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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UD students look at possible contamination of irrigation water

November 21, 2013 under CANR News

students look for contaminants in irrigation waterStudents in the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) are using a plot of land on the campus farm to help study possible contaminants in soil and irrigation water used to grow leafy greens and tomatoes in order to help inform new regulations on growers that will be going into effect next year as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The study is part of a $9 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) grant titled “Developing Consensus Produce Safety Metrics for Leafy Greens and Tomatoes.” The project is led by the University of Maryland and is taking place at seven different universities and industry liaisons across the country.

Signed into law in 2011 by President Barack Obama, the food safety act has been implemented in stages over the past two years.

Kali Kniel, associate professor of animal and food sciences, explained that part of the law includes regulations for growers of fruits and vegetables, noting that this is the first time there have ever been specific regulations for growing fruits and vegetables.

“There have been guidelines and marketing agreements before but not regulations in terms of environmental aspects that are difficult to control,” Kniel said, “so growers are anxious and nervous about this.”

The rules are not yet finalized and include some fairly complicated aspects in terms of metrics, use of irrigation water and soil amendments. Delaware extension agents have been working with growers over the past two years to make the transition more manageable.

To help inform these regulations, researchers from the seven universities will meet with representatives of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to report on their findings.

UD research team

At UD, the research team used a plot of land next to the Allen Laboratory and has been growing tomatoes, romaine lettuce and spinach on the plot for the past two years.

Angela Ferelli, a senior double majoring in biochemistry and food science, worked on the project during the first summer and said that it was interesting to get hands-on experience outside of the lab.

Because it was her first time working in a garden and growing plants for a project, she said that it was a “labor of love. We really wanted to tackle it head on and we didn’t know what the best way was to keep the weeds out and keep the plants growing and happy. And if you looked down the rows the first time we planted, we had four rows — they started out straight and then they went crooked, but you could definitely tell that we were doing it, and it was great.”

Ferelli said that the next year, the group tested a new variable plasticulture for tomatoes, putting down plastic tarps to keep the weeds out. This is also a means of potential control for splash from rainfall for growing produce and for the protection from plant contact with soil.

Patrick Spanninger, a doctoral student in Kniel’s lab who has been working on the project since the beginning, explained that after the students grew the plants, they ran trials by pouring water mixed with manure that contained different levels of E. coli on the plants to monitor bacterial persistence on the fruit. “We wanted to see if the bacteria in the manure that we started with survived after we put it on the plants,” said Spanninger. This is a controlled way modeling how irrigation water may become naturally contaminated in real-life situations.

The students then harvested the tomatoes and leafy greens by hand and used random sampling strategies to look at the levels of generic E. coli on the plants.

Explaining that because the outdoors is a complicated, unsterile environment, Kniel said that they tested for generic E. coli because it is an indicator organism, meaning that if increased levels of generic E. coli show up, there could be a potential risk associated with the irrigation water. This is the current industry standard and part of a grower’s best practices.

The problem with rain

Another part of the research on which the students worked was the development of water safety metrics to help decide how many generic bacteria — nonpathogenic bacteria — can be found in water used for irrigation.

students look for contaminants in rain water“They’re associating the levels of bacteria in the water with climactic changes with rainfall and wind and relative humidity and temperatures to try and understand what puts produce at risk for having higher bacterial levels or potential pathogens,” said Kniel.

Ultimately, Kniel said that rainfall more than anything else poses a problem for growers when it comes to bacterial contamination on fruit that may have originated in irrigation water. Using DNA fingerprint analysis on the recovered E. coli, Spanninger was able to trace bacteria coming from the manure through the tomatoes on different plants.

“We actually are seeing that the initial amounts of generic bacteria in the water are not really the biggest issue. Bacterial decay on plants occurs within a couple of days. Rainfall seems to really affect fresh produce,” Kniel said. “We think that rain close to harvest dates is an important consideration and should be part of a Food Safety Plan, so we’re sharing with the FDA that aspects other than strict water metrics should be considered. At this time meeting the water standards the FDA is suggesting is difficult for produce growers around the country, in particular those that use surface water for irrigation.”

Spanninger agreed with that assessment. “From what we saw, the greatest influence on bacterial presence and persistence was big rain events, which we’ve been getting more of in recent years.” He explained that the research was conducted last fall during Hurricane Sandy and in the summer when the area was doused with a large amount of rainfall.

Spanninger also added that possible contamination from animals — such as geese, dogs, and groundhogs in the field — is another issue that the group is investigating. Wildlife intrusion into produce fields is an important area of study along with irrigation water standards.

In addition to looking for E. coli, the group — along with the research teams at other universities involved in the project — also set out to identify potential hot spots for growers, areas where they would have the most success growing crops without high risk of contamination.

Ferelli explained, “The overarching implications of this research are going to be for the growers to be able to have a better grip on where the risk is in the field. So if a grower goes out now with this risk in mind and he or she see’s there has been a rain event, or observes that an animal has come in and left it’s signature, instead of just taking out that one plant that has been affected, the grower will be better equipped with knowledge to recognize the possibility to section off several plants in that area.’”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture set to visit CANR on Thursday, Nov. 21

November 18, 2013 under Events

harden_krysta_130802_t300Krysta Harden, Deputy Secretary for the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA), will be visiting the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources on Thursday, Nov. 21.

Harden will tour the University dairy and the UDairy Creamery between 3:15 – 4 p.m., followed by a student roundtable discussion from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Townsend Hall Commons.

All interested students are encouraged to attend for an opportunity to speak with Harden about agriculture.

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Fall seminar series provides information on poultry career opportunities

September 23, 2013 under Events

DKQ_6534With employment opportunities in the poultry industry thriving, the University of Delaware will host a Poultry Careers Seminar Series starting Sept. 26 and running into October geared toward students interested in positions in the field.

The seminars will all take place at 6 p.m. in Room 101 of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Allen Laboratory and will provide students opportunities to speak directly to employers offering internships, management trainee programs and full-time positions. A free dinner will be offered before each seminar and there will be drawings for two $50 Barnes and Noble gift cards for students who attend all four seminars.

The first seminar will be held on Thursday, Sept. 26, and will feature Connie Parvis and Byron C. Field.

Parvis is the director of education and consumer information at Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) Inc., a nonprofit trade association working for the continued progress of the broiler chicken industry on the Delmarva Peninsula. Members include more than 1,000 farm families raising chickens, five poultry companies producing birds for farmers, and thousands of poultry company employees and allied industry suppliers of products and services.

Field is the federal state supervisor of the Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). AMS Poultry Programs facilitates the marketing of poultry, poultry products and eggs. The USDA AMS also oversees the efficient, fair marketing of American agricultural products, including food, fiber and specialty crops, in the global marketplace.

Additional seminars will be on Tuesday, Oct. 15; Tuesday Oct. 22; and Wednesday, Oct. 30.

Presenters at these seminars will include representatives from Perdue Farms, Cobb-Vantress, Mountaire Farms, UD Cooperative Extension and more.

There will also be information about a travel opportunity to Atlanta in January 2014 to attend the U.S. Poultry Foundation’s College Student Career Program, held during the International Poultry Expo, a major international poultry and agribusiness trade show.

The program will allow students opportunities to interview with 25 regional, national and international poultry and agribusiness companies and organizations and to network with representatives of more than 1,100 companies. Most travel expenses are covered with minimal cost to students attending this conference.

Students who attended the trade show last year said they found the event to be incredibly beneficial, with all five seniors and the one graduate student receiving one or more employment offers, and with at least three of the students accepting positions and now working in the poultry industry.

Students interested in attending any of these seminars should log into their Blue Hen Career account to RSVP for the seminar series or write to Diane Venninger at dvenning@udel.edu for each individual seminar so that food can be planned accordingly.

For more information, email Venninger at dvenning@udel.edu.

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Rodrigo Vargas joins CANR faculty

August 29, 2013 under CANR News

Rodrigo Bargas joins CANR facultyIn October of 2012, Rodrigo Vargas joined the community of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) as an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Since joining UD, Vargas has successfully secured over $1 million in grants as a principal investigator supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF). His research group has active study sites in Baja California, Delaware, and Maryland and collaborates with scientists across the United States, Asia, Europe and Mexico to understand how land ecosystems respond to climate variability, extreme events, and global environmental change.

Working at CANR, he has actively taken on multiple research endeavors. First, supported by a NASA grant, he is testing different approaches to improve a framework for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) to support implementation of Reduction of Emissions by Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) across a gradient of forests in Mexico. This research involves collaboration with the US Forest Service, the Mexican Forest Service (CONAFOR) and multiple research institutions in Mexico.

Secondly, funded by a USDA grant, he is investigating the effect of extreme climate events on greenhouse gas fluxes in a watershed near UD’s campus by using state-of-the-art instrumentation for continuous measurements of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide fluxes from soils. This research involves collaboration with Shreeram Inamdar, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Lastly, funded by a UDRF grant, he is looking at the size, age, and use of nonstructural carbon reserves (NSC’s) in long-lived plants in the deserts of Baja California, Mexico.  His results are providing insights about the physiological mechanisms of carbohydrate allocation and long-term plant survival in water-limited ecosystems.

“Several plant species in the central desert of Baja California can live for over 400 years under limited water availability and climate variability including decadal droughts,” said Vargas.

Preliminarily results show that new fine roots of desert palms and cactus are produced using “old” NSC reserves that are more than 20 years old. Vargas’ group has also found that the age of NSC reserves inside the plants can have a mean age of over 60 years.

“This means that these plants can store NSC reserves and keep them for a long time and then use them to produce new structures such as fine roots,” said Vargas.

Vargas said he is extremely lucky to have rapidly found friends among the UD community who support him and have made him feel welcome in Newark. His time here has already afforded him the opportunity to be exposed to and apply an array of various research techniques from multiple disciplines such as computer science, micrometeorology, remote sensing, and soil ecology.

Offering a sincere thanks to all of his new friends here at the CANR, he said “I have found amazing colleagues, leaders, and students across UD, and the working atmosphere is excellent to nourish and develop high quality research.”

As an undergraduate, Vargas studied biology in Mexico at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM), one of the largest universities in the world with over 350,000 students. It was there that he began his research career, studying nitrogen fixation of microbial mats in a tropical wetland at the Yucatan Peninsula.

He went on to earn a PhD at the University of California-Riverside where his research focused on how extreme events such as fires and hurricanes influenced carbon dynamics in regenerating forests. Through a combination of biometric forest measurements and experimental forest management techniques, he demonstrated the large capability of these forests to store carbon above and below ground.

Vargas also studied the effects of hurricane disturbance on CO2 fluxes within the soil, finding unprecedented rates of CO2 emissions from soil to atmosphere. Lastly, he demonstrated the unexpected capacity of plants to allocate old stored carbon to produce fine roots following a hurricane disturbance. In light of the east coasts’ late experience with Hurricane Sandy, Vargas’ past work shows the implications these weather phenomena’s have on the fate of stored carbon in plants.

In addition to this work, Vargas also worked on a side-project funded by the National Science Foundation studying belowground carbon dynamics in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. This study allowed him to use a wireless network of soil sensors to measure CO2 fluxes and the relations with fine root dynamics.  “One of the most exciting results is that we demonstrated that fast and continuous fine root measurements (daily and sub-daily) are needed to quantify and understand belowground carbon dynamics,” said Vargas.

Following his PhD, Vargas was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California-Berkeley where he interacted with scientists around the world within FLUXNET, the international consortium of eddy covariance scientists.  “My work focused on regional and global synthesis studies on water and CO2 fluxes of terrestrial ecosystems, combining measurements and ecological process-based models,” said Vargas.

Before arriving at UD, Vargas returned to Mexico to work as an assistant research professor at a national research center in Baja California, Mexico (CICESE). Here he led synthesis studies on ocean-to-atmosphere CO2 fluxes while also continuing measurements of water and CO2 fluxes in a shrub land ecosystem in Baja California. His interest in the effects of land use change on such fluxes also led him to coordinate the consolidation of the Mexican eddy covariance network (MexFlux), where his research group is working on a first generation of nationwide synthesis studies.

Article by Angela Carcione

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Jaisi laboratory tracks chemicals in water, farmland throughout Mid-Atlantic

February 27, 2013 under CANR News

Deb Jaisi studies phosphorus in his labUniversity of Delaware researcher Deb Jaisi is using his newly established stable isotope facility in the Environmental Biogeochemistry Laboratory (EBL) to find the fingerprints of isotopes in chemical elements — specifically phosphorus — in order to track sources of nutrients in the environmentally-sensitive Chesapeake Bay, other bodies of water and farmland throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Jaisi, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, explained that he and his research team are currently working on many projects in the EBL, including two that are funded through seed grants, one focusing on terrestrial phosphorus sources and the other on marine phosphorus sources in the Chesapeake. One of those grants is from the UD Research Foundation (UDRF) and is titled “Role of Non-terrestrial Phosphorus Sources in Eutrophication in the Chesapeake Bay.”

For the project, Jaisi and his team of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers are looking at different sources of phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay over time. Working with Old Dominion University, the team has been provided sediment core samples taken from bay that spans several decades of sediment accumulation and is extracting the phosphorus from those sediments and measuring the isotopic composition of phosphate.

Jaisi explained that they do this in order to identify the sources of phosphorus and see how those specific sources have changed over time in the bay, which could be important information in seeking to understand their impact on the water quality in the bay.

Jaisi said that it is important to study phosphorus because it “is one of the most important nutrients for any living being. In most cases, this is a limiting nutrient and what that means is that it controls the growth or how much life you can have out of that nutrient.”

Jaisi continued, saying, “DNA and RNA are made of phosphorus backbone — so our bones are made of phosphorus, our teeth are made of phosphorus. You can name every part of the body and it has phosphorus, and the same is true for any other living being.”

While phosphorus is important to life, too much phosphorus — particularly in bodies of water — can cause serious ecological problems, leading to algae blooms and oxygen deficiency.

 

 

Jaisi’s group also has a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to compare the phosphorus plants take up to the phosphorus that is present in fertilizers, while also tracking any excess fertilizer that is used by growers to see where that fertilizer goes.

For farmers or homeowners applying phosphorus-rich fertilizer, Jaisi said it is not clear how much phosphorus from fertilizer is being taken up by plants. “We don’t explicitly understand how much phosphorus is needed or where the phosphorus ends up,” he said, adding that a phosphate oxygen isotope fingerprint tool can provide a more detailed picture. “We hope to provide a better resolution of phosphorus fate – that this phosphorus fraction leaked out of the soil and went to the ground or surface water, and this fraction is taken up by plants.”

The researchers are also looking at how rivers carry phosphorus and how far they can trace certain sources of phosphorus in a river. This research is being done in Maryland, and Jaisi explained that the group is looking at how phosphorus is leached out of soil and carried into creeks and rivers. “We are taking samples along a creek and in sediments to see how far the phosphorus can go. Does it retain somewhere in the river, or is it exported to the Chesapeake Bay?”

Isotope fingerprinting

To find the fingerprints of isotopes, Jaisi uses a machine known as a stable Isotope-Ratio Mass Spectrometer (IRMS).

Jaisi said that because “different sources may have different isotopic composition,” if he and his research team can figure out an element’s isotopic composition, they can identify how that element has impacted the environment.

“For example, if the phosphate is originating from a wastewater plant, that is one isotopic composition or one type of fingerprint. Then, compare that fingerprint to what comes out of the fertilizers, and to what comes out of soil erosion from the geological processes — that kind of phosphate has other isotopic compositions.”

The currently installed IRMS has three different components, each capable of measuring a specialized element. One is used for phosphate oxygen isotopes, one for carbon and nitrogen isotopes and one for water and carbonates. The three machines feed into the mass spectrometer via a synchronizing unit called ConFlow.

Jaisi said that such machines used to measure phosphate oxygen isotopes are not very common, with only a handful worldwide.

Although his group mainly focuses on phosphorus, the EBL and the equipment is available to other researchers at the University and outside, and can be used to measure for stable isotopes of nitrogen, carbon, sulfur and other light elements.

For more information on Jaisi’s lab, visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

Video by Adam Thomas and Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD awarded $1.5 million USDA grant to study lima beans

January 11, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Researchers from UD study lima beansDelaware is currently the number two producer of lima beans in the United States, second only to California and with the possibility of becoming number one in the future.

Because of this, it is imperative to study the many aspects of various diseases affecting the crop in Delaware and throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Such work requires a collaborative effort and a team has been assembled thanks to a five-year, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant.

The grant awarded to the University of Delaware includes researchers from UD, Delaware State University, the University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Cornell University and the University of California Davis (UC Davis) who will begin studying the various effects of plant disease on lima beans in the First State.

The many aspects of this grant will include studies that are being conducted for the first time in history.

There are six components to the grant, each with various researchers studying different parts of the problem. They are conducting research on downy mildew, pod blight, white mold, root knot nematodes and germplasm resources and developing an economic analysis.

Downy mildew

Downy mildew is a fungal-like disease of the lima bean caused by Phytophthora phaseoliand the goal of the research team is to improve disease forecasting and look at genetic diversity of the population of the pathogen. In this way, researchers will be able to inform farmers of their risk of occurrence of the disease and have a better understanding of the genetics of the pathogen.

Tom Evans and Nicole Donofrio, professors of plant pathology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Nancy Gregory, plant diagnostician for UD, will work together on this part of the project.

Pod blight

Pod blight is caused by the pathogen known as P. capsici and Gordon Johnson, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, will work on this part of the study with Evans and Gregory.

Unlike downy mildew, which is a disease that generally affects only lima beans, P. capsicihas a very wide host range. Once it strikes a particular crop, it is very difficult to get rid of, with pathogen’s spores lasting up to 10 years in the soil. Because of this, pod blight is an increasing problem for growers. The disease occurs in low-lying areas of fields and is more frequent in wet years. Therefore, this part of the project has three goals: to look for a fungicide to deal with the disease, to monitor the disease, and to look for alternative or organic non-pesticide driven strategies for control.

The study is also looking at risk management strategies, including information for growers in the state about the best time to spray for disease control and consideration of alternate control strategies.

Gregory, who diagnoses field samples collected by the research team and growers, maintains cultures of the pathogens and produces  the inoculum for the studies, said that the researchers are eager to “learn more about the epidemiology and the spread of pod blight and downy mildew, that will enable us to do a little bit better job on forecasting.”

She also noted how great is to have so many expert researchers involved, noting that she is looking forward to making significant progress on problems that have plagued the region for years. “To pull together a strong team of researchers like this and many new graduate students is really going to pull a lot of this research together and we’ll really come up with some great results.”

White mold

Kate Everts, an adjunct associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD and a Cooperative Extension specialist with both UD and the University of Maryland, is leading research on alternative ways to control white mold, another disease that is very difficult to eliminate.

With an even broader host range than P. capsici, and an even longer life — persisting in soils for 20-30 years — finding out as much about the disease as possible, as well as possible ways to control it, is imperative.

Everts will look not just at lima beans but other crops, as well, as she tests biological control strategies and alternative control strategies for dealing with the white mold.

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University of Delaware Poultry Career Seminar series

December 11, 2012 under CANR News

Poultry career seminar seriesThe University of Delaware held its first Poultry Career Seminar series this fall with funding provided by a grant from the United States Poultry Foundation and additional funds from the UD Career Services. The series of four seminars were held on October 3, 8, 16 and November 1.

Connie Parvis, director of education and consumer information from Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., spoke at the Oct. 3 seminar. She started the program giving an overview of the industry and discussed career and scholarship opportunities. She was joined by Byron C. Friend from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service who spoke about how his service facilitates the marketing of poultry, poultry products and eggs.

The second seminar included Bernie Murphy, a UD alumni who earned his doctorate from Iowa State University and serves as President of the Jones Hamilton Co., a leader in producing, packaging and distributing chemicals and compounds for a variety of customers since 1951.

Perdue Farms also presented during the second seminar, with Todd Baker, breeders operations manager, Katelyn MacCann, UD alumna and breeders farm manager, and Chris DelCastillo, Milford associate relations representative, speaking about career and internship opportunities at Perdue Farms, a family-owned company producing the Perdue brand of premium fresh chicken based in Salisbury, Maryland.

The third seminar included Pat Townsend, director of human resources at Mountaire Farms, who described their year long management training program, as well as internship and career opportunities. Mountaire Farms is a diverse poultry and agricultural business that partners with local farming communities to raise chickens and grains to feed them.

He was followed by Bill Brown, UD alumni and UD poultry extension specialist, and Carissa Wickens, assistant professsor and equine extension specialist. Brown described the purpose of Cooperative Extension and the many career opportunities it affords, while Wickens discussed the CANR Cooperative Extension Summer Scholars Internship Program and brought along her summer scholar, Rebecca Frost, a sophmore studying in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS).

Chuck Snipes, Mid-Atlantic sales representative of Cobb-Vantress, Inc., gave an overview of his company’s research, development and production of broiler breeding stock and the company’s internship and career opportunities. The final speaker in the seminar series was Nannette Olmeda-Geniec, poultry technical consultant for Elanco, an international company that develops products and services that enhance animal health, wellness and performance. Olmeda-Geniec is a veterinarian who earned her doctorate at UD in ANFS and presented an overview of this international company and the opportunities for internships and careers within her company.

A total of 81 students attended the seminars, with seven students attending all four. The seminars were also used to promote the United States Poultry Foundation’s College Student Career Program to be held in Atlanta, Georgia in January 2013. The program will allow students opportunities to interview with 25 regional, national and international poultry and agribusiness companies and organizations while having the opportunity to network with over 970 companies.

A goal of ANFS is to increase the number of students participating in the United States Poultry Foundation’s College Student Career Program. This year the ANFS Department will increase the number of undergraduate and graduate students participating in the expo from 4 to 11.

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Trees can help cities better prepare for severe weather events

November 21, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many cities are taking a look at how they can better prepare for severe weather events. A low-tech – but effective – solution is to plant trees, says Sue Barton, ornamental horticultural specialist for the University of Delaware.

“A single mature tree can intercept several thousands of gallons of stormwater. Plant more trees in the right places and you can mitigate the impact of storm events,” says Barton.

She points to the research of David Nowak, a forester at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northern Research Station in Syracuse, N.Y., who has analyzed the role that “urban forests” play in controlling runoff and flooding, reducing the costs of stormwater management facilities, and decreasing water pollution.

An “urban forest” doesn’t necessarily mean a tree-filled area the size of Central Park. Instead, researchers like Nowak look at the overall tree coverage in a community. The average urban tree canopy in the U.S. is 23 percent. But the tree canopy in the New Castle County metro area is estimated to be just 19 percent, and the city of Wilmington’s tree canopy is 16 percent.

“Philadelphia and Wilmington have experienced water overflow situations after decent-sized rains, not just storm events like Hurricane Sandy,” says Barton, a Cooperative Extension specialist and associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. “The stormwater management systems in these cities were engineered many years ago and they can’t handle the water flow after a big rain – which means raw sewage and other organic material bypasses the treatment plants and go directly into streams.”

Fixing antiquated stormwater systems isn’t cheap. “One of Nowak’s greatest contributions may be his research into the economic benefits of trees,” says Barton. “He came up with a way to put a dollar cost on how much trees can save a community. He looks at the cost of trees and tree maintenance relative to the costs of updating aging stormwater systems.”

In Wilmington, the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH) has been a driving force behind stormwater mitigation efforts that include planting trees and shrubs, establishing rain gardens and installing underground holding tanks. All three of these elements were included in a stormwater project at the Trolley Square Acme that was completed in June 2011.

The 9,000-square-foot project filters, slows and absorbs rain that falls on the roof of the Acme and its 1.42 acre parking lot. Comprised of 19 shade trees, more than 2,800 shrubs and smaller perennial plants, a rain garden, and underground holding tanks, the project captures an estimated 70 percent of the site’s annual rainfall, providing relief to the city’s combined stormwater and sewer system.

Gary Schwetz is a senior project analyst at DCH and was instrumental in the development and execution of the Acme project. His advice to those who want to use trees to intercept stormwater: “Think big.”

Schwetz doesn’t mean you need to plan a big project – like the 2,819 or so living things planted at the Acme — but that you need to include big trees.

“Large trees are better at absorbing rainwater and mitigating air pollution,” says Schwetz.  “A 20-foot tree will have eight times the environmental benefits of a 10-foot tree.”

Of course, it can be tough to grow a big tree in the narrow space between a city sidewalk and the street, or in a city backyard. It can even be tough for big trees to do well in public spaces like Rodney Square, which little by little has seen its grassy area reduced and covered by pavers and other impervious surfaces.

Schwetz and fellow DCH staffers worked on an innovative landscape project that will help big trees flourish at Rodney Square. Other partners were the city of Wilmington and the Delaware Department of Transportation.

What makes the project different, says Schwetz, is the use of a new structural cell technology as the planting medium. These milk-crate-like structural cells can support sidewalks and hold a high volume of good quality soil, creating conditions in which large trees should be able to thrive.

Rodney Square isn’t the only place the city of Wilmington has been planting trees lately. Some 250 trees were planted by the city in the last year and a half. And, one year ago, the city hired Mandy Tolino has its first-ever urban forest administrator.

“Trees and the green infrastructure improve water quality by helping slow water down during a storm, as well as by reducing erosion,” notes Tolino.

Recently, she has been involved in a pilot tree trench installation at Brown Burton Winchester Park, at 23rd and Locust streets. On the surface, this tree trench looks like an ordinary row of trees. But underground, the trench is lined with a permeable fabric and filled with gravel. During a rainstorm, water flows through a storm drain to the trench, where it’s stored in the empty spaces between the stones before slowly infiltrating into the soil below.

There will be a public dedication of the Rodney Square landscape project on Nov. 27 at noon. For more information, call the Delaware Center for Horticulture at 658-6262.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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UD alum Westenbroek works as agricultural adviser in Afghanistan

November 7, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Patricia Westenbroek said that when she was young, her mother instilled in her a desire to help others. While her agricultural education at the University of Delaware helped lead her to a role in the Cooperative Extension Service, it is that desire to help that brought her to Afghanistan, working as an agricultural adviser for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service.

Westenbroek — a UD alumna who graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of science degree in animal science with a pre-veterinary concentration and minors in agricultural economics and chemistry and went on to earn a master’s degree in agricultural development at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland — said that her job entails working with extension specialists in the Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL). She said that she works on “a variety of agriculture projects, including animal husbandry, animal nutrition, beekeeping, and planting perennial trees at the district and provincial level.”

DAIL works closely with United States and coalition forces, the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and local organizations as a team to “strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government, improve farm management and rebuild markets,” said Westenbroek.

One part of her job that she finds especially enjoyable is working with the female extension agents employed by DAIL in the province. “In them is so much promise,” said Westenbroek. “Public roles for women have been limited in Afghanistan and that has been changing. These women take the risk to help their people improve their lives by providing social, agricultural and education services.”

While some might have reservations about moving to Afghanistan, Westenbroek said that the decision for her was fairly easy. “I’ve wanted to be able to do this type of work for a long time,” said Westenbroek. “It was natural to say yes to an opportunity to help farmers and extension agents.”

Although she does admit that there was initially a bit of trepidation about going to Afghanistan, Westenbroek said, “The opportunity to work with Afghans as they rebuild their country outweighed my concerns.”

Though her day-to-day routine is varied — one day she may be out on a mission with military colleagues to meet villagers while the next she may be meeting with government officials or extension agent — she always has a daily Dari lesson to help her learn the local language.

The other thing that remains constant is what she enjoys most about her job: the people.

Westenbroek said that she meets all sorts of people ranging from “DAIL representatives who truly want what is best for their province or district to help the farmers to make positive changes; a young boy who is extremely proud of his goats because they are healthy; a little girl excited to see two women with the military team walking with me around the village and telling me about her day at school; the kindness of everyone as I learn Dari — teaching and laughing with me.

“I have been overwhelmed by the warm welcome from a young Afghan woman who embraced me with tears of joy, thanking me and all Americans for coming to Afghanistan to help her country.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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