrators in the state and all of them wanted literacy centers,” Bell said. “Their passion for helping people was evident.”

All 15 centers agreed to provide space and a table for reading and obtaining literacy resources. Bell then approached Read Aloud Delaware and pitched the idea to permanently sponsor the literacy centers. They were willing to help, Bell explained, on the condition that she first establish an initial supply of books to serve all 15 centers, as well as create or obtain literacy resources and displays for families visiting the centers.

Bell recruited a team of 12 young people and adults, and began the process of fundraising and establishing book drives throughout her community. Bell also took advantage of valuable contacts within her communities at Delaware 4-H, Delaware Girl Scouts and Gethsemane United Methodist Church. Bell credits them for giving her moral support, agreeing to serve as a book donation site, or donating books or the money to purchase them.

Bell put the donations to efficient use and became a book bargain hunter, finding suitable children’s books for as low as ten cents apiece at yard sales and thrift stores. Her church community led in donations for the approximately 3,000 books needed to get the literacy centers in operation. Read Aloud Delaware now oversees responsibility.

The 15 centers, along with new parents at the Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, now have access to bilingual materials that stress the importance of literacy and point to where literary resources are available.

In pursuit of the 4-H Diamond Clover Award, Bell soon realized her ultimate goal was less about the award, than it was about making a lasting difference. “It taught me that I can be capable of leading adults as well as youth, and that I can achieve things that I previously thought were beyond my abilities,” she said.

In addition to 4-H, Bell has received numerous recognitions in the Girl Scouts, is a 2014 recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, and is active in her school and church organizations.

Bell plans to one day become an elementary school teacher, saying, “I look forward to helping my students achieve high literacy levels so they can become successful learners, which will help them become successful adults.”

Click here to view Bell’s presentation at the award ceremony.

Article by Michele Walfred

Photo by William Campbell for Delaware 4-H

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD alum writes ice cream cookbook featuring UDairy Creamery

January 29, 2014 under CANR News

UD Alum Lindsay Clendaniel features UDairy Creamery in CookbookMost adventures don’t lead to writing a cookbook – particularly one about ice cream – but that is where University of Delaware alumna Lindsay Clendaniel was headed all along when she started a Scoop Adventures blog in 2009 to chronicle her experiences with unique and interesting flavors and recipes.

The blog ultimately led to a publisher approaching her to write a cookbook on the subject and Clendaniel, a 2003 UD graduate, jumped at the opportunity.

The cookbook, titled Scoop Adventures: The Best Ice Cream of the 50 States, is due out on March 25 and features ice cream recipes from all 50 states as well as 30 of Clendaniel’s own personal recipes. Chapters are divided up regionally, from the “Sugary Southeast” to “The Mountains of Milk and Cream.”

Clendaniel took six months to write the book, in which she found and whipped up 12 to 16 recipes per week. “The book is full of recipes that I would consider pretty unique and creative,” said Clendaniel. “There is nothing wrong with the run of the mill chocolate, vanilla and strawberry when it’s done right, but I like coming up with pretty creative flavors.”

Clendaniel said she sought out contributors, looking for ice cream vendors that used good ingredients and had a good philosophy about ice cream, as well as that creative knack for flavor.

When it came time to pick an ice cream contributor for Delaware, Clendaniel looked no further than her alma mater. “The UDairy Creamery didn’t start until after I graduated but, of course, since I’m so in to ice cream, I was super excited to hear that they were actually starting a creamery on campus. As soon as I got this book opportunity one of the first things I did was contact the University of Delaware.”

For the book, Clendaniel said the UDairy Creamery contributed its recipe for the flavor known as “Junk in the Tree Trunk,” which consists of maple, a caramel swirl, pecan and praline pieces. She noted that she is a big fan of the UDairy Creamery flavors “Holy Fluffernutter!” and “Katie’s Bagged Lunch,” as well.

Not surprisingly, Clendaniel’s adventures opened her eyes to some interesting flavors of ice cream, such as basil. “I heard of restaurants making basil ice cream and it turns out that the anise kind of quality actually does well with the ice cream — and when you pair it with things like lemon and strawberry, it’s really good.”

Clendaniel, who works as a psychologist, said that ice cream and her blog are a special interest of hers and that it is “nice to have an interest that is truly different from my work. Outside of work, I love food, and I love sweet things, so ice cream was just a good thing to find.”

Having dealt with ice cream for so long and tasted so many flavors over the years, it is also no surprise that Clendaniel has trouble picking a favorite.

“I love fresh fruit flavors. I think that making sorbets is one of the best things to do with fresh fruit other than eat it,” she said, adding, “This is always the hardest question. I love chocolate flavors, too — some of the chocolate flavors in the book that I like are chocolate coconut macadamia nut. Those are just kind of playing with chocolate, which is one of my favorite things to do, too.”

Scoop Adventures: The Best Ice Cream of the 50 States is available for pre-order on-line at Barnes and Noble.

Those interested can also check out Clendaniel’s Scoop Adventures Blog.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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CANR alumna reflects on introduction to agriculture, Maryland post

January 27, 2014 under CANR News

Mary Ellen Setting CANR alum serves as Maryland Deputy SecretaryWhen Mary Ellen Setting attended the University of Delaware, she never envisioned herself as one day serving as the deputy secretary of agriculture for the state of Maryland.

In fact, before coming to UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Setting — who grew up in the city in downtown Wilmington — had very little interaction with agriculture at all.

Now, after a little over 36 years working at the state of Maryland’s Department of Agriculture, Setting has learned a thing or two about the subject.

Setting said her initial introduction to agriculture came as a youth, when she and her mother would travel to the King Street Farmers Market and interact with the farmers there. A farmer would deliver fresh eggs and fruit and vegetables to her house, and that same farmer would take his customers out to his farm as a sort of customer appreciation day.

But other than that, Setting had very little background in the field when she chose to study entomology at UD.

“Coming to the University of Delaware in the entomology department, that’s really where I got my main introduction to agriculture,” said Setting, who majored in entomology and applied ecology, learning things like wildlife management and ornithology along the way.

After working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., doing pesticide registration, Setting was hired as an entomologist trainee at the Maryland Department of Agriculture in 1977.

She went on to be promoted to section chief for the pesticide regulation section in 1988, and served as the first woman president of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials in 1994 before becoming the assistant secretary of plant industries and pest management for the agency in 2004.

Setting was appointed deputy secretary in 2009.

The job entails being directly accountable for the day-to-day operations of the department and providing leadership to upper level managers as well as all of the department’s 400 employees.

Setting said she is also “responsible for setting policy, determining procedures and more or less guiding the direction of our programs and the activities here at the department.”

Setting said her job does not have a set day-to-day routine, and that while one day she could be testifying before the Maryland General Assembly on legislation that affects either the department’s programs or agriculture, she could also be participating in a commodity conference, going to a trade show for the nursery industry, or heading out on the ice cream trail to promote the state’s dairies.

Of all her job requirements, however, Setting said that her favorite is meeting and working with farmers. “We’ve got very knowledgeable and innovative farmers here in Maryland,” she said, adding, “They’re always looking for new angles, new ways to add value to their production.”

Setting added that getting to know the farmers and learning from them, as well as learning about their operations, has been an important experience in her work for the state. “I’ve had several farmers that have taken me under their wing over the years and showed me how to treat the farming industry, how to regulate them, and how to get cooperation from them. So I’ve had a lot of folks over the years help me along the way.”

Setting, who joined the Maryland Department of Agriculture at the age of 24, said she has grown up in the department and enjoys that the people she works with “share the enthusiasm that I have for agriculture. They work very hard at it. They work hard for farmers and I’ve been fortunate to have the relationships I’ve had, not only with my co-workers but with the folks outside of this department, the whole industry. I feel very blessed that I’ve had these opportunities.”

As for advice for current CANR students, Setting said that agriculture is a wonderful field to get into, one that is important not only for the individual but for the country as a whole. “Having the opportunity to be in that field is pretty exciting and students should take advantage of that and focus on what interests them but not be afraid to go outside of their comfort zones and look into new areas because you just never know where that will take you,” Setting said.

She also encouraged students to build on the relationships they gain from being in the field.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Delaware Ag Week draws record numbers

January 24, 2014 under Cooperative Extension

Delaware Ag Week draws record crowdsA successful Delaware Agriculture Week, held from January 13-17, attracted record attendance at the Delaware State Fairgrounds, home to the event for the past nine years.

An estimated 1900 visitors, up from 1700 last year, drove to Harrington to attend their choice of 97 sessions offered on a variety of topics crucial to Delaware agriculture. Topics included poultry, equine, nutrient management, fresh market fruits and vegetables, production crops, irrigation, forestry, horticulture, safety, ACA health insurance, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), weed and disease control in agronomic crops. Additional presentations covered equine, small ruminants and beef cattle.

‘Ag Week’ as it is known in the First State is planned in collaboration with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture. In addition to invited experts from around the country, more than 30 sessions were taught by experts from the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and college staff served as session moderators.

Cory Whaley, Sussex County agriculture Extension agent and chair of the Delaware Ag Week Planning Committee, was pleased with the number of people who attended and the 81 vendor exhibits offered during the week.

“Ag Week is great event where the ag community can come together for continuing education, to catch up with friends, and talk with local vendors,” said Whaley. “Much of the success of Ag Week can be attributed to the individual session chairs who identify topics that are relevant and timely and then match these topics with expert speakers from our area and from across the country.”  A complete listing of this year’s program sponsors and exhibitors is available on the Delaware Ag Week website.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean and director of UD Cooperative Extension, attended many of the sessions throughout Delaware Agriculture Week. Rodgers commended her Extension colleague’s efforts and teamwork for developing an event that positively impacts the agricultural community. “Hat’s off to the entire team for an excellent Ag Week.” Rodgers said. “We have had record crowds as well as top-notch speakers from Delaware and across the country. Feedback has been very positive,” Rodgers said, adding that attendees especially voiced appreciation on hearing the current research, the breadth of topics offered, and a venue to network with others in the agriculture sector.

Ed Kee, Delaware Secretary of Agriculture, thanked everyone who organized Delaware Ag Week. “We are really connecting. Good job to all the farmers and industry people who participated,” Kee said.

During Delaware Ag Week attendees were able to earn nutrient management, pesticide and certified crop advisor continuing education credits.

It was the first Ag Week for Nathan Kleczewski, UD Extension plant pathology specialist, who was hired in May 2013.  Along with Dan Egel and Shubin Saha, colleagues from Purdue, Kleczewski felt the collaborative nature of the sessions gave other experts the opportunity to share their research and expertise. “It gives growers an outside perspective and builds collaborations,” said Kleczewski.

Kleczewski was pleased to see 250 people attend the high tunnel and agronomy sessions and received positive feedback. “It was a great way to introduce myself to many people and now that they have a face to put to the name, I expect to receive more calls during the course of the growing season,” Kleczewski said.

A new exhibition for 2014 was the Hazards of Flowing Grain demonstration. Mike Love, agriculture safety Extension agent, coordinated the presentations, equipment and resources. Twice a day, Love conducted a workshop on the dangers of grain entrapment and rescue best practices via a mobile unit developed to scale by Penn State.

“An individual entering a grain silo can be entrapped in seconds,” Love said. Attempts to move can bury the victim deeper in the grain. Love illustrated the physics behind grain movement within silo storage, explaining how a 165-pound individual effectively becomes 300 pounds when the grain reaches waist level. Love emphasized that knowing how to safely respond is critical. The exhibit was enthusiastically received and plans to feature it during the Delaware State Fair in July are being discussed.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings during Ag Week, Love conducted Grain Rescue workshops at the Quillen Arena where first responders utilized best practices for the unique rescue challenge inside a full sized silo mock-up on loan from Perdue Agribusiness Grain Emergency Response Team. More than 100 first responders from Delaware attended and worked in teams as they entrapped a volunteer and practiced the rescue techniques and equipment. “The grain rescue workshops were offered to first responders and farmers so they may learn the characteristics of flowing grain, the causes and best practices for rescue,” Love said.

Philip Russell, 1st Assistant Chief of the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department attended the training Thursday night and found the experience extremely valuable. “This was an eye opener for us. We need to make sure we have the right equipment to make the proper rescue.”  Russell said.

Robbie Roe, Russell’s colleague, volunteered as a victim and agreed the training was necessary. “It would be the worst way to die known to man,” Roe exclaimed. “I couldn’t breathe.” Fortunately, their fire department has not been called out to a grain entrapment, but Roe was grateful for the opportunity to become better prepared. “We have silos in our district we never had before. This [training] is what we need to do.”

Held in January every year, the 2014 event was an opportunity for Rodgers and her Extension colleagues to mark Cooperative Extension’s 100th year of providing research-based information to the public.

Click here for additional photos of Delaware Ag Week

Article by Michele Walfred

Photos: Michele Walfred, Cory Whaley, and Heather Baker

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UD students create predictive models for Capital One competition

January 23, 2014 under CANR News

UD interdisciplinary team placed as finalists in a Capital One competitionAn interdisciplinary team from the University of Delaware was one of six finalists from universities across America selected to compete in the Capital One Modeling Competition held in the financial corporation’s headquarters in McLean, Va.

The final six teams were chosen from a field of 33 universities and, in addition to UD, included Ohio State University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which fielded two teams, Texas A&M University and Southern Methodist University.

The five-member UD team consisted of graduate students from three different colleges — Ruizhi Xie, a doctoral student in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics who is also a master’s degree student in statistics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and received a master’s degree in agricultural and resource economics from CANR; Zhiqi Zhang, a master’s degree student in CANR; Yue Tan and Yan Hu, both doctoral students in the Lerner College; and Du Zhang, a doctoral student in the Lerner College and a master’s degree student in the College of Engineering.

The competition required the team to use creativity and statistical problem solving skills to develop an analytic tool to uncover insights about individuals’ spending patterns. The goal was to predict how those individuals would spend at certain merchants and to develop a strategy for those merchants to assign discounts to customers who use their Capital One cards at their places of business.

Xie explained that the group was given a large amount of real transactional data of customers from 3,000 different merchants. The data included information such as the merchant ID, the date of the transaction, the amount and whether the purchase was made on-line or in the store.

From that data, Xie said the team “basically applied the optimization strategy and the modeling strategy to predict the likelihood of the future expenditures for every customer of certain merchants.”

Zhang said that she enjoyed how Capital One allowed the team to use real data to solve the problem for the competition. “Most of the time, the data from the bank is confidential. They don’t want to provide the data to personnel outside the company but because we were solving a real problem for them, they provided us with the real data.”

Xie said that the group worked on the project for about two months and once they made it to the finals, they spent two sleepless nights preparing for the project’s final presentation to the bank executives.

Zhang said the interdisciplinary aspect of the team helped them greatly as the members could each tackle individual problems on their own and also within the group during meetings, which were held twice a week. “It was very efficient working in this team. Before the meeting, everyone prepared his or her own part for the meeting and during the meeting we could exchange ideas,” Zhang said. “When we talked about our ideas, sometimes we could find that something might be wrong and the other people could give us feedback, and that was great.”

Tan said he had two favorite parts of the competition — the teamwork aspect and the fact that they got to use the real world data. “I enjoyed dealing with the real banking data. If you go into the industry, this is the kind of data you will experience every day. And the other thing was we had very good team work and I enjoyed that part, too.”

The team was introduced to the competition and advised by Titus Awokuse, chair of the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC). Zhang said that working with Awokuse was beneficial because he has “a real direct connection to the industry field so we could get this opportunity. The manager of this project sent the invitation directly to him so we could take part in this competition.”

Xie, who has been advised by Awokuse since 2009, said he has helped her with studies and research, especially “how to identify research problems and how to tackle them using different methodologies to try and reach the conclusions. I’m very grateful to him.”

Awokuse said he thought this opportunity was a fantastic one for the students. “I think overall it was a very good experience for our students because not only did they work with data based on a complex real world problem that has potential to help a real company, they also got to interact with people in the industry.”

Awokuse continued, saying that the people at Capital One were very impressed with the students’ presentation. “They liked the models that the students developed. Their models were the best in terms of accuracy of prediction and I was very impressed with them. They did excellent work.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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