Come Make Tracks and Volunteer at Ag Day 2012!

April 16, 2012 under CANR News

Ag Day is an annual tradition held by the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. This year, on April 28th from 10 am to 4 pm, people will be visiting from all over the area to experience agriculture and the natural world through hands on education exhibitors, live demonstrations, as well as great food and music. Oh, and let’s not forget about that amazing ice cream from the UDairy Creamery!

Ag Day is an amazing experience, but with a crowd of over 5000 people, Ag Day would not be able to operate without the help of volunteers. Volunteers will work for periods of 2 hours and 10 minutes over the course of the day (from 8 am to roughly 6pm). This is a great way to earn some of those community service hours you may need! Plus, all volunteers receive a FREE colorful volunteer t-shirt, and when your shift is over, we encourage you to go explore the rest of Ag Day! There is also shift on Friday, April 27th from 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm to help with set up. An important note: those who sign up for the cleanup shift on Saturday from 4 pm to about 6 pm will also receive FREE pizza!

Please remember, Ag Day is not successful without the help of volunteers! It’s you that makes Ag Day so special, so come make your mark on April 28th! If you are interested in helping  out, please contact the Ag Day team at agday.volunteers.2012@gmail.com with any time conflicts, and we will sign you up for a shift. If you are an Ag Ambassador please let us know!

Thank you,

The Ag Day Team

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Baked kale chips are Delaware’s hottest new snack food

April 3, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Put aside the sour cream and onion chips. Abandon those messy, orange cheese curls. Toss away the nachos topped with gloppy processed cheese. Make way for Delaware’s hottest new snack food – baked kale chips.

If the Delaware Urban Farm Coalition has its way, every Delawarean will soon be munching on this snack sensation. “Kale chips have the crunch and flavor that people love but, unlike most snacks, they’re nutritious, too. Kale is rich in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants,” says Carrie Murphy, a University of Delaware Cooperative Extensive horticulture agent and the interim chair of the Delaware Urban Farm Coalition.

“The Urban Farm Coalition wants to generate excitement about growing local foods and eating local foods. Coalition member Tara Tracy hit on the idea of creating a buzz about kale chips,” says Murphy.

“When we posted a kale chip recipe on the coalition’s Facebook page, we had positive feedback from everyone from mom bloggers to health specialists. The recipe has caught everyone’s attention,” she says.

Kale chips are easy to make (see recipe below) and kale – which is related to cauliflower and broccoli – is easy to grow. Plus, kale is readily available in most Delaware supermarkets and, later in the season, at farmers markets and farm stands.

However, for many residents of Wilmington, it’s not easy to obtain kale and other fresh produce. Large swaths of the city have been termed “food deserts” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because they lack convenient access to a supermarket and limited or no opportunities for residents to grow their own food.

The Delaware Urban Farm Coalition is doing a lot to change that. Since its inception in 2008, the coalition has worked to expand community gardens and on other ways to improve access to healthy foods in the city. In addition, it helps to teach local residents about healthy eating (including how to make kale chips) through programs run by coalition members such as the Food Bank of Delaware.

The coalition is made up of almost a dozen organizations. Key partners are UD Cooperative Extension, Delaware Center for Horticulture and Delaware Department of Agriculture. The coalition’s presence can be felt in dozens of neighborhoods, from a nascent garden in Edgemoor to the thriving “West Side Grows” garden in the Cool Springs area of the city. But the cornerstone of the coalition’s efforts is the 12th and Brandywine Urban Farm, which had its first harvest in 2010.

“What makes the urban farm different from a community garden is its focus on production agriculture,” explains Tracy, who is urban agriculture manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture. “Our 1,600-square-foot urban farm grows fruits and vegetables – including kale – that are sold at an on-site farmer’s market. In addition, we operate a 1,200-squre-foot community garden at this site, where residents can rent plots for a small fee. And, yes, we do grow kale in the urban farm and sell it at the farmers market.”

Delaware Center for Horticulture staffers and volunteers do the bulk of the planting, tending and harvesting at the urban farm. But a farm apprentice will be hired soon to assist with farm chores and engage more community members in the project.

Tracy is quick to note that East Side residents don’t need to pull weeds to help out. “A working mother who is too busy to volunteer is still helping the farm – and her family – when she purchases produce at our weekly farmer’s market,” she says.

The Delaware Urban Farm Coalition is now growing beyond its city of Wilmington roots.

“I’ve had phone calls from individuals and organizations throughout Delaware who want to get involved,” says Murphy. “The coalition has really become a statewide effort.”

If you want to learn more about the Delaware Urban Farm Coalition, contact Murphy at cjmurphy@udel.edu or Tracy at ttracy@thedch.org.

If you want to buy kale and other produce from the coalition’s farmer’s market, its opening day is May 7. Located at 12th and Brandywine streets, the market is open every Monday in season from 4-7 p.m.

If you want to grow kale yourself, now’s the time to plant this cool-season crop, says Murphy. Seedlings are available at garden stores throughout the state. Plant now and you’ll have fresh kale by early June.

And if you want to make your own kale chips, here’s what to do:

BAKED KALE CHIPS

1 bunch kale (4-5 cups)

1 TBS olive oil (olive oil spray works especially well)

1 TSP sea salt or seasoned salt

1 TSP vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a non-insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. With a knife or kitchen shears, carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale pieces with a salad spinner. Drizzle chips with olive oil or spray with olive oil. Sprinkle with vinegar and seasonings.

3. Bake until the edges are brown, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Gently stir leaves halfway through baking.

Try different seasoning combinations, suggest Murphy and Tracy. Teens may prefer a spiced-up version; cheese lovers may want to sprinkle parmesan cheese on top before baking.

Article by Margo McDonough

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CANR dean finalists to visit this month

April 3, 2012 under CANR News

Three finalists in the national search for a new dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources (CANR) will visit Delaware in April, meeting with groups throughout the state.

Finalists are Edward Ashworth, dean of natural sciences, forestry and agriculture at the University of Maine; Cameron Hackney, special assistant to the provost at West Virginia University; and Mark Rieger, associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Florida.

Given the college’s impact throughout the state and the Delmarva peninsula, the candidates will meet with groups in Newark, Dover and Georgetown during their two-day visits. Each candidate will present his vision for the college, followed by Q&A sessions in Newark and Georgetown.

Visits are scheduled April 17-18 for Ashworth, April 23-24 for Rieger and April 25-26 for Hackney.

Current CANR Dean Robin Morgan announced her plans last September to step down at the end of the current academic year, when she will have completed her second five-year term as dean. She will return to the college’s faculty.

Edward Ashworth

Ashworth has served as dean of the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture and director of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station at the University of Maine since 2006. Previously, he served on the faculty of Purdue University for 19 years, the last seven as professor and head of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. From 1976-87, he was a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. A 1973 graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree with distinction in plant science, he earned his master’s degree in field crop science from Cornell University in 1977 and his Ph.D. in botany and plant physiology from the University of Maryland in 1979.

Cameron Hackney

Since July, Hackney has been special assistant to the provost at West Virginia University, after serving as dean of that university’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and director of the West Virginia Experiment Station for 11 years. From 1985-2000, he was on the food science and technology faculty at Virginia Tech, and he served on the food science faculty at Louisiana State University from 1980-85. He earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1973 and his master’s degree in environmental (agricultural) microbiology in 1975, both from West Virginia University, and his Ph.D. in food science, with emphasis on food microbiology and food safety, from North Carolina State University in 1980.

Mark Rieger

Since 2006, Rieger has served as associate dean and professor in the University of Florida’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, with responsibility for graduate programs, distance education, statewide degree completion programs, college honors program and international education, study abroad. He was interim dean of the college for 2010-11. From 1987-2006, he was on the horticulture faculty of the University of Georgia, serving as a full professor his last seven years there. He received his bachelor’s degree in horticulture magna cum laude from Pennsylvania State University in 1982, his master’s degree in horticulture from the University of Georgia in 1984 and his Ph.D. in horticultural sciences from the University of Florida in 1987.

Additional biographical information about each candidate is available on the official CANR dean search website.

Search Committee

The search committee is chaired by Charles G. Riordan, UD vice provost for graduate and professional education. Committee members are Mohsen Badiey, deputy dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and professor of marine science and policy; Kelebogile Setiloane, associate professor of behavioral health and nutrition; Blake Meyers, Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; Calvin Keeler, professor of animal and food sciences; Joshua Duke, professor of food and resource economics; Judy Hough-Goldstein, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology; James Glancey, associate professor of bioresources engineering; Pam Green, Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair of Plant and Soil Sciences; Susan Garey, Cooperative Extension agent; Carissa Wickens, assistant professor of animal and food sciences; Mark Isaacs, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences; and James C. Borel, DuPont executive vice president and a member of the UD Board of Trustees.

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has approximately 700 undergraduate students, 160 graduate students and 80 faculty members in four academic departments: Animal and Food Sciences, Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, Food and Resource Economics, and Plant and Soil Sciences. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees are offered in all departments, and Ph.D. degrees are offered in Animal and Food Sciences, Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and Plant and Soil Sciences. Current extramural funding for research is approximately $34 million annually, with more than 40 percent coming from federal grants and contracts. Extension programming is focused in agriculture, natural resources, horticulture, community and economic development, family and consumer sciences, food and nutrition and 4-H/youth development.

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Environmental professionals speak to UD students about careers

April 2, 2012 under CANR News

A number of University of Delaware students spent their St. Patrick’s Day learning about potential career paths from environmental professionals at the 2012 Environmental Career Morning event hosted by the Department of Food and Resource Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Panelists included representatives from federal and state government, an analyst from a consulting firm and a coordinator from the non-profit sector.

After a welcome from Steve Hastings, professor in the department, the four professionals engaged in a panel discussion, answering questions from Hastings, who served as the panel moderator, and from the students in attendance. The panel was followed by a mingling session during which the students got to meet the professionals in a one-on-one setting.

Kate Miller, a senior environmental studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences and an Honors Program student, attended the event and said that the panelists offered great advice to the students. “I feel like a lot of the advice students receive about the job market is either very sugar coated or downright depressing,” she said, “so it was refreshing to have professionals share their experiences in a way that made you feel like even though finding the job you want can be difficult at times, it can certainly be done.”

Miller, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in water science and policy at UD and hopes to eventually work in watershed policy for either the government or a non-profit agency, added that the panelists presented great tips about the hiring process and provided helpful insight into resumes and interview skills.

Erika Farris, a UD alumna and an environmental scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, was one of the panelists, and offered up some advice to current students seeking a career in the environmental field, saying that it is important to obtain as much experience as possible and to pursue an advanced degree. She also stressed the importance of remaining open minded when looking for a career. “Even if something does not fit perfectly with your interests,” she said, “you can probably learn something from the experience, and may even discover new interests or skills.”

Farris — who graduated from UD with a bachelor’s degree in 2007 and a master’s degree in 2009, and who had Hastings as an undergraduate adviser — said that she had wanted to be a part of a career day because she can remember what it was like being a student and looking for a job. “I remember being in their shoes, not that long ago, and being uncertain about what opportunities existed with that major,” she said.

Besides reaching out to the students and providing them career advice, Farris also said that she wanted to take part in Career Morning because she was “interested in hearing about the career interests of current students, and learning about what career paths other alumni have taken.”

Jennifer Walls, the principal planner for the planning section of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), also sat on the panel. She explained that it is important for students entering the work force to “be flexible and open to job opportunities outside of your major.” She encouraged students to “think outside of the box when looking for jobs, and take part in as many internships as you can as an undergraduate or graduate student. If you can’t find an internship, then volunteer locally.”

Melissa Luxemberg, a senior in CANR and an Honors Program student, said that with graduation approaching, she is trying to keep all doors open as to what she can do for a future career, so she enjoyed being able to speak with professionals from the environmental field. “It was great to pick their brains about the opportunities they think are most promising for someone with my major and degree.”

Panelists included:

  • Jennifer Walls, principal planner for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Planning Section;
  • Erika Farris, environmental scientist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water;
  • Samantha Loprinzo, analyst for the consulting firm ICF International; and
  • Erin McVey, watershed coordinator for the non-profit organization Sassafras River Association.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Shober offered position in Nutrient Management and Environmental Quality

March 30, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Amy Shober has been offered the position of Extension Specialist and Assistant Professor for Nutrient Management and Environmental Quality for the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Her expertise is in nutrient management and soil fertility.

Shober is currently an associate professor in the Soil and Water Science Department at the University of Florida. She earned both a bachelor of science degree in environmental science and a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1998. Shober received her master’s degree in soil science from Pennsylvania State University in 2002 and her doctorate in plant and soil science from the University of Delaware in 2006.

Shober’s new position will include working with nutrient management issues such as nutrient runoff and water quality issues that impact the Delaware inland bays and the Chesapeake Bay.  She plans to begin work at CANR on September 1, 2012.

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Prestigious travel grants allow UD students to attend plant biology conference

March 30, 2012 under CANR News

Harsh Bais, assistant professor in the University of Delaware Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has chosen his research team well. Two members of his group, postdoctoral researcher Venkatachalam Lakshmanan and graduate student Emily Alff, have received travel grants from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), which will enable them to attend the society’s annual meeting this summer in Austin, Texas.

According to Bais, the number of ASPB travel grants is limited to 20 for postdocs and 30 for graduate students worldwide.

Alff received the ASPB travel grant for her project that explores the role of rhizobacteria in rice growth promotion and defense against the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae, commonly known as rice blast.

Her research examines the natural relationships between rice plants and the microbial communities that inhabit the rhizosphere, the area surrounding their root systems. Secretions from the root system are rich in nutrients, which sustain microbial communities that can be detrimental or beneficial to the plant.

Rice blast can cause devastating crop losses, but Alff’s research has demonstrated that certain bacteria can significantly decrease the effects of rice blast and improve plant growth. The goal of the project is to provide a basis for inoculating seeds with beneficial microbes, which is cost-effective for farmers and more environmentally sound than fungicides.

Lakshmanan’s research was also selected for oral presentation in a “mini-symposium” on plant-microbe interactions as part of the conference. He studies microbe-associated molecular patterns, or MAMPs, which are responsible for triggering a plant’s immune response if it is attacked by a pathogen. This signaling process is well understood in response to foliar pathogens; however, the role of MAMPs in response to the belowground microbial community is largely unknown.

Lakshmanan’s project indicates that certain beneficial rhizobacteria are able to block MAMPs signaling and subdue an immune response from the plant, allowing them to colonize the plant’s root system. The bacteria are beneficial because they subsequently activate the plant’s immune response if it is attacked by another pathogen. Lakshmanan’s research is expected to expand the current understanding of intra-plant signaling and its relationship with microbial communities.

Awards for current research in the field, which affects many of today’s top issues, will be presented at the Plant Biology conference. Alff is eager to see how it will play out.

“It is extremely important to me to see the impact that plant biology research is making towards the vital issues of food security and safety, climate change, bioenergy, and medicine,” she said.

Lakshmanan sees the plant biology symposium as “a unique opportunity to network and receive feedback from peers.” At the conference, Alff and Lakshmanan will present and discuss their research with plant biology faculty, postdocs and students from around the country.

Alff says, “This meeting will help in my transition from a graduate student to a professional scientist. Receiving feedback from the plant biology community will help in preparation for my thesis defense and eventual job interviews.”

The research conducted by Alff and Lakshmanan in Bais’ lab is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Delaware EPSCoR program.

Article by Jacob Crum

Photo of Emily Alff by Kathy F. Atkinson

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Landscape consultant to discuss ‘Design for the Nature of Today’s Garden’

March 27, 2012 under CANR News

The nature of gardening today is much different than it was a generation ago. More households have two working parents who have less time and inclination to prune regularly and pull every errant weed. Money is tighter, too, not only for most households but for most municipalities.

Homeowners can’t spend a lot on chemical fertilizers and herbicides or new trees and shrubs. Likewise, local and state governments can’t devote much money or time to maintaining parks and natural areas.

Rick Darke doesn’t see anything bleak in this picture; rather he chooses to focus on the opportunities that exist in contemporary gardening.

“There has never been a more interesting or exciting time to be involved in the design of outdoor spaces,” says Darke, a University of Delaware alumnus who heads a Pennsylvania-based landscape consulting firm. His books include The American Woodland Garden and The Wild Garden: Expanded Edition. 

“There has been a sea change in how we approach our green spaces,” adds Darke. “This new trend embraces the dynamic nature of living landscapes and identifies conservation, functionality and viability as primary goals.”

Darke will talk about “Design for the Nature of Today’s Garden” on Tuesday, April 10, at UD’s Townsend Hall. Sponsored by the UD Botanic Gardens, the lecture is a kick-off event for the gardens’ spring plant sale, which is open to the public April 27-28.

Darke, who with his wife, Melinda Zoehrer, gardens on 1.5 acres in Landenberg, Pa., points to his own yard to illustrate how his approach to landscape design and stewardship has evolved over the years.

For example, he has become better at choosing the “right plant for the right place.” A dozen or so years ago, he planted native sweet bay magnolias in his back yard, which adjoins the White Clay Creek Preserve. Deer from the preserve quickly discovered these magnolias and rubbed the fragrant bark to the point that the trees wouldn’t have survived another season. Darke transplanted the magnolias to the front yard, which the deer tend to avoid. Although he solved his problem, he wasted valuable time.

“Melinda and I are busy with work, travel and socializing,” says Darke. “We don’t have endless time to devote to the garden.”

These days, he carefully considers site selection. A smart choice, in his opinion, was a stand of tall, warm-season grasses that he placed on the edge of the property. The grasses serve as a privacy screen while also providing habitat for wildlife.

To save both time and money, Darke lets the wind, water, birds and animals dictate — through seed dispersal — what new plants get added to his yard. He still buys plants but more often he enjoys these seedlings that arrive spontaneously.

“We have a group of nearly 30-foot-tall beeches that originated as seedlings 13 or 14 years ago,” notes Darke. “People don’t realize how fast a seedling can grow. In six years, a beech seedling can become a 12-foot-tall tree.”

Of course, you might not be thrilled with where the wind dropped your new beech tree — perhaps it’s growing between flagstone pavers or in front of your prized red-twig dogwood. That’s where judicious editing comes in, notes Darke. Feel free to transplant seedlings to different locations in your yard and to give away excess seedlings.

In the Darke and Zoehrer yard, the long list of “free plants” acquired by seed dispersal or self-seeding and sporing include viburnum, beech, sassafras, oaks, silver bells, spicebush, asters, ferns and dogwood.

The economic benefits of utilizing existing vegetation are even greater on large tracts of land. Currently, Darke is consulting on a project that will convert a Pittsburgh brownfield and abandoned steel mill, Carrie Furnace, into a mixed-use residential and commercial development.

“This 400-acre property has thousands of self-sown native sycamores and cottonwood,” notes Darke. “Any one of these 20- to 50-foot trees would cost more than $1,000 to buy. The most environmental approach is to allow these trees and other existing plants to form the backbone of the site’s new landscape.”

UD Botanic Gardens lecture

Darke’s lecture will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10.  The cost is $15 for the public, $10 for members of the UD Botanic Gardens. For more info go to the UD Botanic Gardens website or call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Rick Darke

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UFLA’s Sugano speaks to UD community about Brazilian agriculture

March 19, 2012 under CANR News

Continuing a strong partnership with the University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) in Brazil, the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Department of Food and Resource Economics hosted a special guest speaker last week.

Joel Sugano, a UFLA professor, gave a talk in Townsend Hall on Thursday, March 15, focusing on “Developing Business in Brazil through Innovation: The Case of Brazilian Business Platform in Ethanol, Coffee and Seed Industries.”

Sugano discussed problems that face global agriculture as population and affluence increases. As affluence rises, Sugano noted that there will be more people looking to buy more products and he asked the question, “Can you say to consumers, ‘You cannot consume?’ To tell someone, ‘You cannot buy a new car,’ that’s impossible.”

Sugano said that a rising world population has increased the need for food and renewable energies, and countries are being faced with a tough decision regarding whether to use their land for fuel or for food.

Sugano noted that in 2000, 1 percent of the world’s grain consumption was used for biofuels, as opposed to 2010 when that number jumped up to 6 percent.

He used Brazil as an example of this, noting that land that was once allocated for growing food has now been used to grow sugar cane in order to meet the world’s growing ethanol demands.

Sugano also noted that Brazil will play a key role in the global food crisis, as the nation is among the leading global exporters of goods such as coffee, orange juice, poultry and sugar cane.

Although there could be cause for alarm due to the potential gap in the world’s growing population and scarcer and more expensive food products, Sugano said that there is reason to be optimistic. He said that the world’s food crisis presents great challenges but also great opportunities for new innovations in agricultural business, which could help mitigate higher global food demand.

Time at UD

This is the second time that Sugano has visited UD. His first visit came in fall 2010 and he said he has fond memories from his time at UD.

Sugano also said he believes the partnership between UD and UFLA “is a door that will open to new possibilities to research, business, the exchange of knowledge and the exchange of ideas.”

Continuing, Sugano said, “the most important research is knowledge and the knowledge can come from any part of the world. If we build such a platform that we can exchange knowledge through this kind of collaboration between universities, we can create the platform to exchange ideas. That is more important than goods and so forth. Without this collaboration, I never would have been able to meet Titus (Awokuse) or other faculty here to exchange ideas and to show what we are doing and then to see what is going on here.”

Sugano said the experience for UD students to study at UFLA and vice versa is one that will benefit both universities, as well. “The important thing about study abroad is that it’s not only about knowledge but it’s about the experience itself. This kind of experience will last for their entire life.”

As the need to come up with solutions on a global basis increases, so too does the importance of studying abroad, according to Sugano. “The effects of one change in one thing will be sensed in another totally different area of the world because of the relationship that has been created through the Internet and through communication.”

To solve global problems, Sugano said, “we need expertise and knowledge and this will be done and exchanged through several different points of view. Not only in one country, but in another country that has another perspective, I think that will be the next way to solve problems.”

While at UD, Sugano also gave guest lectures in two undergraduate classes and visited with other faculty and state officials. He met with David Weir, director of UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships; Matt Robinson, director of UD’s Institute for Global Studies; and David Mathe, deputy director of international trade and development for the state of Delaware.

About the partnership between UD and UFLA

In 2011, CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences received a $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program (USDA-NIFA-ISE) to continue on a three-year partnership with UFLA.

The hope of this partnership is to establish both long-standing academic programs and research partnerships, with both institutions helping each other in those areas in which their research overlaps.

Ranked fourth overall among universities in Brazil in a recent poll, UFLA is equipped with state of the art facilities, 160 laboratories and two experimental farms.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Christy Mannering

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Pan credits UD Statistics Program for preparing him for DuPont career

March 14, 2012 under CANR News

Winning the prestigious Bolton/Carothers Innovative Science Award is an honor for any DuPont employee, especially so when it is only your fourth year on the job. Such is the case for Zaiqi Pan, who received a master’s degree from the University of Delaware Statistics Program in January 2008.

An employee of Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, Pan received the award with his fellow team members — Laura Higgins, Lindsey Flexner and Natalie Hubbard — in January 2012 for their work developing and implementing an innovative method to deploy refuge for the Pioneer genetically modified corn plant.

Pan, who received a master’s degree in statistics, credits the personal and educational support he received from the professors in the Department of Food and Resource Economics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for not only helping him make it through to graduation, but also for starting him off on his successful career path.

When Pan started in the statistics program in 2005, a serious family situation made him question whether or not he wanted to continue with his studies. Luckily for him, the statistics faculty was there to help guide and support him through the rough patch.

“Dr. Ilvento encouraged me to stay in the program and keep connected when I had to go through such a very stressful time,” said Pan, adding that he missed a lot of class time and studies that Tom Ilvento, professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, helped him make up.

After the difficult start, Pan said he soon began thriving in the Statistics Program, specifically in the StatLab, a statistics laboratory designed to help researchers in the use of effective and appropriate statistical techniques in different research areas. It was in the StatLab that Pan worked and formed a close friendship with Lidia Rejtö, professor of statistics in the Department of Food and Resource Economics.

That friendship was cemented, Pan said, when Rejtö spent a sabbatical at Pioneer, DuPont Agricultural Biotechnology, in 2008 and they worked together on a number of projects.

Rejtö said she enjoyed working with her former student and praised Pan for his statistical abilities. “What is very rare is that he knows not just the statistical theory but he’s able to apply the theory and to develop a program,” said Rejtö. “There are not many statisticians who can combine the two things.”

Pan, who did his undergraduate research in mechanical engineering and then went to work as a software engineer in telecommunications before joining the UD Statistics Program, praised StatLab for providing him with the skills that ultimately led him to become a successful professional.

“It’s a really hands-on experience,” said Pan, adding that it helped improve his communication and collaboration talents.

Pan explained this comes in handy working at DuPont, where “you have to have excellent communication skills to present your ideas, so your audience will be able to understand your creative solutions quickly.”

The program also helped Pan by providing him with an opportunity to intern at DuPont while still studying for his master’s degree. He worked with Bruce Stanley in the Stine-Haskell Laboratory at DuPont Crop Protection, which gave him the first-hand experience that helped him get his current job with Pioneer studying agricultural biotechnology.

Pan has helped current students in the same way that he was helped as a student, saying that he currently oversees three interns from the UD Statistics Program.

“I think that the internship just helped me a lot to prepare for my career, so now I try to actually give back my experiences to my interns,” said Pan. “We value their strength and capability and assign them real projects they can work on and build their professional skills on. We treat the internship as a learning experience so they can successfully prepare for their future career.”

About the Bolton/Carothers Innovative Science Award

The Bolton/Carothers Innovative Science Award is named after Wallace Carothers, who is credited with inventing nylon in 1938, and Elmer Bolton, who helped encourage Carothers and commercialize the product. The award recognizes creative scientific invention or discovery that results in a recently commercialized new product, technology or business generating significant revenue with the potential for sustainable earnings.

About StatLab

StatLab provides statistical consulting services to UD graduate students, faculty, staff and researchers throughout the University, as well as non-University agencies and companies. The StatLab is jointly supported by the Statistics Program of the Department of Food and Resource Economics and Research and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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Chad Nelson discusses invasive species on the James F. Hall Trail

March 8, 2012 under CANR News

Photo taken on 2/23/2012

When the City of Newark decided to remove the bamboo from the James F. Hall Trail, it got rid of an invasive species that had taken over parts of the trail. And while the bamboo was arguably the most visible invasive species found on the trail, it was far from the only one.

Chad Nelson, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has taught a class on invasive plants in the past, including a project focusing on those found along the trail, and he noted there are at least several dozen invasive species in and around the trail.

Noting that bamboo sometimes gets a bad rap because of its visibility, Nelson said that there are some other less obvious invasive plants that are prevalent on the James F. Hall Trail. Some of these include garlic mustard, tree of heaven, burning bush and Japanese honeysuckle, which will emit a nice fragrance in the summer but suffocates the plants through which it grows.

Some established woodland patches along the trail, like the one between Chapel Street and Library Avenue, would thrive with better management of invasive species, Nelson said. “There is pretty substantial woodland and it has lots of invasive species in it, things like burning bush and some of the bush honeysuckles, but it also has a really strong stand of native canopy species,” Nelson said. “That’s a place where you’ve got something good going on and if you could get the invasive species out, I think there would be a better chance of getting it back into a balanced succession.”

As to how these invasive species reached the trail in the first place, Nelson said that it was a combination of factors, but pointed out that being next to the train tracks likely didn’t help. “For invasive species, depending on how they propagate or invade, highways, roads, and train tracks are the perfect corridors for plants that have windborne seeds.”

Nelson also said that there are a large number of invasive species on the trail because the trail was built on an underutilized stretch of land where invasive species had years to develop.

It can sometimes be difficult, Nelson said, to identify invasive plants because “by a strict textbook definition, you need to be looking at plants that are not part of the regional flora that can persist and spread in conditions that they normally wouldn’t be in,” said Nelson. “It gets confusing because there are some native plant species that are aggressive, and so many people will call them invasive when by strict definition they are not.”

When it comes to bamboo, specifically, Nelson has had some personal experience dealing with the exotic species in his own yard.

Nelson said a neighbor had planted bamboo in their backyard and when it spread onto his property, he was a little leery and wanted to chop it down.

The more he thought about it, however, Nelson said he saw the benefits of the plant. “It makes a pretty good construction material,” he said, adding “it does run rampant if you just leave it alone but if you have a little bit of energy you can actually harness it.”

For those with bamboo in their backyards, Nelson recommended patience and persistence. “You have to keep after it for a couple of years but it comes up over a fairly short window in early summer and at that point, it’s like asparagus — very soft.” Nelson said cutting the asparagus-like bamboo during its two-week growing period will eventually sap the plant of its energy.

Nelson said that this is preferable to more intense solutions he has seen. “A lot of people get extreme — they get out bulldozers, and I think that’s just bringing too big of an arsenal to something that can be controlled if you just have a little patience over a longer time frame.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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