UD Professors, Extensions Specialists present at Ag Week

January 18, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Professors from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Cooperative Extension Specialists were well represented at the 7th annual Delaware Agriculture Week, giving presentations and moderating discussion panels throughout the week for members of the agricultural community.

This year’s Delaware Ag Week runs from Jan. 16-21, with the majority of events taking place at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, Delaware. Delaware Ag Week is an on-going collaboration between The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

Delaware Ag Week aims to provide useful and timely information to the agricultural community and industry through educational meetings and events, as well as allowing for networking and fellowship with old and new acquaintances. There are also many opportunities to receive nutrient management, pesticide and certified crop advisor continuing education credits.

On Wednesday, Jan. 18, University of Delaware professors and extension specialists gave numerous presentations during the “Processing Vegetables” sessions that took place during the morning and afternoon. Emmalea Ernest, extension vegetable crops associate, gave two lectures during the morning highlighting her trials with sweet corn and lima beans, as well as moderating the afternoon session.

Other presenters included Mark VanGessel, a professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences as well as an extension weed science specialist, Gordon Johnson, assistant professor of plant and soil science and an extension fruit and vegetable specialist, Kate Everts, an adjunct associate professor of plant and soil sciences, Joanne Whalen, an extension integrated pest management specialist in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, and Bob Mulrooney, an extension plant pathologist.

Presentations will continue on Thursday, Jan. 19, with sessions on agronomy and soybeans scheduled for the morning and the afternoon at the Delaware State Fairgrounds Dover Building.

Delaware Ag Week will wrap up with the “Friends of Agriculture Breakfast” at 7:15 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 20 at the Harrington Fire Hall and then with a fruit and vegetable growers roundtable discussion on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 9 a.m. at the Paradee Center in Dover, followed by a potluck lunch at noon. Registration for the “Friends of Ag Breakfast” is $20 and advance registration is preferred.

For more information on Delaware Ag Week, visit the website.

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Sweet watermelons

July 15, 2011 under CANR News

Delaware watermelon connoisseurs are enjoying the moment – local watermelons are now ripe and ready to enjoy. Local watermelons are sweeter and tastier than the out-of-state melons available earlier in the summer, claim their aficionados.

“Local watermelons do taste pretty sweet. And buying local produce when it’s in season helps to support our local growers,” notes Phillip Sylvester, agriculture agent for Kent County Cooperative Extension.

The state’s watermelon crop typically ripens by July 10 and continues through Sept. 25, with the most active harvest period in mid-August.  Delaware’s watermelon industry has declined slightly in recent years but is still strong.  There are more than 2,700 acres of watermelon in Delaware, down from 3,000 acres five years ago. Crop production is currently valued at $11 million annually.

Sylvester always plants watermelons in his home garden in Felton but the bulk of commercial growing takes place further south, in and around Laurel. The well-drained, sandy soils in western Sussex County are excellent for watermelon growing.

This area has been the seat of Delaware’s commercial melon industry since the 1850s, when schooners loaded with watermelon traveled the Nanticoke River to Baltimore and points beyond. More recently, the Laurel Farmers’ Auction Market opened in 1940 to bring wholesale watermelon buyers and sellers together. At one time the price of virtually every Delaware watermelon was negotiated at the Laurel Market. Today, supermarket chains send brokers directly to growers but the market is still used by small- and medium-sized buyers.

Sylvester grows “Crimson Sweet” watermelons because he says they have an exceptionally sweet taste. But this striped heirloom melon will never win any popularity contests, tasty as it might be, because of what some view as an unforgivable downfall – its seeds.

“I don’t care if a watermelon has seeds,” says Sylvester, “but most people do.”

In the 1990s, less than 1 percent of watermelons were seedless. Today, about 75 percent of the watermelons sold in the U.S. are seedless varieties. A seedless watermelon plant contains three sets of chromosomes and is sterile so it must be pollinated by a second plant to set fruit. As a result, growers must pay strict attention to the pollination needs of their seedless watermelon crops. Most growers rent or own honeybee hives but some have started to use bumblebees. UD bee researcher Debbie Delaney and Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetable specialist Gordon Johnson are working with watermelon growers this summer to see if bumblebees improve crop productivity.

Kate Everts also is conducting watermelon research but her projects focus on combating Fusarium wilt. This pestilent pathogen causes one of the most economically significant watermelon diseases worldwide. It causes wilt and plant death early in the season and again when the plant is in fruit. Once a field exhibits severe Fusarium wilt, it’s off limits for watermelon growing for 15 or more years.

Everts, who holds a joint appointment at the University of Delaware and the University of Delaware, collaborates closely with Extension specialists Emmalea Earnest and Gordon Johnson. Her research team focuses on several areas: they’re developing plants resistant to Fusarium wilt, exploring chemical disease measures, and looking at how cover crops can suppress this nasty fungus.

Sylvester is diligent about helping commercial growers obtain maximum yields but when it comes to his own watermelon plot, he adopts a laidback attitude. Though the ag agent know his way around a garden, sometimes pests or weather get the best of his watermelons. Every spring he tells himself “maybe we’ll have watermelons, maybe we won’t.”

However, this summer he hopes for a bumper crop because his 1 1/2-year-old son, Henry, shows a liking for watermelon. What could be better than a “Crimson Sweet,” grown in the backyard by Dad?

Article by Margo McDonough

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